Last Updated on 04/05/2022 by Alfred
Leaving for the Côte Vermeille and its wonders? Discover all the best of the Pyrénées-Orientales for a holiday between sea and mountains.
There is no shortage of things to visit in the Pyrénées-Orientales since the department concentrates on many tourist attractions.
Medieval and charming villages, hiking in the mountains or by the sea, get ready for a busy holiday. The kilometers of beaches await you for sessions of idleness and swimming under the sun.
So don’t wait any longer and discover now the 20 things to do in the Pyrénées-Orientales.
The 20 Best Things To Do in Pyrenees Orientales
It is impossible to visit the Pyrénées-Orientales without making a stopover in Collioure. The pearl of the Côte Vermeille attracts travelers for its port’s beauty and historical heritage.
Take on the royal castle overlooking the city before following the Chemin du Fauvisme. You walk through the city’s colorful streets following the reproductions of the works of Matisse and Derain.
In the evening, go to the port to admire the colors of the bay. Sit down on the terrace and enjoy a dish based on anchovies, the village’s specialty. Enjoy the sea air and these unforgettable moments with family or couple.
Built in 1095, Villefranche de Conflent has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008. Its ramparts designed by the architect Vauban during the reign of Louis XIV are the main attraction of this beautiful medieval city.
Explore the alleyways of Spain or France and discover the secrets that lie within.
Let yourself be told the legend of witches on a guided tour. You have to climb the 799 steps that lead to Fort Liberia to enjoy an exceptional panorama of the Conflent. On the way down, stop in one of the craft shops that made fabrics and ceramics directly.
3. Take the yellow train
Here is an activity that allows you to visit the Pyrénées-Orientales initially!
The original purpose of the yellow train was to connect the highlands of Cerdanya to the rest of the Pyrénées-Orientales.
Today, it has become an atypical way to discover the region. A 63-kilometre journey serves 22 stations between Villefranche-de-Conflent and Latour de Carol in about 3 hours.
You will have the opportunity to stop at each resort and cross a beautiful mountain landscape. Bolquère train station rises to 1596 meters above sea level.
This makes the yellow train the highest meter-gauge railway in France. A trip not to be missed!
4. The ascent of Canigou
The Canigou massif has been classified as a Grand Site de France since 2012 and welcomes thousands of hikers every year.
The sacred mountain of the Catalans has many paths and trails to walk on horseback or by bike. The bravest will be able to try the ascent to the peak over one or two days.
To soak up the mountain atmosphere, sleeping in a refuge like The Cortalets or Mariailles is ideal.
The next day you will reach the summit and its exceptional view. You can contemplate the plain of Roussillon and, on a clear day, the city of Barcelona.
5. The Abbey of Saint-Martin-du-Canigou
The Abbey of Saint-Martin-du-Canigou nestles on the side of cliffs on the slopes of the eponymous mountain. The Community of the Beatitudes occupies the place, with the mission of welcoming visitors and perpetuating the life of prayers.
Guided tours are organized, lasting one hour, to learn the history of this thousand-year-old monument.
It is also possible to attend masses. To reach the abbey, you will have to walk for 40 minutes or take the services of a 4×4 company with the driver.
6. The Bay of Paulilles
Here is a new classified and unmissable site in the Pyrénées-Orientales: the Anse de Paulilles in the town of Port-Vendres.
The site was home to the Nobel factory, which manufactured dynamite between 1870 and 1984. It has now become a protected area for its fauna and flora.
Many visits are possible on site: Museographic space, old water tower, restoration workshop of Catalan boats …
Also, nature lovers can walk on the trails between pine forests and vineyards. For others, a lazy moment on one of the most beautiful beaches in the department should satisfy you.
7. Cerbère/Banyuls Marine Nature Reserve
Between Banyuls-Sur-Mer and Cerbère lies a marine protected area. It is a true underwater paradise that awaits divers.
More than 1,200 animal species and 500 plant species have been recorded within the reserve. Posidonia seagrass beds and red corals are habitats for groupers, barracudas, and bottlenose dolphins.
An underwater trail lets you discover these wonders by snorkeling, equipped with fins, masks, and snorkel. The start for this 500-meter round trip snorkeling is on peyrefite beach.
You can rent underwater equipment and tablets to identify the fish you encounter—a fun and playful way to raise children’s awareness of the preservation of the environment.
8. Lac des Bouillouses
Overlooked by the Pic du Carlit, the Bouillouses site is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places to visit in the Pyrénées-Orientales. It is the highest altitude lake in the Pyrenean massif accessible by road or chairlift.
Arriving at 2,000 meters above sea level, you will discover a magnificent high-mountain landscape. You can learn to fish, climb or explore the many hiking trails that run through the site.
Keep an eye out, and you may be able to see an island, an emblematic animal of the Pyrenees. The shores of the lake are perfect for a family day out, picnicking, breathing in the fresh air, and soaking up the sun.
It is impossible to visit the Pyrénées-Orientales without going through Perpignan. Capital of the department, it contains many historical monuments witnesses of its glorious past.
The Palace of the Kings of Mallorca dominates the medieval city. It offers beautiful views of the Roussillon plain and the Canigou massif. Mixing Romanesque and Gothic styles, the fortress recalls the city’s power in the Middle Ages.
After the visit, stroll through the alleys of the city center to discover the other architectural wonders, such as the Castillet and the Loge de Mer.
10. Canyoning in the Llech Canyon in Prades
For athletes, the descent of the Llech canyon is a must in the Pyrénées-Orientales. The adrenaline will be at its peak during the 3 hours of the course, where you will alternate natural slides and waterfall jumps.
Three abseiling descents punctuate the system, for a maximum of thrills. Several companies offer their guide services, with qualified instructors for a safe day.
The Côte Vermeille has many seaside resorts that stretch along the Mediterranean. From Perpignan, you reach Canet-en-Roussillon in 20 minutes by car. It is 9 kilometers of fine sand awaiting you, especially 320 days of sunshine a year.
Descending to the south and Spain, you will find Saint-Cyprien and Argelès-Sur-Mer, other must-see sunbathing spots in the Pyrénées-Orientales.
Everything is designed to guarantee you a dream holiday. Stroll along the waterfront or spend family days at Aqualand or Luna Park.
12. The organs of Ille-sur-Têt
Fancy an original walk in the Pyrénées-Orientales? Direction the organs of Ille-sur-Têt! These geological formations have emerged over the millennia due to the erosion of sand and clay from the soil.
The result is a breathtaking landscape of mineral chimneys pointing to the sky.
The visit of the organs will transport you to another universe as if you were traveling the American West and its canyons. Think of yourself as a cowboy as you walk the maze-like trails that crisscross the site.
The village of Tautavel has the particularity of bringing together two must-sees of the Pyrénées-Orientales. Indeed, you will discover the gorges of Gouleyrous and the museum of Prehistory. On the heights of Tautavel, the cave of the Caune de l’Arago is a major excavation site.
The Tautavel Man was discovered there in 1971. The bones date from 450,000 years ago; it is the oldest known European.
The museum traces its history and offers different workshops for the whole family. Simulation of excavation and learning of the survival techniques of Prehistory will delight children as well as adults.
Below the cave, the Verdouble has dug its bed over time between the cliffs. The result is spectacular gorges that will not leave you indifferent.
14. Village of Mont-Louis
Behind impressive ramparts hides the highest fortified city in France, created by Vauban at 1,600 meters above sea level.
Like the other 11 works of the military architect, it has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008.
This must-see in the Pyrénées-Orientales reveals its secrets during a beautiful walk.
You will discover the ramparts, the Porte de France, the Saint-Louis church, and the solar oven dating from 1949. The military enclosure and the Puits des Forçats are only accessible by guided tour.
15. Salses-le-Château and its fortress
Salses-le-Château is the first must-see village to visit in the Pyrénées-Orientales when you come from the Aude.
Its fortress was built by the Spanish to protect the Catalan border from the strongholds of Leucate and Narbonne.
It is a perfect example of the military art of the late fifteenth century in an unjust and colonizing Spain. You will discover the 12 meters thick wall, the four buildings, and the keep during your visit.
You will be impressed by the power that emanates from this perfectly preserved bastion.
16. The Coastal Path
This trail runs along the Côte Vermeille d’Argelès in Port-Vendres and allows you to discover many must-see places, those not to be missed when you come to visit the Pyrénées-Orientales.
32 kilometers long, it is divided into 14 sections for walks lasting between 20 minutes and 2h35—ideal for a family walk, whatever your level of physical condition.
You will cross Collioure, the beach of Ouille, or the bay of Paulilles, in a beautiful environment between villages and nature.
And if you are too tired to go the other way, the General Council bus will take you back for one euro.
17. A boat ride
Visiting the Pyrénées-Orientales also means enjoying the coast. After the walk on the trail, another option is to take off!
Indeed, renting a boat will allow you to explore the Mediterranean coast, its coves, and beaches.
Thus, you will have the opportunity to discover the landscape in another way, seen from the waters. A great experience to live with your loved ones to perfect your stay in the Pyrénées-Orientales!
If you are looking for a place to visit in the Pyrénées-Orientales, you cannot go wrong with the sub-prefecture of the department.
With its strong Catalan influence, this picturesque town is a pleasant stopover for a holiday. Depending on the period, you can participate in the feria or the cherry festival, symbolizing the city.
The Museum of Modern Art is not to be missed for a glimpse of twentieth-century art. Works by Picasso, Matisse or Chagall are exhibited there. Each of these great artists has stayed in Céret.
A visit to this city is the assurance of soaking up the sweetness of life typical of the south of France.
19. Skiing in the Pyrenees
If you are looking for what to do in the Pyrénées-Orientales in winter, know that the department has no less than 9 ski resorts!
Whatever your level, you will find your happiness less than 1h 30min from Perpignan. For children who want to learn, La Quillane is ideal with its 5 green and blue slopes.
More seasoned descenders will head to Font-Romeu or Les Angles, the two largest ski areas in the region.
If you come to visit the Pyrenees Orientales, gourmet moments are expected. In addition to the anchovy of Collioure and the cherry of Céret, other products are honored in Catalan gastronomy.
- The red apricot or the purple artichoke of Roussillon is the region’s pride.
- On the flat side, we recommend the escalivada, a vegetable marinade that can be enjoyed as tapas or as an accompaniment.
- Also, taste the bullinada, a delicious fish and potato soup that rivals in flavors with bouillabaisse.
- Cargolade, an essential dish in the Pyrénées-Orientales, is a must-try. It is a grill of snails drizzled with bacon during cooking. A delight!
- And to accompany it all, choose a wine from the banyuls terroir or taste the famous Muscat de Rivesaltes.
How to go to the Pyrénées-Orientales?
Thanks to Perpignan-Rivesaltes airport, it is possible to arrive directly in the department.
Several flights connect Paris and Perpignan every week. On the other hand, if you come from another destination, you will indeed have to land in Montpellier and finish the journey by another means of transport.
To know which choice to make, use a flight comparator like Skyscanner. This way, you will know where to land and at what price.
Take the car
The car is the best means of transport to visit the Pyrénées-Orientales. Indeed, if the coastline enjoys excellent mobility, the mountainous part is much less easy to access. A car will make your travels easier.
As for your arrival, and no matter where you arrive from, it is advisable to use the A9 motorway, which runs through the department.
Perpignan has a TGV station, which allows you to reach the Catalan prefecture from all over France.
If you land in Montpellier or come from the Occitanie region, you can also use the TER network, which is relatively well developed.
Where to stay in the Pyrenees Orientales?
For your stay, absolutely all types of accommodation will be accessible. Hotels, Airbnb, campsites… You have the choice of the king! Nevertheless, the choice of the city will depend on your background.
If you come in winter to ski, then Font-Romeu and les Angles are undoubtedly a must. On the other hand, if you want to visit the entire territory, cities like Perpignan and Rivesaltes allow a compromise between coastline and mountains.
Finally, if you’re going to stay on the coast, just choose your seaside resort. Anyway, using a hotel comparator will help you find the ideal offer, which will consider all your criteria.
Now you know what to visit in the Pyrénées-Orientales!