Traditional fishing lines float across the Etang St Nazaire
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Dementers, Nagini, Aragog etc. all the nightmare fantasy’s of JK Rowling may be the stuff of written words, cinematography and CGI in film however, one wrong turn in Perpignan can lead to a real world Diagon Alley hidden under cover of an azure Mediterranean sky. One step from designer shops selling Gucci, Dior and exquisitely expensive jewelry is the corner stone which leads to a far less salubrious quarter.
Quaint, faded, artisan distressed and vintage stonework of the restored and vibrant historic town centre gives way at the left hand turn to grimy unkempt narrow streets with peeling paintwork, broken window frames and strings of grey washing hanging from rusty balcony ironwork. It is suddenly quiet and the backs of the inhabitants can be seen disappearing just before rough timber doors lock shut.
Piles of rubbish and broken glass occupy the roadside and a small dog lies in the middle of a single track road designed for horse and carts of the middle ages. The hound remains defiantly prone on the tarmac as a small car negotiates the narrow passage mounting the hint of a path and avoiding the dog by less than the width of a leash which no sane man would have attempted to attach to this canine Hannibal Lecter.
The dog turned the corner of his eye to give a malevolent stare at two naïve tourists who had entered the Gypsy Quarter in ignorant error. Toughing it up, and in silence each acknowledging the rather urgent need to get out of this area, they ignored the hound and continued up the accessway towards what appeared to be an opening to civilization only to be met at the junction by to middle aged 'have been' young guns wearing coarse unwashed trousers and once white vests. Strategically standing on the corner they appeared to be guarding their territory, watching over the 'Hood' while smoking foul smelling continental cigarettes. A stream of Catalan French came from the larger man whose apparent gift came with an implied threat. The sentence ended with the word Photograph.
Drawing on the works of Tom Sharpe and in particular on the main character in ‘Blott on the Landscape’ Mrs Naïve Tourist ditched all her holiday French and used her best plummy English accent to say
“No thank you, we are British”
before turning with a firm grip on Mr Naïve Tourist’s hand and striding off like Lady Maud with the hapless Blott in tow.
The next alley was grimier than the first as mothers snatched their children off the streets and siblings of the Street Dog asserted their authority over each dwindling passageway. Matching pulses raced in anticipation of a further encounter with the ‘Brothers’ when the glitter of all things gold, high end fashion and a tourist restaurant popped into sight.
What an introduction to Perpignan an ancient city on the far southwest coast of the French Mediterranean.
In case you have not already found it by a quick search on Google, there is a great article about Perpignan by Anthony Peregrine titled The thinking person's alternative to the French Riviera. His article for the Daily Telegraph is an eloquent review of this less visited destination.
The Gypsy Quarter ...
... is the first of 10 Quite Interesting points, facts and information about Perpignan and its readily accessible environs.
Perpignan Medieval City
Vibrant, Catalan influence, tourist train
A long haul across France for the determined northern European traveller, Perpignan is ‘doable’ by train from St Pancras if you start early in the day.
1 Euro Bus
The 1 Euro Bus is a great discovery for any tourist visiting this area of France. In 2013 a similar scheme was running in and around Narbonne. The Narbonne scheme included a pre-book option for times when the buses where not scheduled to run but the journey was available provided sufficient notice (minimum of 24 hours) was given. Get this, if there were not sufficient people wishing to travel to justify a coach, the bus operator would send a taxi instead – all for 1 euro per person.
Except for the pre-book option, the Perpignan 1 euro bus principle is the same. One journey, 1 euro price no matter how long or short. The scheme covers quite a distance and in 2017 also included some train travel. After researching the timetables, we took a very early 1 Euro Bus to Cerbère, stopping off at Banyuls-sur-Mer on route for a couple of hours to visit the home town of Aristide Maillol. In theory we would have sufficient time to take in Banyuls and then jump onto a later bus to Cerbère. However the bus was delayed which was not surprising given the distance and busy roads in September. Trains run from Perpignan through Cerbere on route to Barcelona. For speed, we returned via this train route which dear reader please note, is not part of the 1 Euro scheme - ouch!
Frankly, we could have stayed on the bus for the complete end to end journey. The route gets very twisty with plenty of hairpins for the driver to negotiate as the road hugs the coastline along the mountainous route. The views across the sharply inclined vineyards across to the Mediterranean Sea on a brilliant clear day were spectacular.
Definitely check before you travel as these schemes may not be permanent.
Perpignan is ideally situated for a two centre holiday with the well developed beach side resort of Canet-en-Roussillon just 15 minutes from the city centre (depending on who is driving).
With broad beaches running for kilometers it is not surprising that locals consider some parts to be heavily over developed as holiday apartment buildings of considerable size have been built over the past few decades and new buildings continue to be constructed including in and around the marina.
The Mediterranean Sea can be notorious for storms which apparently appear out of the blue with little warning and rage with violent seas and crashing thunder storms fueled by tempestuous winds. Less known is the fact that the tidal rise is only a mere 12 inches or so. Compare this with the 10 to 15 feet rise in some parts of the UK.
The result of this fairly constant sea level is that there are beach side restaurants with uninterrupted views of the sea open continuously through the summer season. OK, they come at a premium cost and the food is far from gourmet but what cost a view of the Med under a canopy on a scorcher of a summers day?
Between the resort of Canet and St Cyprien is a spit of beach and narrow land mass which separates both resorts and the Med from the Etang de Canet-Saint Nazaire. This large body of water is fed from the mountains and has been a fishing lake for thousands of years with the catch transported to feed the Perpignaise and beyond.
A heritage site has been restored with old Fisherman cottages still standing and a museum for school children and visitors. The traditional method of catching fish is still used today and visitors can see the fishing lines trailing across the still waters of the Etang.
For ornothologists the Etang represents and excellent opportunity to see any of the 250 varieties which either live around or visit the lake throughout each year.
Flamingoes. Along the South coast of France and particularly around the salt lakes huge flocks of Flamingoes can be seen feeding from the briny water.
Flamingoes do not fly on days when it is very windy
Early in the morning is the best time to see Flamingoes
During breading season, Flamingoes separate into groups of around 15 - 30 individuals.
When the young are hatched grey coloured feathers are first to appear.
As they grow older and feed on the brine shrimp the familiar pink colour appears.