City Slicker: Perpignan

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

This Catalan city in southern France has got big plans aimed at luring tourists. Alison Culliford offers a guide for new and returning visitors

Why visit?

Salvador Dali's claim to have seen "the Centre of the Universe" at Perpignan station remains one of the surrealist artist's more bizarre statements, but now it looks like he might have been on to something.

This hot, dusty, southern city, never known for its dynamism, is on the cusp of a shining future – and the train station is where it all begins. By 2014 the new cross-border TGV line currently being built will have cut the journey from Perpignan to Barcelona down from three hours to just 45 minutes, cementing the relationship between the two proudly Catalan cities.

The city is being transformed – a new TGV station to open in 2012, the renovation of the quarter around it, and a second new district beside the River Têt, where the Jean Nouvel-designed Théâtre de l'Archipel promises to be a cultural linchpin.

Perpignan has already seen a massive renovation programme for its religious and military heritage, much of which dates back to the 13th and 14th centuries when it was the continental seat of the kings of Mallorca. Ridding the old city centre of much of its traffic has made it a pleasant place to wander on foot.

Perpignan has pledged to become a 100 per cent renewable energy city by 2015, overshooting national targets. It makes sense: the city gets 220 days of sunshine a year and photovoltaic panels on large industrial entities, such as the St Charles market (Europe's largest wholesale fruit and veg market), mean it will produce a large chunk of the energy it consumes.

You can add to all this a unique and intoxicating mix of Catalan and Romany culture, a Spanish-style late-night scene, and a party-loving population that would rather not think too hard about tomorrow – at least while the bars are still open.

Don't miss

*People-watching from a café terrace on Place de la République. Its car park is now underground and the pastel-coloured façades of this spacious square have been spruced up. Follow the sun through the day by moving from terrace to terrace. It also hosts a morning produce market.

*The cloisters of St Jean funerary ensemble in the Campo Santo, the oldest and biggest in Europe. The modern stained glass by Shirley Jaffe bathes the chapel in colour.

*The view over the Roussillon plain from Castillet keep, the main gate in the 14th-century walls. This keep was extended by Louis XI of France, but remains a symbol of Catalonia. It houses the Casa Pairal museum of Catalan arts.

*Shopping at Marché Cassanyes, at Place Cassanyes, (daily, 7.30am to 1.30pm). The city's most colourful market is typical of the ethnic mix of a place that has always welcomed refugees and immigrants.

*Dufys, Picassos and the Fauves at the Musée Hyacinthe Rigaud, a fine-art museum in an elegant townhouse. Most of the artists drawn to the area by its light and colours are represented here.

*Paradis Foullis, a restaurant in an antique shop, at 17 rue de l'Ange, serving homemade savoury tartes with luxurious ingredients (such as foie gras). Enjoy a glass of chilled wine and extravagant desserts under a forest of Art Deco lights.

What's new

Théâtre de l'Archipel

Jean Nouvel's modular arts complex, made up of several cubes and a giant representation of one of the garnet pebbles that lie on the bed of the River Têt, is to open next year. The "tower", in metallic gold, will have views over the river to Mount Canigou. A new bridge and landscaped, olive-filled gardens complete this project in the new Espace Méditerranée quarter.


Suitehotel Perpignan

The Suitehotel is so new that its surroundings are still a building site – that of the Théâtre de l'Archipel right next door. But this complex of 50 studio apartments offers everything an urban nomad could want: spacious suites with both a bath and a shower, free Wi-Fi through the "Suitebox", which also offers free calls to national landlines, music and video, a gym, an ironing room and bar. There is also a boutique gourmande, where you can buy ready-meals to pop into your own microwave or luxurious snacks such as mini-boxes of foie gras. There are also free massages on offer from 7.30pm to 9.30pm on Thursday nights. The contemporary decor, with rooms in soothing slate tones, strikes the right Elle Deco note to feel like a hip bachelor pad rather than a business hotel. Introductory rates from €69 (normally €102).

Details: Suitehotel, 23 Espace Méditerranée (00 33 4 68 92 72 72;

Le Chap'

A new name and a new look to allow Perpignan's most gastronomic restaurant – the former Chapon Fin – to celebrate a Michelin star for its chef Alexandre Klimenko. All is cool and contemporary here, with the temperature-controlled wine cellar on view and screens diffusing landscape scenes behind the coffee-coloured banquettes. The €55 four-course menu is a great way to discover Klimenko's cuisine, often referred to as "zen" though distinctly Mediterranean. An extra €20 brings you a different wine with each course.

Details: Park Hotel, 18 bd Jean Bourrat (00 33 4 68 35 14 14;

BIP! Bikes

Perpignan's recently introduced bike hire system is easier to use than the Paris one and much cheaper, if you want to keep the bike for a few hours, though the website is only in French or Catalan. You can get a Formule Liberté for seven days by internet or mobile phone and see the availability of bikes in real time on the site, as well as a map of cycle paths. A Formule Liberté costs €1 and it's 50c for the first three half-hours, then €1 per half-hour thereafter, which would allow you to get out of the centre of town on the riverside path to Bompas.

Details:, Formule Liberté by phone: wap.bip-perpignan.

Insider's secret

Olivia Mailhes, communications director

"Behind an old black shopfront with gold lettering is Les Frères Mossé – in the heart of the old town and definitely the 'canteen' of the moment. Delicious southern cuisine is served with a good list of local wines from Collioure to the Vallée de l'Agly. In the evenings, under the little starry lights that give it an air of magic, you lose track of time eating, singing, dancing. Frédéric Espilondo, who runs it, is passionate about music and features a jazz group once a month. He'll often run around the corner to the Cosy Club after he closes to jam on the piano with clients and friends."

Details: Les Frères Mossé, 14 rue de la Fusterie (00 33 4 68 80 63 31)

Compact Facts

How to get there

BMI baby (, Ryanair ( and Flybe ( all fly from the UK to Perpignan. Or take the Eurostar ( and connect on to the TGV (

Further information

Perpignan Tourist Office (perpignan

Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want it for the fitness tech, or for the style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Bid / Tender Writing Executive

    £24000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Executives / Marketing Communications Consultants

    Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a number of Marketi...

    Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive

    £20000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This well established business ...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Day In a Page

    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace