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France Today

Come to Village Catalan - the Paradise of the Pyrenees

    A brief travel introduction to Pyrénées Roussillon in the South of France

    By Anette Gundersen

    Vernet

    The Eastern corner of the Pyrenean mountain range has everything the visitor can wish for - an abundant variety in nature, rocks, sandy beaches, sloping green hills, villages dating back to the Roman Empire, good food and drink, excellent restaurants and hotels, friendly people, arts and crafts, a healthy, dry climate, hydro sanatoriums, ski resorts, diving, horseback riding, speleology, music...just to mention some of the attractions this beautiful region has to offer.

    The Nature..

    The soft green clad slopes of the Albères the lowest range stretching down to the sandy beaches of the Mediterranean Ocean offer beautiful hiking for the whole family whereas the wild, jagged rocks further inland, at the foot of the mighty, awesome Canigou, sacred mountain of the Catalan people, are well suited for hikers and climbers. The lowland is the garden of the region - 35% of the French wine is produced here, not yet well known abroad but very palatable and sold in every little village throughout the region, bottled or "en vrac" (by the liter directly from the vat) - follow the signs to the local cooperative and taste at your ease. Just do not forget that in many cases the alcohol percentage range around 12 - 13 percent.

    Fruits and vegetables are grown everywhere, orchards of peach, nectarine, apricot, pear, apple, cherry and even kiwi stretch for miles, and in the Spring nature turns into clouds of pink and white - no wonder that Roussillon in Spring is true Paradise for painters! And even in Winter people work their gardens, plowing and digging and harvesting artichokes and salads at the same time. And still only 3-4 hours away by car you can go skiing at Font Romeu, Bourg Madame, Andorra etc. In fact, if you like long days, you can golf in St. Cyprien and ski at Les Angles on the same day!

    Choose your preference in beaches - sandy or rocky, the first excellent for sunbathers, the latter well suited for scuba diving and offering many tiny spots for privacy. La Cote Vermeille with Canet Plage, St. Cyprien and Argelès-sur-Mer are famous for their beautiful, soft sand and clear, deep blue water, not to speak of the numerous facilities such as restaurants, bars, hotels and shops in close vicinity of the beaches.

    La Cote Rocheuse offers a more dramatic splendor with charming coastal towns such as Colloiure, Port Vendres, Banyuls-sur-Mer dipping their medieval feet in the sea. Also well equipped with all imaginable facilities for the traveller, some even boasting yacht-harbours.

    For the speleologist the limestone caves are a must, most recommendable is for example Grotte des Canallettes on the way to Andorra(9) , close neighbour to the fortified town of Villefrance-de-Conflent

    A few Painters..

    Roussillon boasts 300 sunny days a year - the unique combination of sea and mountains lends the region the soft, intensive light and deep shadows which inspired many great painters through the ages - Picasso, Derain, Braque and Matisse, only to mention a fraction, visited Céret and Collioure, leaving their immortal traces on the walls in bars and cafés. And the art spirit is everywhere, artists working at their easels on street corners, on beach fronts and in nature. One of the much beloved "models" is the Chateau Royal in Collioure, dating back to the troubled days of Louis XI around the 15th century. Céret combines charmingly the ancient traditions of Catalonia with modern art - referring to the latter, the town was called "The Mecca of Cubism" by a group of painters in the early days of the 20th century. This delightful mixture of old and new, of light and shadow, of village and nature never fails to enchant the visitor.

    Briefly about Perpignan, ancient capital of Roussillon..

    Perpignan was capital of Roussillon since 1276 and home of the counts of Roussillon and the Mallorca Kings. These early days the main activity was preparing and dying the fabric received from the main drapery cities in Europe. Later, between the 14th and the 17th century, the Roussillon and the Cerdagne were intregated in the principality of Catalonia, which was part of the Aragon (Spain) kingdom. In 1659, with the signing of the Treaty of the Pyréneés, a long chapter of revolts, famine and brutality was finally over and the Perpignanese were part of the French kingdom. Nowadays, the expansion of the city is due to the export of agricultural products, mainly fruits, vegetables and wines from the plains and from the coastal regions, such as Banyuls wines, growing in the sparse soils along the Cote Rocheuse

    The Climate..

    The climate is very stable during the Summer, dry and hot, between 25-30 Centigrade in the daytime and from 20-23 Centigrade at night, often with thunderstorms in the higher altitudes. Autumn and Spring tend to be more changing and quite windy - the Tramuntane from the north is known for up to 110 km/hour gusts and may blow from 3 to 9 days, causing some Catalans to go to bed and stay put until it is all over.

    The Winter is usually the rainy season, with temperatures ranging from 10 Centigrade at daytime and down to - 2 Centigrade at night. But grace to the Tramuntane with it's strong winds, the air stays dry and most days are tolerable with clear skies. Lunch on the terrace is often possible as soon as the sun is out, bringing up the temperatures to around 15-17 Centigrade. every 6-7 years snow may fall, lasting for about 4-5 days and turning the traffic situation completely up side down!

    Health matters..

    The whole region is famous for the numerous hydro-sanatoriums due to the mountain sources - the Romans were the initiators for a number of baths, now modernized and brought into use by the national health service. The same is the case with the drink water oures - may be Hannibal and his elephants drank the healthy Le Boulou-water after the strenous crossing at Le Perthus thus preparing the troops for the Alps?!

    List of hydro-sanatoriums with bath/douche therapy in sulphurous waters:

    Sanatoriums with drinking water therapy in sulphate or calcium-bicarbonate-waters:

    Some of the drinking water sources contain such large amounts of minerals that you need your doctor to prescribe the amounts to be taken!

    Transport:

    If you arrive from overseas you probably touch down in Paris and will then have to change airport in order to catch a domestic flight to Toulouse, Carcassonne, Montpellier or Perpignan. At the airport it is recommended to hire a car or to ask the information desk which coach to catch. Unfortunately the local bus service is rather scarce in the country side, so if you plan to go around in the region you will be well advised to rent a car.

    But for the visitor who prefers to stay in a hotel in one of the larger cities bus service is regular within the city and for the odd excursion the tourist offices will help you with coach trips. Of course, for the train lover there are plenty possibilities as the train network in France (SNCF) is well developed, but this solution is by no means the cheapest.

    Highways in France are quick, in good condition as well as the rest areas are well equipped and modern. But do inquire about the French holiday seasons (the country is divided into different sections, which each has it's own peak holiday season in order to keep the traffic chaos at a minimum, but it's still pretty bad to venture onto the roads during the season).

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