History of area
The Pyrenees Orientales: has a varied history that spans centuries, resulting in a department that offers a great mix of culture and traditions. Incorporating towns that have suffered invasions and extensive changes means that the department provides a diverse location for any holiday maker.
The area was Spanish until 1659 and Catalan is still widely spoken as well as French.
The department of the Pyrénées-Orientales. was created from the historic province of Roussillon, the region of Cerdagne and fragments of Languedoc with the city of Perpignan as its capital.
Jacques le Conquérant (the Conqueror) decided to make Perpignan the continental capital of the kingdom of Majorca. The Palace of the Kings of Majorca at Perpignan, built between the 13th and 14th centuries, is the oldest royal dwelling in France.
This southern, half-Spanish, town is the third largest Catalan city, after Barcelona and Lleida (both in Spain), lies between two rivers, has well-groomed parks and boulevards, and is a bustling city full of boutiques and good restaurants.
The Museum of Tautavel: traces the life of the Homo erectus skeleton, Tautavel Man, discovered in 1971 near the village Tautavel in the caune (cave) of Arago and is the oldest European found to date (450 000 ans) .
Some of the most famous Cathar castles such as ….....are in Pyrenees-Orientales and the constant conflicts between the Spanish and French have left a number of forts and fortified towns.
The Salses Castle: just north of Perpignan. Constructed in the late 15th century by the Spanish, the fortress guarded the former frontier between Catalonia and France.It is a rare example of the transition from the medieval fortified château to the fortifications of the more modern era. The Fortress survived the Thirty Years War and was later abandoned to the French.
Castlenou: is a complete medieval walled village including a beautifully preserved 10th century castle in a fantastic situation surrounded by the mountains. The views from the castle are spectacular.There is a lively market on Tuesdays throughout the summer and there are a number of little craftshops.
Prades: capital of the Conflent region, nestling in the foothills of Mount Canigou is an important centre where the plains meet the mountains.
Prades was first mentioned in historical documents in 843 by its latin name Prata Virent meaning “green fields”. Charles le Chauve gave the town as a gift to Sunifred Count of Urgell.
Situated at the confluent of several rivers and the base of the Canigou mountain Prades enjoys a micro-climate characterised by many hours of sunshine. In Spring it is a delight to contemplate the landscape where the snow on the Canigou blends with the colour of the peach blossom.
It was this setting that inspired Pablo Casals to choose Prades as his second homeland. This famous composer and musician is honoured every summer during the renowned Pablo Casals Festival of Chamber Music.
All year the towns eclectic and active associations ( ciné club, samedis musicaux, and a host of sports clubs) provide a variety of entertainment, sporting events, traditional fêtes, shows, and meetings. Prades also boasts an exceptional heritage with St Peter’s Church and its Treasure House. The church has the largest baroque altar piece in the whole of France.
Admire the Maison Jacomet, a beautiful 15th century Tudor style building found in the main square which is on the national register of historic buildings, and visit the two jewellers who will help you discover the ancient craft of making catalan jewellery by encasing garnet stones in gold.
Villefranche de Conflent: is a beautiful walled village in the mountains was built by the count Guillaume-Raymond de Cerdagne, with an interesting Church built in 1090 and benefiting from certain fiscal advantages, hence the name "Ville Franche" (Free Town). The ramparts are impresive and the town has picturesque narrow streets and houses of pink marble (13th & 14th C), with picturesque alleys, shops with wrought iron signs and a marvellous church door are all sights to be seen. The ramparts were strengthened by King d'Aragon in the thirteenth century, who used it as an outlying post.
Until the eighteenth century, it was the administrative capital of this region.
Evol: classed as one of the prettiest villages of France, this little medieval hamlet is well worth a strol around and take a look at the feudal 13th C chateau and 15th C church.
Mont Louis: perched at 1600 mn, is the highest fortified town in France and controls access to the Cerdagne. A military barracks established by Vauban in the XVII th century to confront the Spanish army, Mont-Louis is still an active fort and currently houses the National Commando Centre.
Formiguères: is a traditional mountain village that has kept its charm. Used in the Middle Ages by the kings of Majorca, it is today a ski station in winter and and a point of departure for hikers in summer, notably towards the magnificent lakes of Camporells.
Priory of Serrabone: On one of the routes to Compostella the medieval monastery, the Priory of Serrabonne, is also high on a hill-top reached after a long climb .There is a sharp contrast between the austerity of the schiste of the exterior walls and the delicacy of the carving of and capital. The pink marble columns of the cloisters date from the XII th & XIII th C. s. There is also a beautiful botanical garden.
L'abbaye Saint Martin du Canigou: Built high on a cliff-top in the wilds of the Pyrenees in the 11th C by Guilfred, Comte of Cerdagne, this beautiful abbey is only accessible on foot, but worth the effort. The views are spectacular. Badly damaged by an earthquake in 1428 it was rebuilt 5 years later. The last monks left in the 18th C, and looters and smugglers pillaged the place. It wasn't until 1902 that the bishop of Perpignan launched an appeal for its restoration. Since 1988 a monastic community again welcomes the faithful and tourists
St Martin de Cuxa