Within a maximum of 1 hour’s drive from the sea, lie a wide variety of towns and villages in the foothills, valleys and plains of the ‘Arriere Pays’.
Ceret, for example, is a fortified Catalan town with enormous palm trees and natural springs running through the streets. Fiercely Catalan at heart celebrate La Feria every July – a festival where young bulls run freely through the streets, chased by enthusiastic local youths who attempt to hold onto their tails for as long as possible. The bruises and hangovers last much longer than the Feria itself. The town also has an excellent Museum of Modern Art featuring works by Picasso (who lived there for some time), Chagall and Matisse.
Further into the foothills and altogether a quieter place is the village of Amelie-les-Bains, a natural Spa village where people come to relax and cure their ailments. It has become a ‘station verte’ which means that it will not become too overdeveloped as it must ensure that tourists benefit from the calm and natural environment.
The main road N116 takes you from Perpignan up to the ski resorts in about 1 /1/2 hours. Half way there is Prades, at the head of the Tet Valley. It benefits from its’ own micro-climate and is a haven for fishing and river sports such as kayaking. As with most large french towns, there is a cluster of Supermarkets, DIY stores and Garden Centres on the outskirts, together with the best setting for a McDonalds restaurant I have ever seen!
Just 10 minutes further on is Villefranche-de-Conflent – a tiny medieval village of 300 inhabitants who live and work in the ramparts rather like a miniature Carcassone. This place is teeming with tourists most of the year but is well worth a visit – and it is from here that you can take the little ‘Yellow Train’ which winds its’ way up into the Pyrenees and to the highest
station in Europe.
Another main route out of Perpignan takes you through the vineyards and up the Agly Valley passing through Estagel, an unassuming but typically french town with a few shops, bars and a hotel, and is perfectly located for visiting the nearby dramatic Gorges de Galamus and Gorges de St. Georges. Next door is the delightfully named Latour-de-France, a vibrant village famed for its’ Cotes du Roussillon Latour’ wine and has recently held an ‘international music festival’. Speaking of wine, the village of St. Martin-de-Fenouillet is 20 minutes up the road from here. Those of you who watched Channel 4’s recent series ‘Monty’s Vineyard’ will remember the beautiful views and the quaintness of the village. Similar in character but slightly larger is St. Paul-de-Fenouillet on the main road, right on the doorstep of the Gorges and walking country.