If you are a nature lover, you will enjoy every moment you spend in the Pyrénées-Orientales (in short PO) department. This region is located in the very southern tip of France, with the Pyrenees mountain range separating it from Spain. Here, you can soak up some fresh air while indulging in the landscape’s natural beauty. However, you will also find picturesque villages, historical towns, and even the Mediterranean coast. What’s not to like?! If you don’t know where to start, let me give you some tips. Below you will find my favourite places of interest. Or you can search for ‘Pyrénées-Orientales‘ on the blog.
Medieval Perpignan is the last stop before the Spanish border, and it breathes Catalan influences. Today, you can still enjoy a great mix of cultures. Have a stroll through the historical centre Perpinyà and let the southernmost city of France surprise you.
Collioure is located on the Côte Vermeille, and with about 300 days of sunshine a year, life is pretty good here. Most people share this opinion, especially in July and August when it can be busy with tourists. If you can, try to spend a night at Collioure. It is truly magical to sit on the beach at night with the beautifully lit bell tower in the background.
3. Orgues d’Ille-sur-Tet
The unique landscape of the Orgues d’Ille-sur-Tet, with its tall pillars of white sandy rock sculpted by nature, looks like it comes straight out of a fairytale. No wonder these rock formations are locally called “Cheminées de Fées”, or Fairy Chimneys in English. The site is a constantly changing piece of art, as even today water erosion continues to shape it.
4. Most beautiful villages of the PO
The PO department is home to many beautiful villages. However, only four of them can officially wear the “Most Beautiful Villages of France” label: Castelnou, Eus, Évol and Villefranche-de-Conflent. The most beautiful villages in the Pyrénées-Orientales are quite small. However, it is a real pleasure discovering each and every one of them.
The village of Villefranche-de-Conflent deserves some extra attention. You can easily spend quite some time in this fortified village, as UNESCO has classified no less than three sites in and around the village as official World Heritage Sites. The village itself, of course. But also, the two other Vauban strongholds, Fort Libéria and Cova Bastera, are worth a visit.
6. Abbaye de Saint-Martin-de-Canigou
The Abbaye Saint-Martin, perched up on its rocky pinnacle for centuries, was first occupied by Benedictine monks. After they left, time turned the abandoned abbey into ruins. As of 1988, it’s the home of the Community of the Beatitudes. A 4 km round-trip leads to the abbey, which can be visited as well and is well worth the visit!
7. Lac des Bouillouses
The Lac des Bouillouses is a dam lake situated at 2,000 meters altitude. Several hikes go to and from this lake. My family and I did the 10.5 kilometres Boucle du Lac d’Aude’ trail. It had everything from dramatic mountain vistas to reflections of the surrounding area in the crystal-clear water of the lake.
When you think of the South of France, you might not immediately connect it with skiing. Well, I have a great surprise: you can actually ski here! There are several ski resorts in the Pyrénées-Orientales, and Font-Romeu and Les Angles are the most well-known. With over 3000 hours of sunshine per year, they are the sunniest ski resorts in France.
9. Parc Animalier des Angles
The Parc Animalier des Angles is a unique way to explore Pyrenean wildlife in a striking mountainous forest area. In a spacious set-up on the slopes of the Carlit Massif, you can spot wild animals in their natural environment. You can either choose to walk the 1.5 kilometre path or the 3.5 kilometres one to lead you through this beautiful wild setting.
10. Gorges de Galamus
The Agly River formed the impressive canyon of the Gorges de Galamus. To reach this natural site, you have to drive a few thrilling kilometres along a very narrow and winding road along the edge of a steep cliff. But once you have survived that, you will see that the breathtaking gorge with its hermitage built-in-rocks has been worth every drop of anxiety.