Perpignan is a splendid example of French Catalan culture, but why not make it a long weekend and explore the seaside town of Collioure and the artistic haven of Céret for as little as 1€!
Before France becomes a wine induced hazy memory, we wanted to share a couple of day trips around the Pyrénées-Orientales, the area surrounding Perpignan that stretches across the Pyrénées down to the Spanish border.
Is a car necessary to do day trips from Perpignan?
For those of you without cars to facilitate a casual jaunt around the French countryside have no fear!
There is bus service and to get anywhere it costs just 1€ – the best bargain we found in all Western Europe.
Using Perpignan as a base this 1€ bus (Bus A 1 Euro) can get you as far as the Spanish border and runs services all over the Pyrénées-Orientales.
The only negative would be of course the buses are packed but given that our destinations were less than an hour from the city, it really doesn’t matter.
Tip: Check the weather – for duller days go to Céret as you really want to be in Collioure while the sun is shining for a cheeky dip in the Mediterranean.
South of Perpignan is this wee market village famous for its cherries, its art and for its reputation as the cradle of Cubism – a must for art enthusiasts.
In the village centre you will find the classic French boulangerie serving up pastries and other delights, cafes, boutiques, independent art galleries, museums and a weekly market on Saturdays.
Like many French towns and villages there is the old medieval part, bookended by the Port de France and Porte d’Espagne which today stands on Place Picasso.
🅿️ The bus will drop you at the bottom of a hill in the new part of the town and it’s just a five or ten-minute walk to the town centre. Parking is also easy with several places to park in the village centre.
Musée d’art moderne de Céret
If there’s one thing you would not expect to find in a small village such as this it would be an exquisite museum of modern art founded with the help of Picasso and featuring works by Braque, Gris, Soutine, Chagall, Herbin and Matisse. It is a Cubist’s dream!
Picasso arrived in 1911 and the village became a place for artists to live for a while, inspired by the landscape and the position of the village, namely its proximity to Spain.
The museum was founded around 1950 by Pierre Brune and Frank Burty Haviland and hosts a permanent collection including Picasso’s bull fighting vases/ceramics and a space for touring and temporary exhibitions of contemporary art spanning many genres which will take 2 to 3 hours to navigate.
🎟️ Tickets are 8€ or reduced tickets for 6€ for both the temporary and permanent exhibitions.
If art galleries aren’t your thing then the gorgeous countryside of the Vallespir valley inside which Céret sits is the perfect place for an active day out – including mountain biking, canyoning, horse trekking and bungee jumps for adrenaline junkies!
Vallespir Tourisme – http://www.vallespir-tourisme.fr/
Pont du Diable
For a fantastic viewpoint visit The Devil’s Bridge (Pont du Diable) which is the arched stone bridge crossing the Tech river on the north side of Céret. It was built in 1321-1324 and at the time was the world’s largest arch bridge.
The best time to enjoy the village is the last weekend of May for the cherry festival! Their most renowned locally produced fruit is big business here with the season’s first pick being sent to the President every year. The Fête de la Cerise runs alongside a festival of brass bands for one massive party where visitors can really revel in festival spirit with the locals.
Céret de Toros (July) – bullfighting although controversial has been tradition in the village since 1577 when it was under Spanish rule with the current arena being built in 1922.
Festival de Sardanes -traditional Catalan dancing, the Querencias – music and flamenco!
Festival d’Havaneres – a polyphonic choral singing festival.
Just a short drive away or a ride on the bus is the seaside town of Collioure on the Mediterranean coast. Azure waters make swimming an attractive proposition and this reasonably sized beach offers plenty of beachside cafés and gelato for sunny days.
For the more active there are options for water sports, sailing and kitesurfing on the outskirts of the town’s harbour. You won’t need the French Riviera with what is often recorded as France’s warmest town.
Once upon a time this was the port town for Perpignan and hosted various famous artists including Fauvists Henri Matisse and André Derain and later the likes of Picasso and Braque. You will find artists frames all around the town depicting paintings to take your own inspired photos!
🅿️ The bus will drop you in the middle of town right next to the beach and pick you up from here. There is parking also.
Château royal de Collioure
You can’t miss this imposing structure as it sits proudly in the middle of the town encompassed by an impressive fortress. Built roughly between 1276 and 1344 by the counts of Roussillon and the kings of Aragon, it was later occupied by the Mallorcan court, although the outer wall was the work of Vauban in the 17th century. It is worth the view from the top, although inside there isn’t a lot to see aside from the architecture.
🎟️ Tickets are 4€ for adults and 2€ for children.
Musée d’Art Moderne
Another art lovers gem! Inside you will find boat sketches by Matisse and Edouard Pignon alongside coastal canvases by Henri Martin and Henri Marre. There are also temporary touring exhibitions in this small but beautiful gallery.
For more art visit the galleries and studios on Rue de la Fraternité.
🎟️ Tickets are adult/child €3/2 and opening times are 10-6pm in the summer and 2-6pm off season.
Moulin de la Cortina
The most exquisite spot in town is up the hill to see the 14th century windmill that overlooks the valleys and seaside below. The walk up the hill takes you through olive groves from Fort St Elme (20 mins) or take the walk from the Musée d’Art Moderne.
Collioure Food and Drink
Céret has lovely cafes and cherries but Collioure is famed for its wine and anchovies, indeed its plethora of tapas eateries by the harbour is testament to that!
Find wineries in and around the town. The identical terroir and similar grapes would have you believe these are Banyuls without fortification. Beautiful, rich and powerful reds while the whites are mineral lead, crisp with a hint of Mediterranean herbs.
Match local wine with fresh seafood which is heavily influenced by its Spanish neighbour. Catalan tapas at places such as Paco offer a cosy, warm atmosphere, local wines by the glass and bottle and an open kitchen to watch your food on the grill.
Mix French and Spanish flavours with moules à l’ail and jambon serrano and indulge in the best crème catalane this side of the border!
Find eateries lined up next to each other down the old twisty streets that run along the back of the harbour – and try the anchovies if they are your thing!
Without a doubt one of the most beautiful parts of Western Europe with quintessential French towns and villages, rolling vineyards, Mediterranean waters and plenty of Spanish flavour.
Next time we look at the journey to Barcelona via Figueres to see the Dali Museum! x