By D’Arcy Kavanagh
When my wife Lynda and I arrived in Perpignan by train from Paris, it seemed we had entered another country. Yes, we heard French but there was also a dialect that was more than challenging to outsiders. Then there was the presence of Catalan flags that reflected the area’s diverse past. And there were palm trees lining boulevard after boulevard. And then there were the red and white stone buildings. Plus a heavy heat that brought a flush from the slightest of activities.
We stayed a couple of days, using our bikes to explore the narrow, fascinating back streets of this ancient city that’s famed for its rugby fanaticism, for being a favourite destination of surrealist artist Salvador Dali and for being a frequent part of the Tour de France bicycle race that captivates not only the French but hundreds of millions around the world. Of yes, we also sampled some of the diverse fare offered by the city’s many wonderful cafes.
Then we rode southeast about 15 kilometres to Canet en Rousillon where our RCI was. The sprawling resort was indeed impressive with its colour-coded buildings, its pool, its restaurant, its snack bar and its small grocery store. Maybe best of all, it offered easy access to the old town, to the new one that stretches along the sandy coastline and to a walking-distance shopping mall.
Over the next week, we learned how much this remarkable part of France has to offer. One day, we rode through one southwest coastal town after another – often on bike paths – as we headed toward Spain, barely 50 km away. We took rest stops by the sandy beach, had lunch in a café overlooking the amazingly blue Mediterranean, and snapped endless photos of the coastline and the Pyrenees mountain range that lingered just to the north.
Another day, we put aside our bikes and took a tour from the resort to Carcassonne which has a spectacular old walled town that was used for the filming of Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves starring Kevin Costner. When we crossed the drawbridge, it was like walking back several centuries. It didn’t take much imagination to sense what it must have been like to have lived in this fortress community. A wonderland for kids and adults.
The days went by in a blur. We used the amenities of our first-class resort, poked about the old town, shopped in the new town’s myriad of fashionable shops, spent time on the beach, investigated marina after marina, munched on fresh croissants in quaint little parks and chatted with locals whose politeness served as an example of how to treat visitors.
Then it was time to push on. As we packed our bikes aboard the train for the next leg of our journey to Nice on the east coast, I remember thinking we had done so much, but were leaving with so much left to experience. We could have spent more time exploring Perpignan. We could have taken another resort-organized trip to Barcelona. We could have checked out more ancient buildings. We could have done a little more inland riding to some of the small communities that have their own special stories, and we could have visited more with the folks lucky enough to live in this area. But that’s the mark of a good place to visit – you want to return.
Highlights:Excellent access to endless sandy beaches, resort-organized trips to Carcassonne/Barcelona, intriguing coastal communities.
Didn’t like: No complaints
Organized Tours: Carcassonne, Barcelona.
Would we return to the resort: Absolutely.