Blessed with a sunny Mediterranean climate, the Pyrénées-Orientales
is part of Languedoc Roussillon – encompassing the Midi, the ancient
strongholds of the Cathars and the fertile plains of Roussillon.
The most dramatic backdrop is provided by the peaks of the Pyrénées
– dominated by Canigou, the mountain sacred to the Catalan people.
As far as the eye can see, the mountains majestic silhouettes evoke
a tumultuous history, as the remains of fortresses and watchtowers
join the lines of bornes marking the frontière. The racines of this
land are both Occitan, and Catalan; ‘sang and or’ (blood red and gold)
symbolising the traditions that originate from ‘before’ – for although
designated the South of France, Roussillon was ruled by the Kings of
Mallorca, and by proud definition is ‘Catalunya’.
The Côte Vermeille stretches into Spain, terraced with the vines of
Côte de Banyuls and Collioure – a haven for artists who found their
inspiration, Picasso and the Fauvists among them.
Scratch the surface and there are Roman remains – the Via Domitia that
winds its way across the département that was once known as Septimania.
Chapels with frescoes and remnants of walls endure; stones that
speak volumes. Dolmens and menhirs dot the hills, inviting hikers to
travel back in time to the Neolithic Age – to 5000 BC.
Rivers emerge from subterranean sources and cascade their way
through protected forests. Villages are perched high on their
slopes and constructed from local materials; the rooves of ardoise,
the slate of Cerdagne distinctive, as architecture changes with
altitude to the chalets that surround the regions skifields.
The mountains beacon young and old as Nature has all her wonders
on display, and above in the skies the grand ‘rapaces’, or birds of
prey soar, encircling the paradise that teams with life – from
sanglier to butterflies, the ecosystem is very much alive.