The final stop on our month of travel was the city of Perpignan, France in the Pyrenees-Orientales region. Right off the bat, it is an incredibly beautiful region not only in France but probably in the world (one of our best trips ever!). There is a lot of variety of the natural beauty (mountains in the west, the Mediterranean coast in the east) as well as culture (Picasso & Malliol stayed here) and so much good food. On top of all this, Perpignan is a RyanAir destination meaning cheap flights for us (£20 per person, one way).
Top tip: The Pyrenees-Orientales region prides itself for its €1 fare for public transport. These buses and trains cover a vast area so a €2 day ticket is the best value for money public transport ticket in the western world.
Top tip: If you love visiting castles, we recommend visiting this region over visiting Scotland just for the sheer number of fortifications in such a small area!
Things to do
1. Sunbathe in the Mediterranean coast
We took a daytrip from Perpignan down to Banyuls-sur-Mer and stopped at Collioure on the way back. Best. day. ever. We’ve created a checklist of items for you to go through
☐ Drink sweet wine in a Banyuls-sur-Mer wine cave. We went to Cave l’Etoile Banyuls Coopérative and tasted 3 sweet & 3 dry wines before buying a bottle of sweet white wine. The village and the area is famous for its sweet wines and we can see why.
Tip: Many places in this region are closed in the afternoon and that includes a lot of wine caves, check the timings before leaving.
☐ Walk along the coast & gaze at the sparkly blue sea. You can do this both in Banyuls & Collioure, the former has a cool beach to sunbathe at but the latter has excellent bars facing the historic town. You cannot go wrong.
Tip: We had a cheese plate & wine in the outdoors area of La Voile facing Collioure, one of our favourite views of the trip.
☐ Soak in the riot of colour in the towns themselves. The colours through the coast are distinctly Catalan & they look amazing. The cobbled, narrow lanes of Collioure in particular will blow your mind (and so will the Maillol sculptures spread across Banyuls).
2. Take the Little Yellow train of Pyrenees
Le petit train jaune takes you to the highest station in Europe or even to Spain. It is exactly as cute as it sounds, vintage coaches & an old school tooting engine chugs up the Pyrenees-Orientales mountains to reach the highest railway station in France. It is a very beautiful journey, everyone on the train had a hard time keeping down their cameras.
Tip: The Perpignan to Villefranche-de-Conflent train on a €1 ticket train route so don’t buy the ticket for the yellow train that starts from any station that is not Villefranche. Get to Perpignan, buy & use a €1 ticket and then get a yellow train ticket to save about €12 each way.
3. Visit some beautiful villages (and see Picasso’s work)
Villefrance-de-Conflent is one of the most beautiful villages we have ever seen, it is fortified and is on the confluence of 2 rivers. We took a leisurely took a stroll around the villge (part of a collective of the most beautiful villages in France) and felt transported back to 1068 when this village was established. Do not miss this if boarding the Little Yellow Train.
Tip: There is a store called the Museum which is like a time capsule of the world’s history. Take a peek in, you won’t regret it.
Tip: We missed out on seeing Abbey of Saint-Martin-du-Canigou that is perched dramatically on a mountain top, do try to visit it, prebooked tours only allowed entry.
The other remarkable village we visited was Ceret. It is the birthplace of cubism and the Museum of Modern Art houses many works of Picasso including the ceramics pictured below. Artists truly lived in groups as 1 artist got based there and invited their “squad” over to install a whole new style of art (cubism) in the 1920.
4. Walk through the city of Perpignan
The city itself has a few highlights worth pointing out.
- City sponsored street art in the train station, great quality.
- Castillet (3rd pic from top) and some great restaurants nearby. We enjoyed Casa Sansa & L’Arganier.
- The pastry at Votre Pâtissier Jean-Marie. Where we went twice! (we rarely do that) Saint Honore’s were especially nice. Loved the chocolate truffles we bought from Gourmets say as well (it is almost the last shop in the row, hard to spot).
Getting in & around
- RyanAir flies to Perpignan from a few European/UK hubs. Iberia & AirFrance are the main airlines.
- There is a local bus service but it was on strike when we were there. Taxi from the airport costs £20, try to share with others to make 4 ppl per taxi.
- Perpignan railway station is fairly busy with TGV to Paris & Barcelona. Regional trains to Banyuls (via Collioure) cost €7.70 one way per person. Go to the SNCF website to buy tickets.
- A ticket to Villefranche de Conflent (or any stations is between) is €1 and must be bought from the separate, special ticket machines. There are a few more routes on the region that are similarly 1 EUR lines (Nîmes – The King’s Grau, Carcassonne – Quillan, Marvejols – La Bastide-St-Laurent-les-Bains,Béziers – Bedarieux – St-Chély-d’Apcher)
- The €1 bus leaves from just north of the rail station. Check timetables on Rome2Rio as GoogleMaps is unaware of schedules.
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