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.

Details: theatredelarchipel.com

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; suitehotel.com)

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; parkhotel-fr.com)

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: bip-perpignan.fr, 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 (bmibaby.com), Ryanair (ryanair.com) and Flybe (flybe.com) all fly from the UK to Perpignan. Or take the Eurostar (eurostar.com) and connect on to the TGV (sncf.fr).

Further information

Perpignan Tourist Office (perpignan tourisme.com).

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
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
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

    Old Royal Naval College: ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Sales Assistant

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This airport parking organisation are looking...

    Recruitment Genius: PCV Bus Drivers

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Do you enjoy bus driving and are looking for ...

    Day In a Page

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project