Our next leg took us to Perpignan Pyrenees and crepes, it shall be!
Perpignan isn’t exactly on the list of people’s bucket list. True, it does not readily spring to mind when you tick off places in France you might want to visit, but after a 24 hour stopover and seeing a little of this town, it is indeed quite special. Virtually hidden away in the most east-southerly patch of France, The Old Town has this village feel that is charming and quaint with its narrow alleyways and shabby tenements coloured in shades of lemon, peach and tangerine. It is a perfectly rolled gem with a colourful mix of France and Spain with dramatic snow capped mountain ranges, the French gateway to Pyrenees. Here, the sun shines for over 220 days of the year. Historically, Perpignan (Perpinyà in Catalan) was capital of the kingdom of Mallorca, a Mediterranean power that stretched northwards as far as Montpellier and included all the Balearic Islands; the Mallorcan kings’ palace still stands guard at the southern end of the old town. It’s still the third-largest ‘Catalan’ city after Barcelona and Lleida in Spain. There weren’t throngs of tourists, because really, there’s not that much to see. It is a lovely place just to chillax and explore its alleyways, sitting in the Republique square, sip of double espresso and watch the world go by. Unfortunately, it seems the town has seen better days. I guess the French economy has been a bit hard for small touristy curiosities such as these. Still a nice stop, but maybe just for a day. Sad indeed how great places like this appear to have fallen on tough times.
The pictures to follow summarizes our quick stop at Perpignan as we travelled from Girona to Andorra. We really did not have time to visit some of the important monuments since we chose to wander its narrow alleyways to get a glimpse of how the locals live.
A quiet Perpignan on Saturday morning. Historically, it has always been as such but its heyday was during the 13th and 14th centuries when it was the seat of the court of the Kings of Majorca. It finally became French territory in 1659, courtesy of the Treaty of the Pyrénées. Over the centuries, it has developed from a cloth-making and goldsmith centre to a respite for repatriated French citizens fleeing the 1950s/60s strife in North Africa; latterly, it has become home to Moroccan and Algerian communities, which, along with its notable Franco-Spanish mix, lends a vibrant multicultural element.
One of the countless narrow alleyways in Perpignan in the evening at 7pm. Walking around Perpignan in the evening, made us realise that perhaps things are not that rosy today, it was pretty quiet and quite a lot of shopfronts looked like it had been looking for an occupier. Eccentric surreal artist from Figueres, Salvador Dalí, reportedly called it the ‘center of the world’!
Perpignan on a Saturday morning. Loving the market feel here. Stalls selling fruits and vegetables with a village feel. There were bins of fresh sardines and anchovies sold in the fish shops along this street. Another stall would display heaps of dried salted fishes, whole little ones and chunks of larger ones, as well as all manner of canned fish and seafood products.
From Place de la République, Rue Voltaire off the southwest corner of the square, is dotted with bakers, chocolate shops and boutiques. The first lane on the left boasts a cheese shop while the second especially atmospheric market alley, Rue René Paratilla is home to shops such as Epicerie Sala and Aux Bonnes Olives which specialise in spices, herbs, dried fruit and other exotic goodies, such as Aleppan olive soap and henna. Cailis is the spot to head for perfectly-formed fruit and vegetables, and there are also a couple of brilliant fish shops. Lost among them by day is tiny Bar de la Marée which comes alive in the late afternoon, after the stalls and shops are closed, when locals fill the lane here to share stories over beers.
Aux bonnes olives at Rue René Paratilla: Since 1949, this grocery store is a great address in the most colorful street in Perpignan,run by Stephanie Cardona and her husband.
Aux bonnes olives: A close up of a cornucopia of colours.
Epicerie Sala in Perpignan. Founded in 1913 by the great-grandfather of Jacques Sala, the grocery amateur served generations of smoked and cured products. such as cheek, tongue, fillet and cod roe, Spanish and Portuguese sausages, dried fruits and vegetables. They stock on a wide variety of Spanish paprika and other spices and herbs used in Catalan cooking. After all, this is the region of France closest to Spain just on the other side of the Pyrenees; an area which, although technically a part of France, still identifies culturally as Catalan.
Place de la Republique on a Saturday morning. There was a small market in progress in the Place de la République. This shop specialises in live snails. She was getting ready for business so a pity we did not capture th picture with her snails. They’re all “petits gris” (Helix aspersa, little grays, as opposed to the larger, rounder snails of Burgundy. We had breakfast in the next store, and what else more croissants and pan au chocolate washed down with lattes.
Creperie Du Theatre (12 Rue du Theatre, 66000 Perpignan, France)
We stayed for a night in Perpignan and we decided to go to this Creperie, right in the city center. This is apparently the best creperie in Perpignan. It was opened by a young couple from Brittany in 2007. Since then, it has been making authentic buckwheat pancakes with a modern twist relying heavily on organic ingredients. We chose some galettes and some crepes and they were really good. The difference between a galette and a crepe is that a galette is made from buckwheat flour and crepe from wheat flour. We sat outside along the alley on tables and chairs in pop colours of blue, mauve and pink and the best part, he actually has matching placemats of the same colour! We loved the buckwheat pancakes!
Creperie Du Theatre
A really cute picture of the couple who runs the place. The evening we were there, she was cooking in the open kitchen, and he was our waiter. Just love it.
Galette (Buckwheat crepe)with jambon and emmental
Sucre flambee: with sugar and flambee of Grand Marnier poured over the crepe .
Dessert crepe: La Banana, caramelised banana with chocolate and chantilly cream gets the thumbs up from the kids
We headed to Andorra, ruggedly beautiful country set amidst the Pyrenees.