A few days in the French Catalan country

Pays Catalan: Ruines du château de Carol

In the beginning of May, I still had one week of paid holidays to take. I wasn’t too keen on the idea because we had already spent a lot of money trying to make our apartment feel more like a home. Yet, I did not feel like staying Paris not any more than I wanted to spend money on hotels, flights and restaurants. Plus, we also had to think about our dog that either had to go to a boarding facility or be brought to the Swiss border to my in-laws. It’s that kind of situations that makes me miss sorely the freedom afforded by our late car!

After considering many options, we decided to spend a week at Perdro’s family home in Southern France. I wish I could say that we flew to Perpignan, but with Mr. Shiba we had to take the train. The TGV ride from Paris to Perpignan takes about 5.5 hours as the train can’t travel at full speed between Montpellier and Perpignan.

Holidays in French Catalonia

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Réjean had rented a car from Europcar whose rental desk is located right in the train station, very practical ! I was a bit anxious that they would react adversely to the sight of our dog although the contract did not forbid to travel with pets. I often forget how the French are infinitely more tolerant with dogs than my fellow Quebecers and everything went smoothly. Being civilised people, we treated the car as if it was our own and we used a dog hammock to protect the rear seat. I am glad we did because Akira dirtied the car with dust and sand and we could have been charged 100€ had we left the car in that state.

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Le paisible village de Saint-Hippolyte
Saint-Hippolyte

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About twenty minutes after leaving Perpignan, we arrived to Saint-Hippolyte a village nested between a salted lake and the mountains in the Eastern Pyrenees (66). We felt lost when we arrived as all we could see were the new housing projects built around the old village. It had been five years since we last came and it was a strange feeling to find the family home now facing row houses when it used to overlook the vines with a view of the Canigou mountain.

Those projects are a strange evolution for a village that was once crossed by the Roman via domitia and which its centre is dominated by a church and castle dating back to the early Middle Ages. Even if I think about it in terms of the time-line of a human life, the great-uncle of Réjean, who is still alive, was in his youth speaking Catalan, went to work in the vines with horses and had to bike many kilometers to see his sweetheart a couple of villages away. At that time, not far removed from our own, most of the houses in the villages had their ground-floor entirely dedicated to the keep of horses or sheep.

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The splendour of  the Pyrenees

Nowadays, the vines were taken out to make place for housing projects with individual pools in an area where there are water-shortages. The centre of the town has been forsaken for the humongous shopping area on the other side of the highway. Five years ago there was only a Carrefour supermarket, now there are tens on shops and restaurants.

It was a shocking discovery but I also understand that people want things that fulfill their contemporary needs. After-all, the vines were taken out because they were to expensive to exploit in regards to the retail price of the wine produced in the South of France. The population is also growing and I comprehend the fact that people want to live in a house with all the modern commodities.

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In Saint-Hippolyte wetland preserve by the salted lake of Leucate

After the initial feeling of uneasiness, we had a great time staying in the village. For us Parisians, the silence at night allowed us to rest peacefully. Even Akira wanted to go out more often than he usually likes to sprinkle his new found territory with pee. Since the family house is often left empty, there was no TV or internet. Even our phones had trouble connecting to the 3G network, probably because of the thick cement walls. It allowed us to rest freed from our electronic devices.

We received such a warm welcome that we sent most of our time with Réjean’s friends and family. We did not have much time to explore and I didn’t even get to photograph the old town. While we were there, we asked ourselves a question not often uttered by us: What are we still doing in Paris? Here we could live in a big renovated house, we could spend our free time by the sea or in the mountains and eat delicious traditional food. I’m less crazy about the fact that we would need to rely on car transportation but it might be a good price to pay for tranquility.

Pays Catalan: Akira sur la plage
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The long Mediterranean beaches where a few courageous souls ventured in the cold water.

Côté étang à Canet-sur-Plage
The salted lake viewed from Canet-sur-Plage

Ascending the Pyrenees

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Villefranche-de-Conflent

The only visit we did while we were staying in Catalonia was to ascend the Pyrennes by the way of Villefranche-de-Conflent, Mont-Louis, Font-Romeu, Andorra la Vella and Spanish enclave of Puigcerdà. There is a lot to see in the Eastern Pyrenees whether it be on the beaten path in cities such as Villafranca or Mont-Louis or off of it when finding small but stirring ruins such as the two towers in the first picture.

I did not take as many photographs as I should have, but if you travel to that area, by all means take the road to Font-Romeu to admire the fabulous landscapes. Don’t hesitate to stop if you see something that catches your eye as you may discover buildings that date back to the beginning of our era. Also, take the time to find the right place to eat lunch, you will be rewarded with a sweeping view of the Mountains.

The only problem is that if you have motion-sickness, like me, the road zig-zags through the mountains and it is very hard to stomach. I tried to use homeopathic medicine to counter the sickness but it wasn’t as efficient as Gravol. I survived the ride tanks to frequent stops and Réjean’s kind patience when I had to lay motionless on a bench to regain some sort of composure.

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Villefranche-de-Conflent, a city that must be very touristy in the summer but was empty during our visit

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A stark contrast between the Vauban forteress of Mont-Louis and the very modern Andorra-la-Vella
 

 

Le retour
Returning home

And just like that our week of holidays in French Catalonia was over, we brought back our car to the train station to board the TGV that would bring us back to Paris. All that remains are the beautiful memories we have made there.

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