Bonjour from Perpignan
Perpignan is in the Catalan area of Languedoc–Rousillon at the foot of the Pyrénées close to the Spanish border.
It is warm and dry in summer (perfect beach weather!) and the Catalan (Spanish) influence at the foot of the Pyrénées is everywhere from the colourful buildings to the food. In summer there is live street entertainment most evenings. The local villages in the mountains are scattered with ruins of castles, and the hiking is sensational as is the skiing in winter.
The Spanish Catalan influence creeps in here along with the fresh Mediterranean coastal flavours. Duck, chicken, mussels, mutton and pork are often served as a casserole a la catalane (Spanish-style) – in large chunks of meat browned in olive oil with a sauce of smoked paprika, garlic, eggplants, capsicum, saffron and tomatoes, seasoned with thyme and bay and served with a pilaf, beans or a hunk of bread. Spanish-style omelettes stacked with vegetables or mushrooms are common. There is an abundance of fresh seafood and crayfish readily available and two restaurants that really spruik the local fish and cuisine are La Galinette and La Balette.
The local snails (escargot) are fed on Mediterranean herbs for weeks making them less slimey, more flavoursome, and then smothered in olive oil and garlic before being fried in pork fat over a charcoal grill and eaten with aioli as a tapas-style snack called cargolade. Charcuterie, particularly Bayan smoked ham is a staple along with sausages stuffed with Mediterranean herbs. Sweet tooths will enjoy marrons glacés (candied chestnuts).
The terrain surrounding Perpignan is some of the driest in France and the vines grown between the Pyrénées and the sea can be bitter. Hence Muscat de Rivesaltes and a basic Riversaltes fortified wine are the local drops. Rivesaltes is consumed as an apéritif, not as a sticky dessert wine like our Australian fortified wines. If you cannot go without a red, try the Côtes du Roussillon or Vin de pays des Côtes Catalanes – both are strong, dry varieties that go well with food.
Best food souvenir
Shallow casserole dish for preparing food a la catalane.
Getting there and around
Perpignan–Riversaltes airport has flights from smaller European hubs with Ryanair and AirFrance and the trains run to Barcelona (three hours) and the TGV to Paris (five hours) and along the coast. There is a reliable local CTP bus service and car and bike-hire places are available in the middle of town.