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Perpignan France French Destinations

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Capital of the département of Pyrénées Orientales, Perpignan is situated so close to Spain and its history is so interlinked with that of Spain and Catalan that the overt Spanish influences in town should come as no surprise. In fact, many of the inhabitants are descended from Spaniards who fled here during the Civil War. From 1278 to 1344, Perpignan (or Perpinyà in Catalan) was capital of Majorca, a kingdom that reached from the Balearic Islands to Montpellier.

Perpignan airport information

Most of Perpignan's historical significance derives from the period of when the Majorcan kings held court here. Today it is the third largest Catalan city after Barcelona and Lleida.

Perpignan is a good base for discovering the Cote Vermeille to the southeast, the Pyrenees to the west, and the Cathar castles to the north. It may not be the most beautiful town in France, but it is certainly well placed on the main lines of communication and Mediterranean coast.

The main squares are place de Verdun and place de la Loge. What is now a fast food joint was in fact the Gothic La Loge de Mer, a stock exchange and maritime court constructed during the 14th century and renovated in the Renaissance. Le Castillet just up the rue Louis Blanc is a 14th century gateway on place de Verdun and is all that remains of the old fortified town walls. Inside, the Casa Pairal museum (€4) has an interesting collection of Catalan folk cultural objects, including a 17th century kitchen. There is a good view of the town from the roof, and on a clear day you can see the last Cathar stronghold, Chateau de Quéribus, which held out until 1255.

To the old city's south is the Palais des Rois de Majorque (€3), built in 1276 when the kingdom of Majorque was brand new. It is now surrounded by Vauban's citadel walls, but was originally enclosed by olive and fig trees and a hunting reserve. The architecture is influenced by Spanish and Moorish styles, with details that some northern chateaux don't manage to capture with the same grace.

In between the Palais des Rois de Majorque and La Loge de Mer is the Cathédrale St Jean, squashed into place Gambetta and built from 1324 to 1509 using brick and river stones. The Catalan altarpieces inside and 14th century Rhenish crucifix are of particular note.