Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Argelès-sur-mer where I live can perhaps be described as a typical, small French town and a pleasant place in which to settle. Some 20 kilometres south of Perpignan -reached in under half an hour by car on the fast four-lane link road, or by bus or train - the town has a resident population of just under 10,000, though this figure rises in July and August for the short summer season. The commune of Argelès includes steep hills and forests that almost touch the border with Spain, half an hour to the south, and give a clue to the town's strong Catalan influence.

Argelès-Village dates mainly from the 14th century and there are traces of old fortifications, and the beautiful village church of Notre Dame, dating from this period. Two kilometres to the east is Argelès-Plage (beach) which was grafted onto the town in the 1970s as part of the regional tourism plan for the Mediterranean coast. The beach area comprises 7 kms of sand, which is cleaned mechanically overnight, and an impressive promenade - popular with walkers, joggers and roller-bladers - which stretches all the way from the residential North Beach, past the Centre Beach where most of the seasonal commercial activites are located, and onwards to the quieter South Beach and Argelès-Port.

The beach area is not without its own history and was the site of a makeshift refugee camp in 1939 when hundreds of thousands of Spaniards fled across the border at the end of the Civil War, outnumbering the local population and creating a massive aid and support programme. The 'retirada' is commemorated in a solid stone monument just off the beach by Boulevard de la mer. Today the Beach is a popular holiday resort for families who are attracted by the clean sand and supervised activities (lifeguards are in place along the length of the beach). Every type of water sport is catered for, including swimming, diving, surfing and sailing. The Beach has won numerous Blue Flag awards for the quality of its services.

Along the South Beach are some of the original holiday villas built in the 1920s before the resort was developed.

Argelès-Port is the last of the marinas developed along this part of the Mediterranean coast during the 1980s and 90s and now offers berths for nearly a thousand leisure craft. The harbour is surrounded by modern residential apartments, each building completly different from its neighbour and not more than four storeys high. The numerous boutiques, cafés and restaurants attract a steady stream of visitors during the warm summer evenings.

Argelès offers a full range of services for permanent living, including medical clinics, X-rays, cardiologists and other specialists; good local schools; and an impressive new shopping complex just off the town centre and dominated by a Carrefour hypermarket. It is seldom necessary to make the short trip to Perpignan, but there you will find a FNAC book and record store, several hospitals and clinics, and the international airport served daily from Britain.