The last major city before the Spanish border, multicultural Perpignan has experienced a diverse range of influences. Explore its narrow medieval squares and streets and appreciate its exotic mix of cultures. Stop for snacks in French patisseries, browse the wares at the North African market on Place Cassanyes and learn about its heritage at Casa Pairal, a museum devoted to Catalan folk arts and traditions.
The medieval town of Perpignan was founded in the 10th century and was under Spanish rule until 1659, when Spain ceded it to the French. More recently, the city became popular first among Catalans fleeing Franco’s regime and then for North African migrants. See these influences in the lanes of St. Jacques Quarter.
To discover Perpignan’s Spanish and Catalan history, visit the Palais des Rois de Majorque. This palace once housed the reigning Majorcan kings; its Moorish influence is evidenced in its arcaded courtyard. Another historic highlight is the redbrick Le Castillet tower, the only remainder of the original medieval walls.
Wander through the town’s tightly packed streets and browse beautiful boutiques and brand-name shops. See the Cathédrale Saint-Jean, an imposing church in the traditional Catalan Gothic style. Inside, look at the elaborate, ornate altarpiece and famous wooden crucifix.
Buzzing and lively year-round, Perpignan is especially busy in summer during the Estivales festival, when music, dance, drama and theater take over the city streets. The annual La Procession de la Sanch, which takes place on Good Friday before Easter, is a more somber local tradition featuring a procession of people wearing black robes and masks.
While here, be sure to sample the cuisine, a delicious mix of traditional Catalan tapas, typical French dishes and exotic North African flavors.
Perpignan has a pleasant Mediterranean climate and can be visited year-round. The city is small enough to navigate on foot or use local bus services. Perpignan airport is about 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) outside the town center. The city is also served by high-speed trains from Paris.