It’s the beginning of November and I hopped on a 1€ train from Montpellier to Perpignan. 2 cities within the Languedoc-Roussillon region separated by an hour and half train journey. I wanted a new place to wander around, gather my thoughts, and take some photos in an effort to see as much as possible before winter really kicked in. I knew Perpignan was bordered by the Pyrenees mountains and my Airbnb reservation had a room with a view so that was a big draw.
I arrived mid-afternoon on Thursday and by the time it was the early evening I was busy meandering aimlessly through the city. I saw a nicely lit avenue of trees in a park.
I didn’t expect to be spending my first full day in 28C sunshine. Sunny days lift my spirits immeasurably and I was already on a high from seeing somewhere new. Being able to crack out the flip flops and shorts for a bit longer was… well… amazeballs.
I found the mix of cultures fascinating. Street signs are bilingual (French and Catalan) and just like in Barcelona, the Catalan people are very proud of their heritage. Often when I heard people speaking French they definitely had a hispanic accent. I think if there were the money available that Barcelona has, the Catalan people in Perpignan would be making more of an effort to become independent.
Despite Perpignan being a small city, just 118,000 people, its historic centre feels more spread out than somewhere bigger like Montpellier. Although it has pretty ruelles (alleyways) with cafés and shops they feel a little more spacious. I wandered down a few, taking pictures at anything picturesque or unusual. There was a lovely flower shop with an outdoor display.
I wanted somewhere to sit and read in the shade and had earmarked the Parc Des Sports south of the city. It was about a half an hour walk but as I had seen some inviting photos of it with wide green spaces I made the effort to go and find it. The walk was not so interesting, along a busy road, but eventually I found what I was looking for. The park was inaugurated by the Mayor of Perpignan in September 2015 and is a huge complex of sporting facilities next to the university. Initially it seemed it was just for joggers and anyone who wanted to hire a tennis court or football pitch, but I managed to find some shady areas to sit and relax. It was quiet and so the perfect place to sit down after a long walk.
Doing a bit of research on day trips out of Perpignan leads you to Collioure. A picturesque town on the coast with hiking nearby and a wealth of medieval buildings.
I jumped on a 1€ bus and took the 1 hour 10 minute journey south to Collioure, passing through other pretty towns such as Argelès-sur-Mer along the way. The views of the Pyrenees looming close by were something to enjoy, they are an ever-present personality in the region. Not only that, but there is an abundance of grapevines covering the numerous hillsides the bus journey winds around.
After getting off the bus, after a 20 second walk down the hill a bay opened up in front of me and with the sun at the right point in the sky I was compelled to take this photo.
Walking around the bay shows off the great views and I think I arrived just in time because a cloud of fog would descend over the town around an hour later. The front, overlooking the small beach and water, is lined with cafés and bars. In summer time I can imagine it heaving with people but in November it was peaceful. The cafés served a variety of Catalan food. Just behind them are several little archways which act as perfect frames for photos.
It reminded me a little of the tiny village of St Guilhem Le Desert, but where the tiny shop fronts were replaced by colourful residential walls. Even the drainpipes were painted a contrasting colour to that of the wall on which they were attached.
I had heard about a walk up to a fort called Fort Saint Elme. I had read it was around a 20 minute steep walk from Collioure. Indeed, the fort could be clearly seen from the bay so I thought I would make the climb, look around and head down the other side to the town of Port Vendres.
After initially getting lost (you can blame my poor sense of direction if you like, BUT YOU WEREN’T THERE!), I started the ascent and reached this cute old windmill. Also, the view up to the fort was cool because of the descending fog. It reminded me of a castle from a childhood story.
After the 15 or so minutes walking up the poorly signed path and catching my breath, I paid the 6€ entrance fee to walk around the grounds and inside the fort, which was worked on by 3 military architects in the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries. The latter was the work of Vauban, a huge influence all over the region.
On a clearer afternoon, this is a fantastic spot for views over the bay, but unfortunately by this point the fog was so heavy and I could almost not see in front of my own hands.
I did however get some good shots around the fort itself.
After an educational walk around the tower, I made the 20 minute descent along a road towards Port Vendres, where I could look around before catching the bus back. It didn’t have the same natural beauty as Collioure, but I did get one nice snap of the marina.
How to get to Collioure from Perpignan
The Pyrenees-Orientale (regional) government operates a network of 1€ buses. I took the number 400 (PDF file). The bus stop is located from a bus depot in the same building as the SNCF train station. You can walk into and underground passage that also leads to some shops to the right of the station’s main entrance. Once inside, head up one level. There is a Subway restaurant at one end and the bus depot is through an exit at the other end. If you get lost, look for directions to the Gare Routiere overhead.
So there you have it. If you’re looking for a day trip from Perpignan then Collioure is a great option. Also, if you love seafood the options are plentiful.