The Best Of Perpignan

Perpignan is where the Pyrenees flatten out to join the Mediterranean. It's a city of narrow medieval streets, outdoor cafés, markets and grand monuments.

Perpignan is where the Pyrenees flatten out to join the Mediterranean. It's a city of narrow medieval streets, outdoor cafés, markets and grand monuments.

Once Catalonia's second city (after Barcelona), under the 1659 Treaty of the Pyrenees, the Roussillon region was transferred to the French. The Catalan heritage is still strong. Yellow-and-red striped flags are ubiquitous. The street signs are in Catalan as well as French, and you're as likely to see locals dancing the sardane (the Catalan national dance) as playing pétanque. This cultural mix gives Perpignan a unique atmosphere which is a magnet for bohemians and artists. It has the culture, cuisine and atmosphere of Barcelona without the inflated prices and crowds.

Best hotel

Villa Duflot, Ronde-point Albert Donnezan (00 33 4 68 56 67 67; www.villa-duflot.com) offers rural tranquillity just a 10-minute taxi ride from town. The courtyard is planted with ancient olive trees and the rooms have balconies or patios, tiled floors, tasteful modern furnishings and original paintings and sculpture. Doubles from €105 (£70).

The Park Hotel, 18 bd Jean Bourrat (00 33 4 68 35 14 14; www.parkhotel-fr.com), is a modern, up-market establishment with a Michelin-starred restaurant. The rooms have views over Bir Hakeim park. Doubles from €65 (£43).

Best restaurant

For a taste of Catalonia try El Triquet on Rue Lazare (00 33 4 68 35 19 18), which serves tapas and local specialities such as boles des picolats (meat balls with olives and wild mushrooms) and red peppers stuffed with salt cod. The restaurant is run by a towering Dali-lookalike and the walls are hung with modern art and vintage Paris Match covers. Around €15 (£10) per head.

La France, Place de la Loge (00 33 4 68 51 61 71), is in the ground floor of the Loge de la Mer, a gothic, 14th-century building once the centre for maritime trade. The restaurant serves good French staples such as moules à la marinière and boeuf tartare alongside local dishes including parillada de poissons (fish stew). Around €30 (£20) per head. Tarteline on rue Petite le Monnaie serves delicious tarts for lunch, €10 (£6.70) per head.

Best cultural attraction

This year is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Salvador Dali in nearby Figueras. The painter was a great fan of Perpignan, which he proclaimed "truly surrealist". Over the year, five Dali exhibitions will be held, mostly at the Couvent de Minimes, rue Rabelais (00 334 68 66 18 68), Dali-inspired dancing, theatre and film. Other artists such as Maillol, Dufy, Picasso and Terrus congregrated in Perpignan at the beginning of the 20th century. Their works can be seen at the musée Hyacinthe Rigaud, rue de l'Ange (00 33 4 68 35 43 40), beside those of Rigaud himself, born in Perpignan and a court painter to Louis XIV.

Best shopping

There are daily markets in place Rigaud and place de la République, but the most interesting is the African market on place Cassanyes on Saturday and Sunday mornings. The pedestrianised streets behind the Castillet are best for classy window shopping, with Kenzo, Burberry, MaxMara and Cerruti all represented. The Librairie Tardy, on rue du Castillet, is a dusty cornucopia of antique books. The Maison Quinta on rue Grande des Fabriques Perpignan is everyone's favourite retail experience - four floors of colourful Catalan textiles, furniture and crockery.

Best sightseeing

The best view in Perpignan is from the top of the Palais des Rois de Majorque, rue des Archers. On a clear day, both the Spanish border and the ancient border between France and Catalonia are visible, as well as the snow-capped Canigou, the sacred mountain of the Catalans. The palace was begun in 1276 using local pink, white and blue marble. Perpignan's other landmark is the 14th-century Castillet.

Best night spot

Every Thursday in summer, Perpignan is transformed into a performance space with dancing and street theatre. On the same night, Le Habana, rue Grande des Fabriques Perpignan, hosts a salsa evening. On other nights, the Gaudi-inspired Café République, place de République, is the place to be.

Best way to get there

Ryanair ( www.ryanair.com) offers returns from Stansted from £22. Flybe has just introduced flights from Birmingham from £110 and Southampton from £98. A bus runs from the airport to the city eight times a day. It costs €4.30 (£2.90). A taxi is about €15 (£10). For further details contact Perpignan tourist information (00 33 4 68 66 30 20; www.perpignantourisme.com).

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