On the Border of Spain & France Tour
SPAIN & FRANCE TOURS
Regional food, local wine, history & culture
Tour in a Nutshell
Special Spain: Barcelona, San Sebastian, Bilbao & La Rioja
Fantastic France: Carcassonne, Toulouse & Biarritz
Regional food & wine, historic monuments & private tours
Luxury rental vehicle & 24/7 assistance: easy self-drive vacation
12 days/11 nights, boutique 4* hand-selected hotels
On the Border of Spain & France Tour
This relaxing independent tour will show you the hidden gems of the regions, at the border of Spain & France. This two week itinerary will take you on a journey to vibrant cities, leisurely coasts, lush vineyards and mountainous scenery. Discover the food, wine and culture of the regions which make up Spain and France’s border. From artsy Barcelona, you will retreat to the beauty of Catalonia, whose unspoiled beaches and medieval villages are a delight! You will then cross the border into France to visit historic Carcassonne and dignified Toulouse before heading for the famous Basque Country, known world-wide as a mecca of food and art. Your final stop before returning to Barcelona will be the Spanish wine region of La RIoja; tasting some exceptional wines. Our 25 years of experience and 24/7 assistance, means that your self-drive vacation along the Border of Spain & France can be an easy and pleasant trip: less to plan and more to enjoy!
Our chauffeur will meet you on arrival at Barcelona airport and whisk you away to 4* boutique hotel, ideally located in the Barcelona Gothic Quarter, nearby to all major sights, but at the same time on the port front. The rooftop terrace bar and pool provide an astonishing view of the city as well as Read More
DAY 1 BARCELONA
This morning your Gourmand Breaks officially licensed guide will await you at your hotel and together you will beat the queues as you enjoy a private guided tour of the incredible La Sagrada Familia, a work on a grand scale which began in 1882. Your private gourmet and cultural tour Read More
DAY 2 BARCELONA
Today you can discover more of Barcelona on your own. Aside from the many suggestions in your On the Border of Spain & France Personal Travel Journals, our Barcelona tour guide will have given you further sightseeing ideas. Maybe you wish to see some more of Gaudi’s fantastic architecture? Read More
DAY 3 BARCELONA
Now you can travel to the beautiful Catalan countryside! Our excellent Officially Licensed Guide will await you in Besalu, a picturesque and fascinating medieval village, renowned for its beauty and the 11th century Roman bridge that once was necessary to adjoin this small village to land. Read More
DAY 4 GIRONA & BESALU
A unique and very special winery awaits you today, hidden high up in the hills, not far from the fishing port of Palamos. The grape vines growing in the fields surrounding the area are cultivated organically and with special attention to the particular characteristics of the grapes to ensure that they Read More
DAY 5 EMPORDA
Thanks to a breakfast fit for royalty at the castle, you will be ready for a morning exploring the picturesque fisherman’s village of Cadaques! The town is known for its breathtaking beauty and history of famous Bohemian artists, including Salvador Dali. You will visit the summer seaside home Read More
DAY 6 CADAQUES
Your On the Border of Spain & France tour has you driving to France today, to the fortress town of Carcassonne. On the way you may like to visit the spectacular castle of Peyrepertuse, the largest of the famous medieval Cathar castles, and relatively well-preserved. The views across Languedoc are Read More
DAY 7 CARCASSONNE
This morning you will leave behind the walled castle of Carcassonne and travel to Toulouse – called the Ville Rose (“Pink City”) of France and the capital of the good life. Toulouse is an absolute must for anyone wanting to explore France – the cosmopolitan and enthusiastic Ville Rose mixes heritage Read More
DAY 8 TOULOUSE & BIARRITZ
This morning our Officially Licensed tour guide will await you and together you will experience a private gourmet & cultural tour of San Sebastian, renowned as the best city to eat in Spain (if not the world!) The city is spread around famous La Concha beach, whilst inland are the lush Read More
DAY 9 SAN SEBASTIAN
This morning after breakfast, you will leave for Bilbao to visit the famous Guggenheim Museum, designed by Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry. This museum, of modern and contemporary art, features permanent and visiting exhibits of works by Spanish and Read More
DAY 10 BILBAO
Today you will leave for the famous Rioja wine region, one of Spain’s many jewels. You will arrive in Laguardia, a Medieval hamlet which is one of the most perfectly preserved villages in Spain. Founded in the 10th century as a defense town for the kingdom of Navarra, this beautiful Read More
DAY 11 LA RIOJA
This is the final day of your On the Border of Spain & France Tour, so make sure to enjoy a relaxed breakfast before checking out of your hotel and departing for Barcelona Airport, where you will hand over your car at the rental office before catching a flight to your next destination. Read More
DAY 12 DEPARTURE
DAY 1 BARCELONA
Our chauffeur will meet you on arrival at Barcelona airport and whisk you away to 4* boutique hotel, ideally located in the Barcelona Gothic Quarter, nearby to all major sights, but at the same time on the port front. The rooftop terrace bar and pool provide an astonishing view of the city as well as the port, and your lovely room looks out over the port. Formerly, your hotel was the residence of a wealthy Duke in the city and is deep-seated in history. A representative of Gourmand Breaks will meet you for a welcome drink, and together you will discuss your personal itinerary for your On the Border of Spain & France Tour. Apart from having available your Online Personal Travel Webpage, you will be handed your Personal Travel Journals containing all your itinerary details and plenty of suggestions for restaurants and free time activities. Our excellent guides and chauffeurs will attend you throughout your tour with us and you will also have our 24/7 back office assistance, for anything you might need.
Barcelona has a long and ancient history, but the city was replanned, with its medieval walls demolished in 1854; as the modern and eclectic place visited today. Over the next sixty years, much of modern Barcelona was built, its architecture funded by the bourgeoisie and designed by Antoni Gaudi and his Modernista contemporaries, Lluis Domenech and Josep Puig. On this first evening in Barcelona you might want to simply relax and unwind after your journey, otherwise we have many dinner recommendations for Barcelona’s best restaurants or informal tapas places nearby.
Tour in a nutshell: Chauffeured transfer from Barcelona airport. Welcome meeting with your Gourmand Breaks tour representative. Overnight in a 4* boutique hotel in Barcelona.
DAY 2 BARCELONA
This morning your Gourmand Breaks officially licensed guide will await you at your hotel and together you will beat the queues as you enjoy a private guided tour of the incredible La Sagrada Familia, a work on a grand scale which began in 1882. Your private gourmet and cultural tour of Barcelona continues to La Boqueria, Spain’s most important, and world-famous marketplace. Here you will visit the famous bar where in-the-know celebrities of Barcelona frequent and try the best aperitifs, and sample some of the finest products of the marketplace! Next, you will traverse the city on a private gourmet walking tour through the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona, home to an abundance of tucked away gourmet cafes and shops. You will see a few architectural feats as well, including the amazing Gothic Santa Maria Church. You will take the path of Picasso on famous Avignon Street, and taste some excellent Spanish cheeses paired with quality wines at a charming ‘fromagerie’. For something sweet, we will stop into the oldest venue in Barcelona for dried nuts, fruits, coffee and toasted almonds where you will sample some of their nuts and fruits.
Your light lunch of exquisite delicatessen produce will include Spain’s best Iberian bellota ham, Joselito, fine cold meats and sausages, the finest wild tuna, anchovies, clams from Galicia, a selection of the best Spanish olive oils, cheeses, salads, etc., all enjoyed at one of the best delicatessens in Barcelona. Your private guide will leave you at the finale of your tour when you are settled safely into this amazing delicatessen enjoying your meal.
Tour in a nutshell: Private gourmet and cultural walking tour of Barcelona including gourmet food & wine tastings. Fine delicatessen lunch with wine. Overnight Barcelona.
DAY 3 BARCELONA
Today you can discover more of Barcelona on your own. Aside from the many suggestions in your On the Border of Spain & France Personal Travel Journals, our Barcelona tour guide will have given you further sightseeing ideas. Maybe you wish to see some more of Gaudi’s fantastic architecture? Parc Guell is located in uptown Barcelona and is one of the most beautiful icons of the city. On the Passeig de Gracia, in Barcelona center, you can see other famous works of Gaudi’s including his famous Casa Batllo and la Pedrera. This is one of Gaudi’s main residential projects and one of the most imaginative houses in the history of architecture.
If you wish, we can include a Spanish cooking class today, where you will first meet with the chef to learn about the local produce and subsequently head to the market to buy the ingredients required for your class. It’s then off to the cooking school where, on chef’s instructions, you will prepare lunch which you will then enjoy with local wines. Alternatively, we can arrange for you a private wine tasting with our local expert, including some of the top Spanish wines from the best Spanish wine regions.Maybe you would like to do your own thing today and take advantage of Barcelona’s shopping, stroll along the beachfront of Barceloneta or return to the old Gothic Quarter, the choices are yours! We have many suggestions for restaurants which will suit your mood of the moment, whether it’s an informal dinner you are looking for or a Spanish Michelin star experience.
Tour in a nutshell: Free day in Barcelona. Optional Spanish cooking class / Spanish wine tasting. Overnight Barcelona.
DAY 4 GIRONA & BESALU
This morning your premium rental vehicle equipped with GPS will be delivered to you by a car rental representative. Now you can travel to the beautiful Catalan countryside! Our excellent Officially Licensed Guide will await you in Besalu, a picturesque and fascinating medieval village, renowned for its beauty and the 11th century Roman bridge that once was necessary to adjoin this small village to land. You will visit the village and the ruins of the Jewish quarter of Besalu, dating back to the 9th century. The villagers here grow herbs in the pretty local public gardens for their well-known and traditional homemade wine, ratafia. The different families of Besalu have variations of this sweet wine and use their own secret combination of aromatic herbs to flavor this digestive liquor. You will certainly discover your own favorite ratafia!
Then your guide will lead you to the incredible city of Girona. In the medieval part of town, you will discover the magnificent cathedral with the widest Gothic nave in Europe. You will meander through the winding narrow streets discovering specialized shops and charming architectural details. Afterwards you will travel to your new home for the next three nights – an authentic Spanish medieval castle, an architectural jewel that was built eight centuries ago. This hotel offers all of today’s luxuries while still maintaining the old world and grandeur of a castle. After checking in, you will be free to relax and discover your surroundings by exploring the hundred-year-old forest and a splendid olive orchard surrounding the hotel, overlooking the hills of the scenic Emporda countryside.
Tour in a nutshell: Provision of a premium rental vehicle equipped with GPS and automatic transmission. Private guided tour of Girona and Besalu with food and wine tastings. Overnight in a 4* Medieval castle hotel in the Emporda region.
DAY 5 EMPORDA
A unique and very special winery awaits you today, hidden high up in the hills, not far from the fishing port of Palamos. The grape vines growing in the fields surrounding the area are cultivated organically and with special attention to the particular characteristics of the grapes to ensure that they have been planted in the best possible locations for perfect growth and maturity. Harvesting is done entirely by hand to ensure that each and every grape is of the highest quality to produce the finest of wines. Following the wine making process, storage is in the labyrinth of isolated, cool, dark cellars beneath, ensuring that the wines finally acquire their distinct and exquisite flavour. You will have a full private tour, with a resident wine expert, of the facilities at this awe-inspiring winery, followed by a tasting of their very best wines, in the company of their in house wine specialist. Your fantastic lunch at the winery consists of their own country fare produce; local meats and sausages, cheeses and breads, and of course, great wine.
After lunch, you are free to spend your time just as you wish. We suggest a visit to the unspoilt nearby towns on the Costa Brava; Calella de Palafrugell and Llafranc. Why not enjoy an aperitif on a sunny terrace while taking in the views and sea breeze? Or, maybe you would prefer to visit the local well preserved Medieval villages of Pals and Peratallada? Here, you will step back in time as you wander the narrow cobblestone streets and peruse the artisan shops retailing crafts of Olde Worlde days. All the info you need is contained in your On the Border of Spain & France Personal Travel Journal.
Tour in a nutshell: Private guided tour of Emporda winery with wine tasting. Visits to medieval villages. Overnight in the Emporda region.
DAY 6 CADAQUES
Thanks to a breakfast fit for royalty at the castle, you will be ready for a morning exploring the picturesque fisherman’s village of Cadaques! The town is known for its breathtaking beauty and history of famous Bohemian artists, including Salvador Dali. You will visit the summer seaside home of Dali, complete with his works and arrangement of rooms, where you can have a glimpse into his life. If you wish to follow in his footsteps you could have a delightful lunch in one of the charming local haunts of the artist; as specified in your Personal Travel Journal. Cadaques is known for its fresh seafood dishes and you can experience the atmosphere of this town in an authentic way as you try a few of the locals’ favorite dishes. Head inland to the Església de Santa María, the Gothic hilltop church dating back to the 16th century, on the highest point in Cadaques. Impressively floodlit at dusk, it offers a great vantage point across the old town rooftops to the sea.
May we suggest you now drive to the mountains overlooking Port de la Selva where the view to the sea will take your breath away with its magnificence. You will see the imposing Sant Pere de Rodes Benedictine Monastery, constructed in the hillside below the ruins of the castle of Sant de Verdera that gave protection for the monastery. Dating from the 10th century AD, it is a prime example of the Catalan-Roman era. After your busy day, you will surely enjoy a relaxing evening at your hotel and perhaps have dinner in the hotel restaurant or at one of the local restaurants.
Tour in a nutshell: Visit to Cadaques and the Dali House/Museum. Overnight in the Emporda Region.
DAY 7 CARCASSONNE
Your On the Border of Spain & France tour has you driving to France today, to the fortress town of Carcassonne. On the way you may like to visit the spectacular castle of Peyrepertuse, the largest of the famous medieval Cathar castles, and relatively well-preserved. The views across Languedoc are spectacular, with sister castle Queribus, the Pyrenees and even the Mediterranean, clearly visible. Finally, you will arrive at Carcassonne – a perfectly restored medieval town which sits majestically above the River Aude and Canal du Midi. The walled city of Carcassonne is world renowned as a spectacular fortified medieval city, but it has been occupied since the 6th-Century BC, first as a Gallic settlement and later as a fortified Roman city. Stroll along the cobblestone streets, browse quaint shops and stop for a hearty lunch in one of the many great restaurants. The classic peasant stew ‘cassoulet’ is sure to refuel you for the remainder of the day!
Tonight you will stay at a 4* hotel, overlooking Carcassonne with its castle and drawbridge, nestled in greenery, offering you a haven of tranquility where you can recharge your batteries. If you have more energy to spare, it is only a 5 minute walk back into town, easy access for discovering more of the city and its secrets. We have many restaurant suggestions for tonight in your Personal Travel Webpage and Journal.
Tour in a nutshell: Visits to Peyrepertuse and Carcassonne. Overnight in a charming 4* chateau hotel in Carcassonne..
DAY 8 TOULOUSE & BIARRITZ
This morning, after breakfast, you will leave behind the walled castle of Carcassonne and travel to Toulouse – called the Ville Rose (“Pink City”) of France and the capital of the good life. Toulouse is an absolute must for anyone wanting to explore France – the cosmopolitan and enthusiastic Ville Rose joyously mixes heritage and lifestyle, great cultural events, chic boutiques and very typically French cafes on many of it’s beautiful squares. You are bound to be seduced by the incomparable Toulousain lifestyle!
Your journey now leads you to Biarritz which has long made its fortune from the sea: as a whaling settlement from the twelfth century onwards, in the 18th century doctors recommended that the ocean at Biarritz had therapeutic properties, inspiring patients to make pilgrimages to the beach for alleged cures for their ailments. Biarritz became more renowned in 1854 when Empress Eugenie (the wife of Napoleon III) built a palace on the beach (now the Hotel du Palais). The British royal family regularly took vacations in Biarritz: European royalty such as Queen Victoria, Edward VII, and Alfonso XIII of Spain were frequent visitors. Biarritz’s casino (opened 10 August 1901) and beaches make the town a notable tourist centre for Europeans. Having toured the town and perhaps relaxed on the front overlooking the sea and “taken tea” or enjoyed a cool, long drink, your journey continues with a short drive to San Sebastian, where you will check into your 4* boutique hotel, with views over the Concha Bay, and be able to relax after your long day and maybe take dinner in the hotel.
Tour in a nutshell: Visit Toulouse. Visit Biarritz. Overnight in a 4* boutique hotel in San Sebastian.
DAY 9 SAN SEBASTIAN
This morning our Officially Licensed tour guide will await you and together you will experience a private gourmet & cultural tour of San Sebastian, renowned as the best city to eat in Spain (if not the world!) The city of San Sebastian spreads around famous La Concha beach, whilst inland are the lush mountainscapes of Guipuzcoa. Your guide will show you around all the most interesting parts of the city where you will be privileged not only to go to the best bars, but to sample the specialities of each place, accompanied by the best Txakoli wine. Although tapas were invented in Andalucia they became perfected in San Sebastian and here are known as Pinchos (written as Pintxos in the Basque language). Each bar is bursting with so many different and creative pinchos – local tradition dictates that you enjoy one or two pinchos at one bar, before moving on to the next!
In the afternoon, you might wish to further explore San Sebastian on your own. The Old Town of San Sebastian is bordered by three natural elements: Urgull Mountain (Monte), the Urumea River and Concha Bay, all great for taking a walk. The town itself is surrounded by three mountains whose beauty has been protected for centuries and are ideal for hiking, to appreciate the views. At the top of Monte Urgull you will also see the remains of the walls and canons from the city’s military past and, guarding the city, stands the Sacred Heart statue (Cristo de la Mota). It’s no Rio de Janeiro but this giant statue of Christ measures over 12 meters! On the other side of San Sebastian there is Mount Igueldo where the best way to get to the top is by using the funicular railway which has been operating since 1912 and is the oldest in the Basque Country.
Tour in a nutshell: Private guided tour of San Sebastian with tapas hopping lunch. Overnight in San Sebastian.
DAY 10 BILBAO
This morning after breakfast, you will leave for Bilbao, just 1 h drive from San Sebastian, to visit the famous Guggenheim Museum, designed by Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry. This museum, of modern and contemporary art, features permanent and visiting exhibits of works by Spanish and international artists. The curves on the building were designed to appear random and the architect has been quoted as saying that “the randomness of the curves are designed to catch the light”. When it was opened to the public in 1997, it was immediately hailed as one of the world’s most spectacular buildings in the style of Deconstructivism, although Gehry does not associate himself with that architectural movement. Architect Philip Johnson called it “the greatest building of our time”.
If you want to spend some more time in the city after the museum, in the Old Quarter you can relive Medieval Bilbao, with its cobbled streets, charming corners and squares, which have witnessed centuries of the port’s hustle and bustle. Its walls, Saint James’s Gothic Cathedral, the Plaza Nueva (New Square), the emblematic San Anton Church and the ancient ruins it was built on, and the busy Mercado de la Ribera (Seaside Market) account for more than 500 years of history and an urban life barely affected by the passing of time. We have plenty of suggestions for lunch venues in Bilbao in your On the Border of Spain & France Personal Travel Journal. If you would like to enjoy some more Basque pintxos, Bilbao style, we will be delighted to share with you our favorite tapas bars route in the Old Town.
Tour in a nutshell: Bilbao Guggenheim Museum visit. Overnight in San Sebastian.
DAY 11 LA RIOJA
Today you will leave for the famous Rioja wine region, one of Spain’s many jewels. You will arrive in Laguardia, a Medieval hamlet which is one of the most perfectly preserved villages in Spain. Founded in the 10th century as a defense town for the kingdom of Navarra, this beautiful walled town is located on a hill overlooking vineyards, with the Cantabrian Mountain range in the background. It is without a doubt the most attractive town of the region, and has a delightful jumble of cobblestoned streets lined with “tabernas” (wine bars/pubs), wine shops, palaces, and cafes. Aside from its wall, the other main characteristic of Laguardia is its tunnels. They were dug under the town to keep the inhabitants safe during battles and had openings that exited to the hillside in case the need for escape arose. After the town was no longer needed for its strategic military position, it was noticed by the inhabitants that the climate in these tunnels was perfect for storing wine. The tunnels are still in use today and many people have their private cellars in them.
A private guided tour has been arranged for you at a fantastic Rioja winery. This unique cellar elaborates its wines in a traditional way where 2,000 pitchers of wine (32,000 litres) are created annually after treading the grapes, just as in ancient times. You will have a full tour of the cellars and a tasting of their best wines to follow. We are sure you will enjoy a late lunch in this delightful hamlet before continuing your journey towards Barcelona, where you will rest for the night in a modern and comfortable 4* hotel with views of the Montserrat mountains, approximately 50 minutes from Barcelona Airport.
Tour in a nutshell: Visit to La Rioja wine region. Private guided visit to a unique Rioja winery with wine tasting. Overnight in a 4* hotel in the country outside of Barcelona.
DAY 12 DEPARTURE
This is the final day of your On the Border of Spain & France Tour, so make sure to enjoy a relaxed and leisurely breakfast before checking out of your hotel and departing for Barcelona Airport, where you will hand over your car at the rental office before catching a flight to your next destination.
We hope you will join us for this trip to Spain & France, and look forward to assisting you in every way possible to make this independent food, wine & cultural tour one which you will remember for years to come!
Tour in a nutshell: Return to Barcelona, rental car drop off.
*This tour can be extended, for example, to 14 (fourteen) days by including one night in Toulouse, the “pink city” and an additional night in La Rioja wine region, including a further winery visit, prior to return to Barcelona.
On the Border of Spain & France Quote Request
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espaces-transfrontaliers.org: Border factsheets
Date(s) of establishment: Treaty of the Pyrenees – 1659 (current border)
Length of border: 656,3 km
Regions concerned: France: Departments: Pyrénées-Atlantiques, Hautes-Pyrénées, Haute-Garonne, Ariège, Pyrénées orientales; Regions: Nouvelle-Aquitaine, Occitanie.
Spain: Regions: Basque Country, Navarra, Aragon, Catalonia
Principality of Andorra
- Interreg VA France-Spain-Andorra
Website of the programme
The programme on the Inforegio website
- Introduction and factsheets on “Territory projects and institutional bodies”
- A mountain border
- The legal framework
- The Interreg VA POCTEFA programme
- Cooperation fields and projects
- Levels of governance
Demarcated by the Treaty of the Pyrenees which was signed in 1659, the French-Spanish border, which for most of its length follows the ridge of the Pyrenees mountain range, is one of the borders that has been altered the least over the centuries and is the oldest unchanged border.
Its mountainous topography makes it relatively impermeable, with the exception of its coastal sections in the Basque Country and Catalonia that serve as cultural melting pots and transport corridors. In the mountainous central part of the territory, the crossing points are very limited: along the valley of the Garonne and above all in Cerdanya, a huge high plateau that is divided in two by the border between the Pyrénées-Orientales department in France and Spanish Catalonia.
In spite of the administrative difficulties (asymmetries in terms of competences and functioning), cooperation has greatly expanded in these border areas within the framework of the Bayonne Treaty and the Interreg IV POCTEFA programme. A specific feature of this border is therefore the very large number of cooperation agreements, both bilateral (at regional, departmental/provincial and local levels) and multilateral.
Transport is a major issue in these border regions since there are few crossing points, with the result that the road routes at either end of the Pyrenees are heavily congested. Cooperation also encompasses many other areas (culture, the environment, healthcare, training, economic development and natural spaces). Among the ongoing projects is that of the cross-border hospital in Cerdanya, which is a pioneer in the field of cross-border cooperation in healthcare.
Territory projects and institutional bodies for cooperation
Cross-border cooperation at the regional level
Working Community of the Pyrenees
Nouvelle Aquitaine-Euskadi-Navarre Euroregion
Cooperation agreement between the Diputación Foral de Guipúzcoa and the Conseil général of Pyrénées-Atlantiques
Cross-border cooperation at the local level
Territory of the Basque Eurocity
Catalan Cross-border Area
Cooperation between protected natural areas
Regional Natural Park of the Catalan Pyrenees and Cadi-Moixero Natural Park
The Pyrenees Three Nations Park
Pyrenees National Park and Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park
Spain: border with France
Along the coastline, Spain borders the south of France and its first major city is beautiful Perpignan. This city is considered the capital of French Catalonia. A significant part of the local population here is represented by the Spanish Catalans, who crossed the border in the last days of the Spanish Civil War and stayed here.
Actually, it is called “border” rather conditionally. If you go there by car from Spain, then you will not even be asked for documents for verification. Previously, there was a post here and the police checked everyone’s passports and documents for legal stay in the country, but after France joined the European Union in 1951, he was removed.
You can still hear the Catalan language in the city, but the spirit of France is still felt stronger. Perpignan is a small provincial town and the most beautiful part of it is the promenade along the La Bassa river. It is made in two tiers of greenery: shady chestnut trees along the footpath and bushes of rosemary and roses a little lower, at the level of the river.
As in every city with history, there is an old town area and it is quite compact. According to the classics of the genre, narrow streets and a large cathedral.
The town is located next to the highway leading to Spain and can serve as a short stop on the way to explore the coast, as well as a separate point of your travel plan.
Here are all the main sights that will be interesting to explore for lovers of medieval history.
The Palace of the Kings of Mallorca (Palais des Rois de Majorque) is the most famous landmark around which the city actually grew. Located on the south side of the old city. You can study both the facade of the building and the interior. The palace was built at the end of the 13th century as a residence for King Jaime II of Mallorca, son of King Jaime I of Aragon and Valencia (“Conquistador”), who recaptured Mallorca occupied by the Moors. After the death of the king, his kingdom was divided between his two sons: the eldest, Pere II, received the title of Count of Barcelona and King of Aragon and Valencia, along with most of the inheritance. The remaining territories, including Mallorca and Roussillon, passed to the younger Jaime II, who ruled from Perpignan and from Montpellier. Today, the palace often hosts exhibitions and summer music concerts.
Saint-Jean Cathedral received the status of a cathedral in 1602. Adjacent to the cathedral is the Romanesque church of St-Jean-le-Vieux, which is currently closed. And if you walk a little from the south gate of the cathedral, you can see Campo Santo, which used to be a cemetery, one of the oldest in France. This is the only cemetery of its kind. Today, summer festivals are held here. In the northern part of the city is the gate of Perpignan. This red brick building – the symbol of the city – is the remains of a medieval fortress wall. The building used to be a prison. Today it is a museum of Catalan art and traditions (Musée Catalan des Arts et Traditions Populaires). But the main gates of the city are the gates of Notre Dame, adjacent to Le Castillet. They were added in 1478 by Louis XI. This was the main gate to Perpignan through the ramparts.
There is also the main square – place de la Loge, which is so small that you can not even immediately understand that you are on the main square. There is a small palace here, the Loge de Mer, which used to be the city’s mercantile exchange and the main office of maritime trade, as can be seen from the boat-shaped weather vane.
And of course Perpignan has the Hyacinthe-Rigaud museum. At one time, Picasso, Dufy and Cocteau lived and worked here. Now the museum has a collection of modernist art. The address of the museum is 6 rue de l’Ange.
For the most French dish, oysters, it’s best to head to Port Leucate, a French commune in the Roussillon region. There are oyster farms here. You will most likely not find luxurious restaurants serving oysters and dry white wine, but if you want to taste a dozen of the freshest oysters for 6.5 euros, then you can do it at the table of simple cafes. Most people come to Port Leucate to buy a whole box of oysters weighing several kilograms – the prices here are ridiculously low. You can buy a kilogram for only 3.5 euros.
If you are planning to explore the French coast from Spain, then these towns should definitely be included in the plan. Original and unusual, and their proximity to the Spanish border makes them even more attractive.
Between Spain and France: the island changes owners every six months
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Image copyright Alamy
In a few days, Spain will take over 3,000 sq. m of French territory – and without a single shot. And six months later, she – again, voluntarily – will return this piece of land back to France. This has been going on for over 350 years.
The French resort of Hendaye is located in an area inhabited by ethnic Basques, almost right next to the Spanish border. During the off-season, its beautiful, curved sandy beaches seem at first glance to be a favorite habitat for hundreds of fur seals. But if you look closely, it becomes clear that these are surfers in wetsuits.
Behind a long breakwater, the historic Spanish city of Fuenterrabia begins, and then the large industrial city of Irun. The border between the countries runs along the delta of the Bidasoa River.
If you go up the river, the view will change. Stately colorful Basque buildings give way to rows of industrial warehouses on the French side and unsightly gray boxes of residential buildings on the Spanish side.
The monument on the island is dedicated to the signing of the peace treaty
But we came here for Pheasant Island. Finding it is not so easy. When asked to tell how to get to it, the locals are surprised and do not understand what can be attractive in it. They say that there is nothing to see there, and warn that it is impossible to get there, it is uninhabited. This is not a tourist place, unlike, for example, the island of Mont Saint-Michel.
But here it is – a quiet, hard-to-reach island in the middle of the river. It is covered with trees, the grass on it is neatly cut. In the middle of the island rises a monument dedicated to the historical event that happened here in 1659.
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For three months, the Spaniards and the French discussed on the island, which was considered neutral territory, the conditions for ending the protracted war. Wooden bridges were laid to it from both banks. The armies were in full combat readiness throughout the negotiations.
As a result, a peace treaty was signed, called the Peace of the Pyrenees. It stipulated the transfer of territories and established the border between countries. And the culmination of peace negotiations was the wedding between the French monarch Louis XIV and the daughter of the Spanish king Philip IV.
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Louis XIV and Philip IV met on Pheasant Island
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The treaty also mentioned that Spain and France would divide the island between them, meaning that control of it would regularly change from one country to another. Six months, from February 1 to July 31, Pheasant Island – the territory of Spain, and the next six months – France.
Such a political structure is sometimes found in world practice and is called joint ownership. However, of the current such agreements, the Pheasant Island treaty is one of the oldest in the world.
The commanders of the French and Spanish navies take turns becoming governor or steward of the island. But since they have better things to do, in practice the mayors of Irun and Hendaye look after the island.
Benoit Ugartemendia in the municipality of Hendaye is responsible for the park areas. Every year he sends a group of people on a boat to the island to cut the grass and straighten the trees. This is where the authority ends. The water level in the river depends on the tides. Sometimes you can wade to the island from Spain. Therefore, in addition to mowing the grass, the Spanish authorities are also expelling “illegal” tourists from the island.
Geographically, the island is quite small – 200 m long and 40 m wide. Sometimes – very rarely – visitors are invited to the historic island. But, according to Benoit, it is usually the elderly who come, because young people do not know anything about the historical significance of Pheasant Island.
Nowadays, crossing the border between France and Spain is as easy as shelling pears – only traffic jams remind you of it. However, during the Franco dictatorship, the border was strictly guarded. The mayor of Hendaye Kotte Echenarro said that at that time there were patrols along the river every 100 meters, making sure that no one crossed the border.
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During the Spanish Civil War, the area became the site of heavy fighting
Today, the mayors of Irún and Hendaye meet more than 10 times a year to discuss issues such as water quality and fishing. In the past, Spanish fishermen have complained about the shape of their French counterparts’ schooners, and recently they have been concerned about the large number of French holidaymakers who love to canoe and interfere with fishing.
The fate of the island is not a priority at these meetings. It is gradually being destroyed.