Perpignan to Catalonia

Quaint cafes, dramatic scenery and riotous festivals await

Perpignan is a city that doesn’t shout about its assets; unlike flashy Barcelona, or chi-chi Montpellier, it isn’t a tourist honey-trap. Which, of course, makes it all the better for visitors. It offers a castle, a lovely shopping quarter, a new state-of-the-art theater and an excellent international photojournalism festival, Visa Pour l’Image, held in early September. But, with a car, Perpignan also offers both beach and mountains.

If you’re a sun bunny, then make for Argeles, St Cyprien or Canet – flat, wide, stretches of sand with all the usual noisy, beachy fun. For a prettier, more grown-up experience, with lovely seafood, but a rockier seascape, then explore the village of Collioure down the coast; it’s a little touristy, but makes an enjoyable day out. You could even drive down the freeway into Spain to Figueras, a gorgeous place, home for many years to Salvador Dali; expect long, long traffic queues if you do (there’s only one slender, winding road in and out of the village). But if I were you, I’d turn my back on the beach, point my car in the opposite direction and head west.