Sunday, April 12, 2009

Irish News FAB PO article

Here's the text of the article in the Irish News yesterday - should have hard copy at the next meeting:

Catalan charm in the south of France
By Brian Campbell11/04/09

From Collioure to Canigou and from Perpignan to Prades, the Pyrenees Orientales area of France is an absolutely stunning place to visit.

The region is in the extreme south-east of France and there is an astonishing amount to see and do between the Mediterranean coast and the ski resorts of the Pyrenees.Much of the area's attraction is the promise of both sunny beaches and plentiful skiing, while delicious food and a choice of some of France's finest wines is another major draw.

Much of the Pyrenees Orientales (PO) used to be part of Catalonia and so Catalan culture looms large and the ‘blood and gold' Catalan flag is a common sight.

The Vella Frontera vineyard in Maury boasts the slogan ‘Catalan charisma and French finesse' and this sums up the PO perfectly.

We visited the area in mid-March and the glorious sunshine we enjoyed made it easy to believe that there are on average 300 days of sunshine per year here.The favourable climate is of course ideal for the countless vineyards in the PO and as well as the rows and rows of vines, the pink peach trees are a sight to behold.

Another stunning sight is the sun setting on the breathtaking and majestic Mount Canigou, which at 9130ft dominates the region and remains snow-capped right up until mid-summer.

For our visit we flew into Girona in Spain, just south of the French border.As you venture north into France, the Pyrenees Orientales region can roughly be described as a triangle than runs from Cerbere and Collioure in the south up the coast to Le Barcares and then west to the border with Andorra.

The region's capital is the attractive city of Perpignan.Two of the most popular sites in the city are the Loge de Mer building and Le Palais des Rois de Majorque (The Palace of the Kings of Majorca) – a fortress that dates back to 1276.Perhaps the most photographed landmark is the Castillet, which stands at the point where the old and new towns meet.The building used to be a city gate and is now the symbol of Perpignan.

While Perpignan is in off the coast, no visit to this area is complete without a trip to the jaw-droppingly beautiful port of Collioure.Often referred to as ‘the jewel in the crown of the Pyrenees Orientales', it boasts the Notre Dame des Anges church, the Chateau Royal fort and a host of shops and cafes right by the water.

Other must-see towns and villages of the PO are the picturesque Eus, perched on a hill, and Villefranche de Conflent.

Villefranche is a postcard-perfect medieval fortified town and, as with a city such as Venice, it's so picturesque and unspoiled that it's hard to believe people live here.It dates back to 1092 and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with Fort Liberia (built in 1681) perched on the mountain above.

You can also hop on the ‘Petit Train Jaune' (yellow train) for a scenic ascent through the Tet valley.The Train Jaune is an extremely popular tourist attraction and our journey from Villefranche up to Fontpedrouse offered some astonishing views and the snowy peaks of Canigou were again on display.

On one night we stayed in the town of Prades, not far from Villefranche.Our accommodation was at the Maison 225 guesthouse (, owned and run by Sharon and Declan O'Kane – who moved from Belfast to Dublin and then to the much sunnier spot that is the south of France.The elegant townhouse dates back to 1888 and has been stylishly refurbished by Sharon and Declan and it offers great views of Canigou.

On our trip we also enjoyed a fantastic motorbike tour through the mountains, taking in the Roman aqueduct at Ansignan, the breathtaking Gorges de Galamus and – built into a cliffside – the Hermitage of Saint-Antoine.The high and winding road that takes you through the mountains is the stuff of Hollywood films and offers staggering views of the Gorges.The motorbike tours are run by Englishman Roland Thomas of Fenouilledes Motos in Perpignan and they are well worth trying (

After our road trip, we had a fantastic meal at the Auberge du Cellier restaurant in Montner, in the midst of the Cotes du Roussillon vineyards (

We also dined at Le Cortal in the incredibly scenic town of Vernet-les-Bains – a place described by Rudyard Kipling as ‘the paradise of the Pyrenees' – and in La Table, a cavernous and very cool restaurant and bar in Perpignan.La Table ( can be found on what must be one of the most French-sounding streets ever – Rue de la Poissonerie!

One of the things people in the PO are most passionate about is their wine.We sampled the wines of Domaine Treloar ( in Trouillas and Domaine Vella Frontera ( in Maury.Domaine Treloar is owned and run by Englishman Jonathan Hesford and his New Zealand-born wife Rachel Treloar, while Domaine Vella Frontera is run by Welshman Corin Fairchild and his English wife Jayne.Both wineries pride themselves on being independent high-quality operations, with all the grapes hand-picked and the wines hand-crafted and made on-site.Both Treloar and Vella Frontera offer fantastic wines and we took a tour and tasting at Domaine Treloar that comes highly recommended.

The PO is a fantastic place to go hiking, while the promise of great food, fine wines, cafe culture, skiing, beaches, stunning scenery and breathtaking mountains should be enough to tempt anyone.Add to this the fortified towns, markets, castles, cathedrals, churches and the very friendly people and it's hard to resist the Pyrenees Orientales.

All in all, it's truly one of the most beautiful parts of the world. Bon voyage!


• Ryanair flies from Dublin to Barcelona/Girona and to Carcassonne. There are also direct flights to Perpignan on Ryanair from London Stansted.

• For my visit I stayed at Maison 225 in Prades (, at Le Chai Catalan in Ortaffa ( and at the Citea aparthotel in Perpignan (

• Accommodation is also available at Les Hirondelles in Fuilla ( and at Village Catalan in Vernet-les-Bains (

• For custom-made tours and for a great way to see the Pyrenees Orientales for the first time, we recommend checking out The French Tour Co, which is run by Co Limerick sisters Karen and Suzanne O’Reilly. They offer English-speaking wine tours, spa tours, art tours, walking tours, photography tours, coastal tours and more (

• Two museums worth checking out in the area are the Musee d’Arte Moderne at Ceret and the Salvador Dali Museum at Figueres (Spain).

• Another place to visit is the Bains de St Thomas natural hot springs and spa resort set in a stunning location in the mountains (

• Our trip was organised by FAB PO (French Anglo Business in the Pyrenees-Orientales), the English-speaking international business network based in the south of France.

For more info, visit

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