If you’d like to venture further afield, here are our top tips for unforgettable day trips – all destinations can also be reached by public transport.
With towers and turrets, high walls, drawbridges, bastions and battlements, the medieval „cité“ of Carcassonne dominates the town and the surrounding vineyards. Along with the Tour Eiffel and Mont St-Michel, the fortified old town and UNESCO world heritage is one of France’s top three and most visited attractions. So, be prepared for queues, grumpy vendors, overworked waiters, and many, many tourist especially in summer. If possible, try to come early in the morning – or stay, once the buses left, taking the day trippers back to their home or hotel. At night, the cité with its Château Comtal is even more magical with its wonderful illumination. And, please, plan also some time for visiting today’s Carcassonne at the foot of the hill with the cité – its markets and museums, along with the locks on the Canal du Midi, are also well worth a visit!
Collioure and the Côte Vermeille
Two things made Collioure world-famous: its anchovis – and the Fauves painters that chose the picturesque Côte Vermeille’s fishing village as sujet for their works. In 1905, Henri Matisse und André Derain discovered Collioure. The „Chemin du Fauvisme“ leads the way to 20 locations depicted on Fauves paintings. A popular motif was the the fortified church of Notre- Dame-des-Anges , built 1684-1691 by Vauban – its bell tower served as a lighthouse. Another location that inspired the painters was the Vieux Carré du Moure with its narrow alleys and stairways. The Château Royal was built on the foundations of a Roman castrum aned served as residency of the Kings of Majorca 1276 – 1344. From 1669-1673, Vauban significantly expanded and fortified the castle. To see the work of the winners of the Prix Collioure, visit the Musée d’Art Moderne, known for its works by Balbino, Giner, Descossy, Perrot, Baloffi and Cocteau.
White rocks, „Leukos“ in Greek, gave the coastal town his name. Located between vineyards and oysterbeds, Leucate consists of four distinctly different parts: the old Leucate village, where a weekly market is held beneath an 11th century castle ruin, the Mediterranean bath Leucate plage with 16 km of sandy beaches, the modern seaside resort Le Franqui founded in the early 20th century and the modern holiday village Port Leucate, located around a marina with 1,100 berth. With perfect winds on the étangs, Leucate attracts surfers from all over the world. A unique attraction is the Slyfly, allowing to fly across the beach and Mediterranean Sea 12 metres high above the ground.
Capital of Rome’s Gallia, residence of the Visigoths kings and seat of the Septimanie: Narbonne’s rich past is well preserved in its many heritage buildings and ruins. Today located right on the border of Roussillon and Languedoc, Narbonne is a vibrant city, boasting with Les Halles one of the best covered markets of the south, quaint little alleys and lanes packed with quirky shops and quaint restaurants, and lovely parks and promenades along the Canal de la Robine. Dont’t miss out the underground Roman warehouse Horreum, the audiovisual show at the Musée Lapidaire – and some relaxing minutes in one of the many cafés and bars in front of the archbishop’s palace and the Cathédrale St-Just et St-Pasteur.
With red and yellow flags waving in the wind, Perpignan is still proud today of its Catalan heritage and aptly also calls itself Perpinya, recalling its past as capital of the province and county of Roussillon (Rosseló in Catalan) and continental capital of the Kings of Majorca in the 13th and 14th century. Top attractions from these days include the Palais des Rois de Mallorca and the Castillet tower with the city museum Casa Païra that offers unparalleled view across the city to the nearby Pyrenees mountains and the Mediterranean Sea. Other heritage highlights include the Cathédrale de St-Jean (1324 – 1509), built at the Place de Gambetta from red brick and lava rock, and the large Kreuzgang of Campo Santo. On Thursday evenings, the locals will dance the Sardana on the pink marble floor of the Place de la Loge. Near-by, the city hall Casa Consolar houses Maillol’s sculpture „La Méditerranée“ in its courtyard. Only a few steps away, Rue Paratilla evokes oriental shopping pleasures with spices, herbs, rice, and dried beans piled up in big open bags, and vendors vividly gesticulating, shouting and chatting, while bars offer wonderful wines and great meals right in the middle of all the buzz and fun.
From the A9 motorway, you may have already seen the walls of the Forteresse de Salses. Built by the Spaniards in the late 15th century, it once guarded the border between France and Spain then located there. Today protected as „monument national“, it’s a popular place to within before heading to the coast’s sandy beaches.
In deep valley at the confluence of two rivers, the Cady and the Tet, one of France’s most beautiful villages is hidden: Villefranche-de-Conflent. Once capital of Conflent, the high ramparts and walls built in the late 11th century by the Count of Cerdagne as a defence against the Count of Roussillon still surround the old village in the valley. From there, the underground „escalier des mille marches“ (staircase of a 1000 steps) leads the way up to Fort Liberia. Expanded and strenghtened by Vauban, its one of the 14 sites across France liste as world heritage in memory of Vauban’s military architecture. Villefranche is also the starting point for a wonderful trip with the „train jaune„, a little yellow train with some open carriages that will take through through the hills, tunnels, and across a few bridges to Bolquere, the highest railway station in France.