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The following is written by respected eTravel Blackboard Writer Robert La Bua.
The South of France immediately conjures images of the Riviera's palm-lined promenades, historic streets bustling with life as they have done for centuries. And so it is in Perpignan, France's anti-Riviera. Balancing Spanish Barcelona as France's bastion of Catalan culture, Perpignan is undergoing a makeover unprecedented in its history. The extension of France's TGV train line to Barcelona will put Perpignan less than an hour from the Catalonian capital; the train line will extend to Barcelona's airport, itself undergoing improvement and expansion, so that Perpignan will have direct access to an intercontinental airport.
While the charms of the lush life on the Riviera certainly merit all the attention they garner, the rest of Mediterranean France need not be left behind as an afterthought. While Nice is proud of its history as the first city to surrender itself completely to tourism, Perpignan is a real city for real people. Earthy rather than heavenly. The appeal of Mediterranean life as it used to be lures thousands of sun-starved British and Irish visitors to the southwest coast of France; some of them have bought second homes in Perpignan and its environs, including the lovely seaside village of Collioure, where imposing harbourside fortifications jut into the sea.
Ironically, it is the lack of major attractions that brings people to Perpignan. No queuing for two hours to climb the Eiffel Tower, no timed tickets to see art masterpieces. People come for the relaxed pace, balmy climate, and convivial atmosphere. Summer does see the streets packed with visitors in town for the music festival and other special events. Unlike in other parts of France and Europe, though, Perpignan's street celebrations do not degenerate into drunken disorder in the wee hours; even the Ryanair weekenders from Essex follow the lead of the local adolescents and behave with the courtesy on which the French pride themselves.
Perpignan's Old Town market offers an abundance of French products
To stay among the real people, a stay in a self-serviced flat is more appropriate than a stay amidst the temporariness of a hotel room. Perpignan is seeing a boom in real estate investment, much of it from overseas. The Australian-owned Perpignan Apartments is a perfect example. Located in the up and coming Remparts district, Perpignan Apartments aims to make visitors feel at home in an actual private apartment in an old building totally refurbished with all the mod cons we want when on the road no matter how much we tell ourselves no e-mail or mobile phone. Behind the restored façade, there is satellite television and WiFi. The apartments are cosy and well equipped, with full kitchen facilities for those who see the aisles of French supermarkets as culinary Disneylands enticingly stocked with must-tastes at every turn. Many of the delicacies are found in Australia and Asia, but here they are a fraction of the price. Still others are not found outside of France, such as the delicious raw milk cheeses and myriad pastries and sweets that never find their way to foreign shores.
Very noticeable is just how affordable a stay in this part of France can be. Astutely aware that the Ryanair and easyJet crowd who take up the amazingly cheap deals to come to Perpignan, the owners of Perpignan Apartments keep the rates very reasonable, as are the prices at the supermarket, in the restaurants, and even in the realtor windows. The Real France still exists, you just have to know where to find it.