Caroline Hill loves the capital of French Catalonia, a vibrant city undergoing major regeneration
Before settling here we searched all the corners of France, and many of the middle bits, and just could not decide where we wanted to be. Then we discovered Perpignan  and that we didn’t have to make a choice as everything was here! The beach is just 15 minutes away, scenic walks in the foothills of the Pyrénées are just 20 minutes away, we can hop over to Spain for some cheap shopping in just half-an-hour, and if we fancy a trip to the mountains a 1.5 hour drive will take us into the ski-slopes . When you add the vineyards, orchards, lakes, rivers and lagoons, you realise how spoilt for choice you are here.
On approaching the city it is soon obvious that this is not a typical French town but is also proudly Catalan, being the capital city of French Catalonia . The road signs are in both French and Catalan, there are red and gold striped flags flying everywhere, and there are many restaurants offering tapas and delicious Catalan delicacies. This celebration of Catalan culture also means that we have more than our fair share of festivals and ceremonies and you never know what you will come across on an evening out – papier mâché giants, horse-back riders carrying flames, and, on one occasion, pens of young farm animals (I never did find out what relevance this had to anything)!
Centre of the world
Perpignan is a vibrant mixture of culture and history and was for many years the capital of the Kings of Majorca – the castle is perched above the ‘old town’ and the narrow winding streets within the original rampart walls are fascinating to explore, with an eclectic mix of everything from designer shops to social housing. One of the most famous landmarks in Perpignan is probably The Castillet, the gatehouse which originally held prisoners at the entrance to the old town but which now houses a small museum. If you climb the stairs inside, you will reach stunning views over the Roussillon plain.
But Perpignan is in the throes of a massive regeneration project – the new TGV connection which cuts the journey time to Barcelona down to just 45 minutes and therefore makes the city a major TGV hub linking Montpellier, Barcelona and Paris. We have a huge new shopping mall (with an amazing roof made up of solar panels to take advantage of the 300 days of sunshine), two new hotels, new offices and pedestrian areas.
This complex naturally has the Catalan name of ‘El Centro del Mon’ in a nod to Salvador Dali who once declared Perpignan Station as ‘The Centre of The World’. Further into the town is the new Théâtre de l’Archipel (made up of cubes with an adjoining pebble-shaped building), and a very modern ‘Suite-Hotel’ of studio apartments for business travellers. The architecture is radical and makes it very plain that Perpignan is anticipating a prosperous future.
This town just gets better and better and for me it really is ‘The Centre of the World’!
Five great things about Perpignan
- Transport – You can hop on a bus and travel to anywhere in the whole department for just 1 euro!
- Rugby – With two famous teams (USAP and the Catalan Dragons) you can’t help but be caught up in the excitement on match day.
- The Canigou – The majestic mountain that dominates the skyline.
- Le ‘Casty’ – One of my favourite restaurants (just opposite Le Castillet).
- The weather – 300 days of sunshine per year!