After a couple of days in Collioure, we caught a bus back to Perpignan to spend 3 nights checking out the regional capital. We had read mixed reviews about Perpignan. Some people suggested that one night or at most two nights would be sufficient to see all the town has to offer but we stuck to our normal strategy for slow travel and booked 3 nights in what was a pretty good Airbnb. Two nights would have been plenty!
We stayed on the outskirts of town in an area that itself was ok area except that the 10 minute walk into the city centre took us through some dodgy streets that we didn’t feel at all comfortable in even in daylight.
The town centre is nice with a canal with a grassy verge either side running down a wide boulevard with shops and pavement cafes either side. Perpignan Castle, quite an impressive building, stands by the canal – apparently you can go inside the castle and climb its tower – but we didn’t!
The Historic Centre lies to the rear of the castle with the customary cathedral and a maze of narrow streets opening up to some nice squares. Its all very pleasant but one wrong turn can take you into those dodgy areas which some describe as “interesting ” and ” safe during the day but to be avoided at night” !
No 2 on TripAdvisor’s list of attractions here, just ahead of the castle, is the massive Palace of the Kings of Majorca, a 13th century fortress. Given its prominence we felt obliged to go see it but actually its very disappointing inside with nothing much to see other than empty spaces although there are distant views to be had from the top on a good day. There is an admission charge but luckily it was free admission on the day we visited – we would have been quite pissed off had we paid. The fact that this place is number 2 in Perpignan’s top 10 probably says it all.
All in all we had a pleasant stay but wouldn’t return. Fortunately we had decent weather here and after the dreary rain in Collioure it was nice to enjoy some sunshine and chill out with a few drinks and some excellent Catalan food.
Apart from a two week holiday I spent in France over 30 years ago, this was our visit to the land of cheese and wine. A two month visit would doubtless be more than enough time for most people to travel the length and breadth of the country but of course we travel slowly and so our plan was to make our way leisurely from Spain, through South West France and along the south coast into and around Provence and finally down to Antibes on the Cote D’Azure. This would likely be the first of several trips to France and already we are planning another.
After 5 nights in Girona we hopped onto a Barcelona/Paris train heading for Perpignan in the Languedoc Roussillon region of France en route to the small seaside visit of Collioure.
A 40 minute ride got us the 100 or so kilometres from Girona to Perpignan. The train was excellent, a high speed and very comfortable double decker train travelling Barcelona to Paris with loads of luggage space. I had been a bit worried that the train would be packed and that we might struggle with all our luggage but happily our seats were on the lower deck and there was luggage space aplenty. With 2 cases and 2 back-packs, luggage space is a constant concern and I think that things might have been be a tad more difficult had we been travelling later in the summer.
The subject of luggage is a thorny issue. Keeping our luggage volume and weight down is a constant problem and the fact is that we just carry too much stuff although it’s difficult to manage this when travelling through different countries in different seasons. At this point in the year, coming out of winter and into spring, we need gear for wet and dry and warm and cold but we have decided that soon, once the weather improves, we will ship some stuff back to Blighty to lighten the load.
One of the great things we have found travelling around Europe so far is the fact that in most towns and cities the railway station and bus stations are in close proximity to each other, if not actually integrated on a single site. Perpignan is one such place with the bus station Gare Routier adjacent to the main SNCF (train) station.
Everything was going to plan. We had the option of bus or train for the second and final leg of our journey from Girona to Collioure and had decided to take the bus simply because the bus station was nearer to our digs in Collioure. Within minutes we were on a €1 bus to Collioure. Quite a relief for me as I do get stressed about missing connections….
This €1 bus service is great allowing a €1 ride to anywhere on the bus route. This cheap subsidised fare philosophy seems to apply across much of southern France and it may apply throughout the country for all I know but it’s apparently a government initiative to open up travel into and out of the rural villages for the people of France. Many of the local TER trains also have €1 fares and travel generally in France is fairly economical even on the regional services and especially when trains are booked in advance and/or on-line.
We arrived at Collioure after a 30 km one hour bus ride in late afternoon sunshine – all good
Collioure is a lovely seaside resort lauded as a jewel of the Mediterranean. The town is in a hilly area near to the border with Spain and is a Catalan town even though it’s been French since the 1600’s. Like much of the rest of this Eastern part of France, the culture, food etc is an interesting mix of Catalan and French.
There’s bags of history to this part of the world and Collioure has its share of it. There’s evidence of Greek and Roman times and later the Knights Templar, Cistercians, Dominicans etc during the religious wars. The place is dominated by an old (1500s) fort high on a hill above the town and there is also an old windmill adding to the scenery. I shall leave the reader to google for more information.
This is a small town with a small promenade featuring a couple of bar restaurants overlooking a curved central bay.Around the corner from this central bay , around a promontory on which stands a chateau , lies another pretty bay where the main village sits .This is a much more lively and attractive area with old narrow streets , nice shops and restaurants , boulongeries and charcuterie . Anchovies feature heavily here and there is at least one shop selling virtually nothing but (expensive) anchovies and products derived therefrom.Collioure was once a fishing village catching mostly anchovies and sardines and whilst the fishing boats are now gone elsewhere to bigger ports , there is still a small anchovy packing business here.
The town is famous as a centre for art with many famous painters having visited and worked here following Matisse who came in the early 1900s drawn by the light, colours and the varied subject matter waiting to be painted. It is known as the City of Painters and of course there’s an Art Trail. The place is full of artists studios with every opportunity to buy a painting or two. Again there’s loads of stuff on the web for anyone interested.
Collioure is undoubtedly a pretty place and we had a very pleasant first evening wandering around town in the evening sun. Our rental apartment was very handily placed just one block back from the seafront. It wasn’t the best rental we had booked but it was adequate for a few days with a decent balcony to give us some fresh air. Except that we quickly realised there was no wifi -aaaagh!
Booking a place sans internet was a schoolboy error on my part when it’s so crucial to our lives travelling. We are very dependant on the www as apart from managing our own Turkish apartment lettings we are constantly developing, reviewing and fine-tuning our itinerary and booking and re-booking accommodation. But no internet was especially problematical this week as City were playing the Rags on our second night in town – we usually watch the footy on-line! Luckily we managed to find a pleasant cafe bar with a very accommodating owner who kindly switched one of his TVs over from the ubiquitous rugby. Actually there was a rugby match showing at the same time and just before kick off the quiet cafe suddenly became packed with locals. The locals watched the match, most of them nursing a single small beer or glass of wine throughout the 80 minutes of play and then disappeared immediately the match was over. It felt rather odd that the two of us were the only ones sat watching a live Manchester derby in a place that was packed with men and boys but no one else showed any interest whatsoever in the football. In the event the match turned out to be a boring 0-0 with Mourhinio parking the bus to nullify the efforts of our Boys in Blue.
Having arrived at Collioure in sunshine, it was downhill from there. We awoke the next morning to a wet and windy day and we were forced to stay indoors for a few hours although eventually we managed to get out to explore late morning – thank goodness we had packed fleeces and waterproofs – in time to see the fag end of the weekly market as the traders made a start on packing up for the day. We were looking forward to the local French markets and Collioure was the first one we would visit. However on a wet and miserable April day the market was a sad affair, rather depleted and decidedly underwhelming although it’s said to be excellent in decent weather later in the year.
Although the weather improved on our last day in town, we definitely didn’t see Collioure at its best. I’m sure its absolutely fabulous in the summer but absolutely packed also. There is very little parking in the town itself and traffic is apparently a nightmare. Methinks it unlikely we will return – definitely not on Ann’s list of “places we loved and must return to”.
On 20th April we caught a fast train from Tarragona to Girona, arriving mid afternoon. We had enjoyed our couple of days in Tarragona but were looking forward to our last few days in Spain before moving on to France.
Girona is the largest town in North Catalunia. Built on the River Onya, the place is renowned for the interesting medieval architecture found in the Old Quarter contained within well preserved city walls on the east side of the river.
The riverside setting is very pleasant with tall multi-coloured riverside buildings and the Old Quarter is full of interesting buildings and history – including an old Jewish Quarter and several museums. Obviously, as ever, there’s an impressive Cathedral (though we didn’t venture inside on this occasion), a basilica and plenty of old churches, plenty to fill two or three days although you could easily see everything in a day. It all feels rather upmarket with some very nice shops, restaurants and bars.
Several bridges cross the river into a more modern city which has some impressive squares lined with bars and restaurants and some nice shopping. Quite different to the Old Quarter but still a nice place to wander around, stop for a beer and do some people watching. In one square we came across a band playing with a crowd of locals dancing to the music. Great fun.
We had booked an apartment in the Old Quarter. Beautifully renovated, furnished and kitted out, we can highly recommend the place if anyone wants to consider it. The apartment is in the middle of all the action with restaurants and bars either side, across the narrow street and below – light sleepers should avoid or bring earplugs! We had a super 5 days here doing nothing much other than pottering around the town, getting lost in the maze of tiny streets and walking off the excesses of the night before! The city walls are walkable and they rise up behind the town giving great views over the town itself and the surrounding countryside.
This is a lively city and was especially so on St Georges Day 23rd April and the days leading up to it when the main streets and squares closest to the river in the Old Quarter and the bridges were lined with festive market stalls. On St Georges Day itself families and couples are out on the streets as it’s customary for men to buy fresh roses for the women of the family and for friends and family to buy each other books – the place is packed with book stalls and flower stalls – all very nice but rather strange!
All in all, this was a great stay. Ann was particularly impressed and actually places Girona ahead of Valencia in the list of places to be revisited once we have visited all the other places we need to visit! But it will be a while before we get to that point………
Following our week in Valencia, we travelled up the East coast of Spain by train to Tarragona on April 18th. Girona would be our final destination in Spain before leaving for France but Valencia to Girona was quite a long haul and a bit messy involving a change of train and a long layover in Barcelona and so we decided to break the journey at Tarragona. We knew nothing about the place but it was a convenient stop over and the place gets a decent write up because of its history with lots of ancient ruins dating back to the time when it was part of a Roman colony.
We stayed at the Alexandra Aparthotel with a decent room and good wifi and well located just outside the old town, handy for shops, restaurants and the Roman stuff.
Tarragona proved a good choice. Its attractive old town with the usual narrow car free streets has some very nice shops, restaurants and bars. There are lots of nice squares, a very interesting cathedral and with the usual excellent food market there was plenty to fill a couple of days although its fair to say we really used this as a rest break following what had been for us a hectic week in Valencia.
After an all too brief return to Kalkan for 6 weeks or so in March and early April, we returned to Spain on 10th April 2017.
We didn’t really want to leave Turkey. The tourism industry in the country was on its arse due to terrorist activities elsewhere but Kalkan is a small village a world away from all that stuff and we love it more and more every time we return.
However, we thought that Valencia was quite special. We stayed in a lovely spacious apartment in a typical old building in a perfect location in the Historical Centre. The building is in a street full of identical buildings some of which have been redeveloped and some of which haven’t. There is plenty of graffiti around but strangely the street art seemed to add to the charm of the place. “Our” building was unremarkable from the street. Neither the outside nor the inside communal areas had been tarted up and there was no lift – something that by now we seek out when booking accommodation in old multi-storied buildings. However, the apartment itself had been beautifully restored and furnished by the owners who initially lived in it themselves but now live in another apartment across the street. The flat was very well kitted out and with super hospitable owners, its highly likely we will return one day.
Son Richard and girl friend Laura joined us for a few days and loved Valencia from the moment they arrived.
Valencia has everything we needed and liked. Grand boulevards and squares with some serious period architecture alongside a historic centre with typically narrow streets lined with boutiques, bars, restaurants and clubs with lots of interesting little squares here and there .
There is no shortage of museums and other places of interest with a nice cathedral and the stunning Church of San Nicolas. In truth by now, after quite a long period in Spain, we were already becoming picky about which museums, cathedrals and churches we would visit but the Church of San Nicolas is very special and definitely a must see and the Cathedral and Basilica are also worth a visit.
The cathedral dates back to the 13th century and is a mix of styles. It contains, amongst other things, a chalice which is claimed to be The Holy Grail.
The Basilica built in the Baroque style is rather plain from the outside but lavishly decorated inside with an impressive frescoed dome.
Church of San Nicolas – El Carmen district
This is an incredible place to visit although it appears nothing from the outside with access being down a small alleyway – its easy to miss it even when you are searching it out. Founded in the 13th century with later additions, as always, this is a mix of Gothic, Baroque and Rococco styles. There are newly restored areas and the plasterwork and especially the painted ceiling is truly amazing – and apparently larger than the Sistine Chapel.
The shopping here is so good that even I enjoyed it. There are independent shops, high end and not so high end, a bakery on every corner and a great central market for fresh food shopping. Add to that our favourite department store, El Corte Inglese with great shopping for clothes and an excellent food hall and we needed no more.
Mercado de Colon
This market, quite some distance from the old City is contained in a market building built in the early 1900s but recently restored. It’s a lovely building with attractive brickwork and lots of structural metal and glass. This was a market proper in the day but now comprises a collection of cafes and restaurants with various retailers and florists. The only purveyors of fresh produce that we spotted were a rather fancy fishmonger and a similarly expensive looking charcuterie.
National Museum of Ceramics
We are not great visitors of museums except for those said to be exceptional of their type. This wasn’t one such but we were intrigued by the amazing building itself which is covered in alabaster carvings. As luck would have it, admission was free on the day we were passing and thankfully so as the exhibits themselves were rather underwhelming.
Gardens of Turia
As ever we did a lot of walking in Valencia which is a very green city with parks and green spaces everywhere. We didn’t get to see them all by any means but we did see and walk the length and breadth of the Gardens of Turia, a 9 kilometre ribbon of greenery created from the dried up bed of a river that was diverted following major flooding in 1957. The gardens snake their way through the city toward the sea providing a corridor of open recreational space for the people of Valencia. There are numerous playgrounds and sports areas, fountains and well-trimmed arty gardens. The river bed is always full of people as there is something for everyone, with sports pitches, pathways, cycle tracks, roller skating, skate -boarding etc and zillions of places to sit and people watch and/or enjoy a picnic. There’s also an Oceanarium – the largest aquarium in Europe, not to mention the Bioparc – aka a zoo !
The Turia Gardens are also a major cultural centre for Valencia housing the Palau de la Musica (concert hall) and the City of Arts and Sciences which sits right in the river bed. Lots to see and apparently there is almost always some kind of fair or festival taking place here for added interest. The City of Arts and Sciences comprises some beautiful modern buildings as you can see.
We stayed in Valencia for a week but left with still a lot to see. A good excuse to return sometime when the opportunity arises. We liked the city a lot and it’s definitely a place where we would consider settling down if and when we grow up .