The old town in Perpignan makes a great evening venue for feasting on Catalan food and drinking Roussillon wines, serenaded by gypsy music. Spain influences the cuisine of Pyrenees-Orientales throughout the region.
A rice, seafood and/or meat paella is now an international dish but the Catalan favourite of boles de Picoulat - meatballs with onions and olives in a herb and tomato sauce - is possibly not so well known.
Olive oil and tomatoes are much used in dishes and salted smoked ham, spicy chorizo and black and white pudding are also all very Spanish. Market gardens produce early vegetables on the Roussillon plain and the sweet Spanish nougat, known as turon, uses the fruits and almonds for which Pyrenees-Orientales is famous.
When the orchards of the Tet and Tech Valleys are in fruit, treat yourself to mouth-watering apricots matured in the Mediterranean sunshine, peaches, apples and almonds. Cherries here are the first to be picked in France and a ceremonial bunch is always sent to the president. Riversales holds an apricot fair each July.
Sweet dessert and aperitif wines are a speciality in Pyrenees-Orientales, and Cotes du Roussillon vineyards produce Banylus, Muscat and Maury wines. Langedoc Roussillon’s famous Byrrh aperitif was originally created as a tonic by the Violet brothers in 1873.
Visit the Caves de Byrrh in Thuir, where it is blended and bottled, for a tour - given in English if they receive advance notice. Go to www.byrrh.com