About Southern France – French Catalonia
As the Mediterranean coast sweeps around the Golfe du Lion towards the Spanish border, it meets the ancient former province of Roussillon. Broad sandy beaches and tourist developments run into the rocky headlands of the Côte Vermeille, the horizon rears up into the eastern tip of the Pyrenees, and Perpignan, capital of the region, brazenly flies the red and yellow striped Catalan flag – for this is French Catalonia.
Phoenician merchant seafarers settled here (they say Hercules passed through), and then the Romans who built the Via Domitia along a route now followed by La Catalane, the thundering autoroute to the south. From the Carolingian empire, Roussillon passed to the independent Counts of Barcelona in the l0thC and later to the Kings of Aragon, who kept the French at bay until the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659. French for just three centuries, Roussillon’s Catalan identity remains strong, bolstered by an influx of refugees during the Franco years. Local customs and culture, language, even food set the people of French Catalonia slightly apart from the rest of their countrymen, though few want to go so far as to return to Spanish rule.
The snow-capped heights of the Pic du Canigou occupy a special place in the heart of every Catalan. From its peak, the valleys of the Tech and the Têt, the fertile Roussillon plain, the mountains and the sea are revealed in all their beauty and diversity. Heretics and monks alike have long found refuge in the rocky hills; beaches and spas nestle in the valleys; artists have found the coast and up-country Céret to be equally captivating.
Apart from the best places to visit featured here, bear in mind that some of the best walking in Europe is on the doorstep: see Walking in the Pyrenees.
There are frequent train and bus services from Narbonne to Perpignan, the transport hub for the region. Local trains depart regularly from Perpignan to the Côte Vermeille, and west via Prades to Villefranche. There are bus links to Céret. From Carcassonne, there are daily trains to Quillan, and buses link Quillan and Perpignan along the N117.