To stay in North Catalonia
French Catalonia covers almost the east-Pyrenees’s entire department. By tradition, it’s divided into 6 regions.
This big plain is limited by natural barriers. The Corbières chain in the north; the Pyrenees one in the south; the Canigou massif in the west; and the Mediterranean sea in the east.
Palm-trees, red bricks and ironworks: the old capital of Majorca’s kings (1276-1344) hasn’t lost its elegance. The garden-town shows in its streets some Aristide Maillol’s bronzes (born in Banyuls) and hosts in September the photojournalism international festival “Visa pour l’image” (www.visapourlimage.com).
- The Castillet dominate the lower part of the town and its little streets. Its two massive towers of XIV century hosts the Pairal House, the popular Art and Traditions museum dedicated to the Catalan culture (parties, handcraft, everyday life…).
- Toward the south, the Loge de Mer and the City Hall form an outstanding view of the medieval period. On the other hand, the Saint-Jean-Baptiste cathedral offers one of the most beautiful examples of the southern gothic style. Inside the building, the sumptuous baroque altar piece has to be seen.
- Settled in a particular hotel of the XVIII century, the Hyacinth Rigaud Art museum presents some paintings of this native artist, portrait painter attracted by Louis XIV. The museum also hosts some primitive Catalans and some modern paintings (Maillol, Picasso…).
- Settled in the Vauban citadel, the palace of the Majorca’s kings, built at the end of XIII century, dominate the higher part of the town. Arranged around a central courtyard, its four parties of the building are guarded by eight towers, which the Major tower is feathered by two overlaid gothic chapels.
Masterpiece of the military architecture of XV century, its stronghold made of rose bricks, with its medieval keep guarded the north boundary of Catalonia. With its10 metres of thickness fortification and its curtains protected by cylindrical towers, it was the first piece of work of the adapted genre to the new artillery.
The coast from Port-Leucate to Cerbère
Two faces for the same littoral. In the north, some never-ending beaches bounded by coastal resorts (Canet, Saint-Cyprien, Argelès…), leisure paradises to also practice water-sports. In the south, the Vermeille coast, its rocky coves, its charming fishing ports and its vineyards on the hillside. For the travellers some stopping places are a must:
- Elne. Situated at six kilometres from Saint-Cyprien beaches, the small town keeps some beautiful battlements’ remains and a jewel: the Sainte-Eulalie-et-Sainte-Julie cathedral’s roman cloister with its wonderful sculptured decor. In the ticket are also included the Terrus museum, local painter and one of Matisse’s friends.
- Mas Larrieu nature reserve. In the north of Argelès, in both sides of the Tech’s mouth, 145 hectares of sand and reed bed. Guided visits to “gré de l’eau” and to “fil des dunes”, on Tuesday and Thursday morning. Tourism office of Argelès, tel.: 0033 4 68 95 34 25/0033 4 68 81 15 85. http://www.argeles-sur-mer.com/
- Collioure. The Vermeille coast’s jewel prides itself on its royal castle of XV century and on its Notre-Dame-des-Anges church, rich of nine baroque altar pieces. The “fauvism’s way” links through the streets some painting reproductions in the same places where the masters of this movement (Matisse, Derain) put their easel.
- The Paulilles bay. In the south of Collioure, this charming handle bordered by sand shelters, in the heart of a pine-wood, the old buildings of the first French dynamite factory founded in 1870. It now hosts an exhibition dedicated to the working class of that place (free guided visits). Info on the General Council’s web site: http://www.cg66.fr/
In the west of Perpignan, this region full of hills recovered by cork oak is used as foothill for the Canigou massif. Among its top-ranking:
- The medieval town of Thuir is the site of the impressive Byrrh cellars: 800 were of oaks, which one of the biggest lightening in the world (one million litres!) and a cargo station signed by Gustavo Eiffel.
- Nearby, the priory church de Serrabonne (XII century) raises, on its church’s platform, a surprising roman bestiary sculptured in the rose marble: eagles, ailed lions, griffons…
- In the north-east, the geological site of Orgue d’Ille-sur-Têt offers a unique landscape on the Pyrenees.
Even though in the past, this micro region belonged to the Occitan one, it’s now almost Catalane and wedged between the Roussillon and the Corbières with its roman steeple and its thriving vineyard. You can discover:
The “caune” of Arago
A cave where some remains of Tautavel man was found, our ancestor who is 450 000 years old. You can complete this visit in the eponym village, going to the Prehistoric museum and to the one of the first inhabitants of Europe.
Gorges of Galamus
Some dizzy cliffs cut in the limestone by the Agly River.
The Força Real hermitage
From de high rocky peak where the building was built, the view enlarges upon the Roussillon plain until the seaside.
In the south of Canigou massif, this border region enlarges upon Tech valley which links the high Pyrenean peaks to the Roussillon plain.
The capital of Vallespir is kept by an exceptional piece of work: the Devil Bridge, which the unique stone arch has got an opening of 45 metres and it resists from XIV century.
The Modern Art Museum exposes the works of the artists who lived in the town: Picasso, Juan Gris, Braque, Dali, and Chagall…
Well-known for its miraculous sarcophagus, the Sainte-Marie abbey preserve the first gothic cloister of north Catatonia (XII century) and one of the oldest sculptured portraits (1046).
La Fou gorges nearby, are among the narrowest in the world: 150 metres high, less than one metre near.
Prats de Mollo
Surrounded by fortifications, its medieval old town characterized by back alleys and dominated by the strong Lagarde. This one was built by Vauban in the XVII century to control the new boundary of the Pyrenean treat.
This region bounds the high valley of Têt in the north of Canigou massif.
The local capital combines half-timbering houses and rose-marble fountains. To flee the Francoism, the Catalan cellist and composer Pablo Casals (1876-1973) took refuge in this town in 1939, before creating a room-music festival. It’s now one of the most prestigious in France (July-August). http://www.prades-festival-casals.com/
Near Prades, here is one of the jewels of the Catalan religious architecture. Founded in 974, the roman shrine was endowed, in the XI and XII centuries, by an ambulatory, on the model of the biggest churches of pilgrimage. A rose-marble cloister was added afterwards. The rectangular steeple, crenellated and decorated by Lombard groups, is typical of the region.
With its alleyway edged by medieval facades, the village is classified among the most beautiful of France. It keeps a part of the fortification of XI century and four towers of XIV century. In the XVII century, Vauban modernized it and added some angle strongholds. The Louis XIV military architecture, equally built overhanging the strong Liberia, reached by underground stairs which has one thousand steps! This defensive system as a whole is part of Vauban creations, registered to the global patrimony of UNESCO in 2008.
Nearby, Grandes Canalettes caves are famous for their limestone draperies. They are wonderful under the light in July and August at 7:00 p.m.
The yellow train. It leaves from Villefranche and reaches the Cerdagne’s plateaus crossing wonderful landscapes. 35€ back and forth.
One of the first roman abbeys, built in the XI century in the north side of Canigou and rehabilitate from 1902. Situated on a rocky mountain, at 1100 metres high, it dominates impressive caves. The religious community of Béatitudes ensures the visit. The high church situated on monolith columns and the Guilford II’ gravestone, a converted noble, count of Cerdagne and Confluent, also must be seen.
Classed as “big site” from 1999, the sacred mountain of “French Catalans” is part of the regional nature park of the Catalan Pyrenees. Three foot race road tracks climb on its top, the Canigou peak (2784 metres): from Cortalets, to Joffre peak in to hours without difficulties; to the Barbé crest and a dizzy stair, through the Canigou way (2:20 hours) and through the southern side way taking the GR10 (4 hours). Consult the weather forecast before leaving. If it’s sunny, you will have a view until Barcelona!
This wooded plateau surrounded by high mountains stretches to the west of Canigou. It’s edged by the Têt valley in the north and, in the south by the Andorran and Spanish boundaries.
Situated at 1600 metres high at the crossroads of Confluent, Capcir and Cerdagne, it’s the biggest stronghold in France and it was built by Vauban after the Pyrenean treaty in 1659. Registered as a global patrimony, the citadel and the high part of the town, they are full of granite fortifications, fitted with only one door. The southern bastion shade the first experimental solar furnace in the world, built in 1953.
The one hundred year-old station is famous for its slopes’ extension (58 kilometres of Alpin skiing, 110 kilometres of cross-country skiing). It’s also known for its hermitage, place of pilgrimage in September the 8th, as a tribute to the Virgin’s gold wooden statue, sculptured in the XII century.
Nearby, the Odeillo’s solar furnace, which started its activity in 1968, is the biggest in the world, with 3000 square metres of mirrors. Guided visits are organised all the year.
Covered by pine forests and dotted with lochs, it’s the biggest Pyrenean plateau, in the north of Cerdagne, a paradise for hikers and the cross-country skiing lovers.
The wildlife park of Angles
Within 37 hectares of forests, it’s characterized by a varied Pyrenean fauna: wolfs, ibexes, mountain sheep, brown bears and other bucks.
Situated in a moon setting, this big water tank of 149 hectares is surrounded by track roads leading to the local fauna and flora.
Village of Formiguères
In the heart of the Catalan Pyrenees’ regional nature park, this charming village hosted in the XIII century the summer residence of Majorca’s kings, whom one of them suffered of asthma. Beautiful mountain houses characterized by particular roofs.
Not far, Frontabiouse caves, discovered in 1958, deploy some sumptuous concretions sculptured in the limestone.
Regional Tourism Committee of Languedoc-Roussillon: L’Acropole, 954, av. Jean-Mermoz, 34960 Montpellier. Tel.: 0033 4 67 20 02 20.
Tourism departmental Committee of Western Pyrenees: 16, avenue Palmier, 66005 Perpignan. Tel.: 0033 4 68 51 52 53
These two organisms propose on their web sites further information on the north of Catalonia and a booking service: hotels, visits in France, camping, accommodations, theme stays and holidays in the farme.