36 hours in Perpignan – worth the visit?

Absolutely!

But what I’d like to know is if you have a list of places you want to visit?  Maybe in your home country or further afield? In the UK, for example, I have never visited the Lake District (I am ashamed to say!) yet. Further afield, India would be top of my list.  Here, in France, my wish list of places to visit seems to get longer by the minute. This brings me to Perpignan.

I have wanted to visit Perpignan for ever. It was even one of my choices when I did a teacher exchange. Therefore, I was delighted when we actually spent some time there, recently. We took the train from Carcassonne which goes all the way to Barcelona. It’s a fabulous journey and only takes an hour as it is direct.

Perpignan station is famous for its links with Dali.  He claimed that he was inspired simply by sitting in the station’s lobby. In 1963, Dali said that Perpignan  station was ‘the centre’ of the world. He later created a painting entitled ‘La Gare de Perpignan’  which hangs in the Ludwig Museum in Cologne.

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Leaving the station, we decided to head into Perpignan for a coffee and croissant and as we wandered into the city centre (about 15 minutes walk) we walked past the statue of Dali ‘en Levitation’. He is seated on a high red chair, outside FNAC, on the Place de Catalogne and facing towards the train station. The FNAC shop is located inside the original ‘Dames de France’ building which was opened in 1910.

I’m a fan of ‘hop-on, hop-off’ buses when arriving in a new city for a short visit. These aren’t available in Perpignan. We did the next best thing and caught ‘Le petit train’. The journey lasts for about 50 minutes and takes you around 34 of the main sites. Mr FF doesn’t share my enthusiasm for these ‘little trains’ but he had to admit that this was an excellent introduction to Perpignan.

After the train, we dropped our bags at our hotel. We often stay in Airbnb’s but, on this occasion, had opted for a hotel as we would be there for only one night. Location was important, as we would be doing a lot of walking! Our  hotel ‘Campanile Perpignan Centre’ was situated opposite a lovely park: le square Bir Hakeim.

Our room overlooked the old city walls.

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There was so much to discover and only limited time. This is what we manged to see:

  • Le Castillet 

This is a distinctive red brick tower and the only remaining one of the old town walls. It was built in 1368 to repel invaders and serve as a gate into the city. It was turned into a prison in the 17th and 18th centuries. The Casa Pairal Museum is located in the Castillet. The highlight, for me, was the views from the top of the monument. There are 142 stone steps to get to the top but it’s definitely worth the effort!

  • Le cinema Castillet

This is round the corner from Le Castillet and was completed in 1911. I loved the art nouveau style and this cinema is said to be one of the oldest and most beautiful in France.

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  • Le Palais des Rois de Majorque 

This magnificent 13th century palace was built as a residence for Jaume 11 of Mallorca. Perpignan has strong Catalan roots having belonged to Spain for long periods of its history. It only became French in 1642. Street names in Perpignan are written in French and Catalan.

To reach this impressive palace, there are  zig zagging steps until you reach the beautiful gardens. Here there are breath taking views of the Pic du Canigou. The day we went, entrance was free. I don’t know why. I believe it normally costs 4 euros; well worth it. We opted for the self-guided tour and there is plenty to see.

  • Cathedrale St-Jean Baptiste

On the day we visited, there was a small, family service taking place but we were still able to appreciate the nave, side chapels and stained glass. The foundations were laid in 1324 but it was elevated to cathedral status in 1601. The style is Gothic and the dimensions are impressive.

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There are many beautiful squares in Perpignan where you can people watch and enjoy a coffee, beer and a snack. We were there on a beautiful, warm sunny day. Perfect!

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This brings me on to food. There is no shortage of restaurants in Perpignan. As we were only there for one night, it was quite difficult to chose! In the end, we decided on Casa Santa which is known for being the city’s best Catalan restaurant. It was established in 1846 and is very popular. The inside is best described as ‘intimate’ as there isn’t much space between the tables. We didn’t mind as the food was extremely good! I was enjoying my meal so much that I forgot to take any photos. Here’s one from the restaurant’s Facebook page. I’m sure they won’t mind as I’m singing their praises!

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I’ll finish with a selection of photos which I hope will give you a further flavour of Perpignan. We certainly didn’t manage to see and do everything and we will definitely go back as we enjoyed the city so much!

Have you visited Perpignan? What did you think? I’d love to know!

 

Lou Messugo