Pyrenees Orientales is the most easterly of the Pyrenean departments forming the southernmost part of Languedoc-Roussillon. This diverse corner of France offers an attractive mix of Mediterranean beaches, historical towns and high mountain summits. Boasting the highest sunshine record in France (over 300 days of sun) and renowned for its air quality it is clear to see why Pyrenees Orientales is such a popular travel destination.
The Pyrenees mountains of the Cerdagne and Capcir lend themselves perfectly to all manner of outdoor pursuits including canoeing, kayaking, hiking, fishing and horse riding. It is one of France’s well-kept secrets for mountain biking with over 400km of marked mountain bike (VTT) trails and an ideal base for road riders; gruelling day loops riding over high mountain cols in France, Spain and Andorra can be arranged whilst more leisurely rides prevail on the two large plateaus ensuring there is something for all levels of ability and styles.
The Neiges Catalanes ski area comprises of 8 ski resorts in the Cerdagne and Capcir valleys. 278km of pistes, huge off piste areas and 288km of cross-country skiing can all be accessed with one single lift pass. Outside of French school holidays the ski areas are quiet giving fantastic, un-crowded skiing. The principal ski stations include family-friendly Font Romeu with over 50km of downhill pistes and over 80km of cross-country tracks, Les Angles with 40km of pistes just 90km from Perpignan airport and Le Puigmal with some of the highest pisted skiing in the Pyrenees, rising to 2700m. Additionally, there are plans afoot to link the ski resort of Porte-Puymorens (1600-2500m) with its giant Andorran neighbour, Grand Valira, creating a huge cross border ski area to rival the largest Alpine circuits.
With such a diverse geography, virtually every type of leisure activity is catered for in Pyrenees Orientales. Banyuls-sur-Mer has superb beaches and a Marine Reserve ideal for diving and snorkelling. Other pleasant coastal resorts include Argeles-sur-Mer with 7km of sandy shoreline and a marina, Canet with its aquarium and boat museum, and, if you have an artistic leaning, why not follow in the footsteps of Matisse and Picasso and try some painting in the pretty port of Collioure?
The administrative capital is the famous medieval town of Perpignan, with its 14th century cathedral and 13th century castle sitting high upon reinforced ramparts commanding great views over the town and surrounding countryside. Perpignan possesses a distinct Catalan flavour through its date palms and Arab quarter. Indeed, Pyrenees Orientales is one of the few places in France where Catalan is spoken and up to 40 per cent of the population understand it.
The area’s fascinating history which saw Perpignan change hands between France, Spain and the Catalan rulers of Barcelona, has bequeathed Pyrenees Orientales interesting historical sites, including ruined Cathar castles as well as the defensive castles of the 16th and 17th centuries at Salses and Prats de Mollo.