Pyrenees-Orientales Places To Visit On Holiday

Collioure, Pyrenees Orientales, Languedoc Roussillon, France

Collioure

This picturesque Catalan port, 26km from the Spanish border, is the gem of Roussillon set on its rocky Ruby Coast - Cote Vermeille - where the Alberes Mountains of the Eastern Pyrenees tumble into the Mediterranean.

Colour is everywhere, from the green shuttered pink houses to brightly painted fishing boats, all backed by hillsides of vines and olive trees.

Small wonder Collioure has been much loved by artists. Follow the ‘chemin de Fauvisme’ route signposted by reproductions of works by artists like Matisse and Derrain who began their experiments in colour here in 1905.

Collioure’s horseshoe-shaped bay is divided by the twelfth century Chateau-Royal built by the Crusaders and later home to kings of Mallorca and Aragon before Collioure was ceded to France from Spain.  Now used for exhibitions of modern art, the Chateau is open for visits all year - tel: (00 33) 4 68 82 06 43.

Look for the landmark church of Notre-Dame-des-Anges which has a former lighthouse as a bell tower; wander the steep lanes of the Moure old quarter; and perhaps take a glass of red Collioure wine and some anchovies on restaurant terraces close to the port’s small sand and pebble beaches. Collioure is popular with visitors in high season especially during its 3 day festival in mid August - find details at the tourist office, tel: (00 33) 4 68 87 00 53.

Perpignan

Spanish combines with Romany, Moorish and North African influences in this French Catalan city with strong historical links to each.

Artist Salvador Dali once claimed Perpignan Station to be the ‘centre of the universe’ but for most tourists the buildings that excite are the Cathedral, art and folk museums of Le Castillet and Casa Pairal and especially the lofty splendour of the thirteenth century Palace of the Kings of Majorca dominating the city centre.

Its courtyard is a venue for theatrical productions in summer. Shop for Catalan ceramics and textiles or just enjoy the old quarter with its narrow streets full of spicy aromas, bustling markets and palm lined squares.

During the hot summer, life in Perpignan is lived outdoors; watch locals hold hands in the streets to dance the ‘sardana’ - a traditional Catalan circle dance performed in towns and villages everywhere.

Mediterranean Coast

Argeles-sur-Mer is the most important seaside resort on the French Catalan coast and its wide, sandy, 7km blue flag, beach of Argeles-Plage backed by olive groves and vineyards is Langedoc’s most famous.

The central area is popular in high season offering supervised beaches well served with amenities such as showers, pedalos and children’s clubs. Visitors are drawn to the pretty harbour, wealth of shops and bars, together with restaurants, evening discos, market and fun fair along the promenade.

Views of the Pyrenees from the northern area are stunning where a green park fringed with pines separates the beach from ‘civilization’. Opportunities for outdoor activities abound in Argeles, including watersports.

Canet-Plage

Canet-Plage backed by a coastal lagoon is the blug flag ‘town’ beach for Perpignan - 4km of supervised fine sand with plenty of amenities nearby including children’s play areas and restaurants. Activities such as watersports are popular, or walk south for more remote, quieter areas.

Prades

Nestling at the foot of the 2,784m sacred Pic du Canigou mountain where several rivers meet, the pretty market town of Prades with its houses and pavements of soft pink Conflent marble has a distinctly Catalan flavour.

Hardly surprising, as the town became a refuge for many seeking exile from Franco’s regime in Spain. The most famous - Catalan cellist, Pablo Casals - made his home here and the annual summer chamber music festival founded by him in 1950 takes place at wonderful venues in surrounding villages. For details see www.prades-festival-casals.com.

Visit the Pablo Casals Museum and the church of St-Pierre and do make time to see the lovely Abbey of St-Michael-de-Cuxa close by. Buy delicious peaches and apricots from local orchards in Prades’s lively Tuesday market and enjoy the clean air and special light of the surrounding fertile valley and wonderful Canigou mountain - often still snow-capped in May.

Arles-sur-Tech

Arles-sur-Tech is an important stopping point on the long distance GR10 walking route from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic before it crosses into the Canigou.

Known for its ancient festivals including the Fete de l’Ours (Bear festival) in late February, said to have pre-historic origins linked to the awakening of hibernating bears, Arles’s offers other antique mysteries in the inexplicably water-filled tomb - the Sainte-Tombe - outside Abbaye de Ste-Marie.

This massive Romanesque abbey, open to the public at various times from April to September, has several features to interest lovers of church architecture, including a strangely aligned altar and a brightly coloured twelfth century fresco. Said to be the narrowest canyon in the world, Gorges de la Fou is close enough to Arles to make an exciting family excursion.

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