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Pyrenees Orientales – Department 66

The departments of the Languedoc Roussillon: Lozere | Gard | Herault | Aude | Pyrenees Orientales

The Pyrenees-Orientales (formerly Roussillon) region was part of Spain up until 1659 and this department still feels very Spanish, or rather Catalan as the locals would prefer it to be referred.  The Catalan language is often spoken here and the food is certainly far more Spanish, with dry cured meats and paella being popular throughout the department.

The many wars between France and Spain have left their mark on Roussillon, with a number of fortified towns adding a sense of the history to the area.  The most striking being at Villefranche de Conflent, an 11th Century medieval fortified town.

The 20-mile Côte Vermeille is the last stretch of the Languedoc’s coast taking you right up to the Spanish border. Initially the coastline is flat and just a continuation of its neighbouring Aude.  Around this flatter coastline you will find large inland lakes, which are not only farmed for mussels and oysters but are also popular with water sports enthusiasts, most notably wind surfers.  However, as you draw closer to the Spanish border, the coast becomes more rugged, making it an easy comparison to that of the Cote d’Azure coastline.

You are also never far from views of the imposing Pyrenees Mountains from anywhere in this stunning department, with many of the beaches enjoying the snow topped mountains as their backdrop.

Another particularly beautiful area of the Pyrenees Orientalles is the valley of the Tech.  It’s blessed with views of Cathar castles on the high peaks and rolling hills, rivers and lakes, with the hills being covered with vines and fruit trees.  Due to the unique ecology of this department it also means that the season for fruit and vegetables is earlier than the rest of the country, with the cherry harvest of Coulliour being the most famous.

The mountains of the Pyrenees are often overlooked for the more fashionable Alps, which in some ways is a shame.  However, it does mean that either holidaying in or owning an apartment in a well serviced ski resort is still a fraction of the price of its more fashionable cousin.  It’s also lovely (well in our view anyway) to holiday in a ski resort and be surrounded by Spanish and French, rather than the hordes of Brits who head for the Alps each winter.

We holidayed at Font Romeo one January and whilst it snowed regularly throughout our trip, the sun would then come out and we were able to enjoy our mulled wine al fresco in the glorious sunshine every day.  On our last day we left the ski resort at minus 5 degrees and headed off down the mountain, still well wrapped up in our ski wear.  It felt that with every couple of kilometres we were stripping off layers as it grew steadily warmer, until we reached Perpignan where the temperature had hit 21 degrees.  Not having anything but thermally insulated boots in the car I had no choice but to go bare foot – in January!!  An amazing contrast of the Mediterranean and mountain experience of this glorious department.


The department capital, Perpignan is a real melting pot of cultures.  It’s a Languedocian town with a strong Catalan and North African influence.  It has pretty narrow streets opening out into bustling squares with quirk shops and restaurants.  A fabulous place to visit is the 13th century Palace of the Kings of Majorca (Palais de rois de Majorque).  From here you’ll be rewarded with some wonderful views of the city and surrounding area. The area around the cathedral in the Arab Quarter is another great place to go and the smell of the herbs and spices sold in the market square Place Cassanyes gives a very North African flavour to this part of the city.

The word of caution I would have about this town though is that due to the towns’ right wing political leanings, it’s far less tolerant of its foreign visitors than many other towns in the department.  Visitors are welcome, just as long as they go home afterwards.  Such a shame really, as culturally it’s probably the most interesting town of the region and something that in my view should be embraced rather than seen as a threat.

Population:  118,238

Collioure is proably one of the most picturesque towns in the whole of the Languedoc, with its waterfront castle and medieval buildings.  Coullioure has been attracting artists since the early 1900s, when Matisse and Derain started painting here, and the streets are full of art galleries.  It’s beach is not one of the best but the beach is not the reason to visit or live here.  It’s arty, bohemian and picture perfect, rivalling anything the Cote d’Azure has to offer.

Population: 2,987

The Pyrenees town of Font Romeu is known as the sunniest of the French ski resorts, with over 3,000 hours of sunshine every year.  Font Romeu is one of Europe’s oldest winter resorts and has been welcoming skiers since 1921.  It is also one of the best equipped ski resorts in Europe and has 500 snow cannons on 54 km of ski runs.

It offers a stunning view over the surrounding mountain ranges with peaks at over 2,900 meters high.

Population: 1,992

Property market overview:

This was once the second cheapest department in the region, however, the draw of its fabulous coastline, mountains and pretty villages means that it’s now second to Herault in terms of property prices, with an apartment averaging around €2,161 / sq m and a house at around €2,013 / sq m


Wine, Catalan food festivals, the Mediterranean, water sports, walking,  mountain climbing and skiing.

Pyrenees Orientales

Transport links

Road:  The A9 runs right past Perpignan and links up with Montpellier and Barcelona.

Air:  Perpignan has it’s own international Airport; Rivesaltes.  Also depending on where you are in the department, other nearby international airports are Toulouse and Carcassonne.  You might even find that dropping down into Spain to the Girona Barcelona airport which is also serviced by Ryanair.

Train: The main station of the department is the Gare de Perpignan which offers connections to Paris, Toulouse and Barcelona.   Below is a map showing the train routes around the Pyrenees Orientalles.


Size:  4,116km2

Capital: Perpignan

Population: 393,000

Average income: 17,000

Teraine: Mountains, lakes, rugged Mediterranean coastline, vineyards.

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