Perpignan was the most surprising town we visited. It was the first place where my son served so it was his “hometown” and he felt so comfortable there. It also has a different feel since it is culturally Catalonia.
We stayed at the very nice Novotel Suites Mediterranee. It is a great hotel for a family of 4. It was already set up with the 2 extra beds when we arrived. It has a cute kitchenette built into a closet and a very nice bathroom with separate tub and rain shower. The only thing I didn’t particularly like was that the toilet was in a separate room by the entrance. So you had to go all across the room to go to the toilet. Plus it was the size of a small airplane bathroom with a minuscule sink. But it is very French to have a separate toilet. We had that in all of the apartments we rented. The beds and pillows were very comfortable and there are curtains all around the room to provide some privacy between the areas. I also liked the lights and all the storage place. This hotel would not be a bad place to stay for a few nights. The wifi was not fantastic but it worked really well in the toilet room.
The hotel is very modern looking both in the lobby and room. The floor has this synthetic carpet that feels like sisal but made of plastic. You can buy food from the lobby mini mart or have breakfast. But when in France I prefer walking to a nearby bakery and getting a baguette.
The heart of Perpignan is the Castillet. You can visit it but we didn’t. It seems that everything flows from there. The downtown has several semi pedestrian streets with lots of shops and restaurants. This is the place where we did most of our shopping. Even though there were the big chains in Perpignan, we loved the smaller shops. I bought several pieces of clothing taking advantage of the soldes. There is nothing like a French boutique owner determined to dress you. She will find you what you want and dress you from head to toe.
We visited the Palais des Rois de Majorque. It is a major complex with no furnishings and very little decoration left but it is still very impressive. Like many buildings its age it has had so many uses through the years. Plus you get great views of the city.
The Cathedral St Jean is Perpignan’s most famous. It has beautiful stained glass windows and an ornate organ. My son wanted to show us the cool statues in the courtyard but it was closed. Once again just getting there is fun because there are so many small shops and restaurants to keep you busy.
But I have to say that my favorite part of Perpignan was meeting my son’s friend, Laurent. Once he found out who I was, the ran to me gave me a big hug and kiss and told me he loved me because I was Walters’ mom. He then proceeded to be our “security” as my daughter and I went shopping (the guys were resting). And as a true French man he insisted that we eat with him because you are not someone’s friend in France until you’ve had a meal with them. So he took us to Perpignan’s best crepe stand and insisted that we share some crepes with him. Once you get to know the French, they are sooo friendly. I miss my new French boyfriend Laurent.
Perpignan is famous for the nearby beaches. Everyone told us that we should go to Collioure because it is a beautiful old fishing village. The only problem is that half of France also had the same idea. It was one gigantic traffic jam. People were parking all along the roads and walking for kilometers to get to the beach. There was no way we could make it to the beach so we just kept on driving. We finally got to the little village of Banyul-sur-Mer near the Spanish border. It was still very crowded and we parked about 1.5 kms from the beach but we made it to the beach. The only disappointing part was that it was a rather rocky beach. No sand only rocks. Plus the water was very cold.
My son and I had fun trying to balance on the rocks for pictures. They just kept on moving with the waves. On the far end of the beach there were some surfers. Several people would swim to the floating decks. It was a fun time even though getting there was stressful.
One evening we had the privilege of visiting Prades. It is a lovely Catalan village up on the Pyrenees. It is a small village without much to do. You go there to enjoy the cute town and grab some dinner at a restaurant on the town square. There are lovely buildings and the trees frame the square perfectly. The sad part is that you can see that it is an economically depressed part of France with many abandoned buildings and closed stores. That evening there appeared to be a classical concert but we did not attend. We simply enjoyed a good dinner. Be sure to bring a sweater because it gets cool at night up in the mountains. Prades also has the most beautiful Hotel de Ville.
Being in Catalonia was a treat. I suggest to anyone going to France to make a trip to Pyrenees-Orientales. It is its own culture, its own flavor. It is bright, it is loud, it is bold and above all it is beautiful.