Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Getting around the region

As part of the region's heavy investment in tourism, the department of Pyrénées-Orientales is blessed with an excellent transport system, designed for heavy usage in the peak summer months but providing delightfully clear roads, and half-full buses and trains for the rest of the year. Whether you arrive at Perpignan, either by direct flight into the international airport at Rivesaltes (20 minutes from the city centre), by express train from Lille (Euro-Tunnel links from London) or Paris, or by road along the A-9 auto-route south from Lyon, you are faced with a wide choice of options if you are continuing your journey south or remaining in the region.

Perpignan can also be reached by air to Girona (Spain)- situated an hour's drive south across the border at Le Perthus and the Pyrenees - and Barcelona (2 hours), with both airports offering a huge selection of European and international destinations if you are travelling further abroad. All the low cost carriers are firmly established at both airports, alongside BA and other long established airlines.

Continuing your journey south from Perpignan by rail at present involves taking the spectacular Mediterranean coastal route (Elne, Argelès, Collioure, Port-Vendres, Banyuls, Cerbère) where you can change to the Spanish trains at Port-Bou for the onward journey to Girona and Barcelona. The average journey times depend on the Spanish connexions but the unrivalled scenery is well worth the delay.

This will all change in two or three years when the fast TGV link will operate from the new international station in Perpignan, stopping only at Girona, and reaching Barcelona in well under an hour.

By road, the A9 south heads inland a bit, crossing the border at Le Perthus and continuing across the heights of the Pyrenees to Figueras, Girona and Barcelona. A 'route nationale' runs parallel to the motorway, bypassing the principal towns if you wish to benefit from less frenetic, toll-free travel. Between Le Perthus and Barcelona you will see signposted the popular Coast Brava resorts - all still flourishing - which will evoke memories of the early days of popular package holidays.

The closeness of Spain tempts many of us living in the region to hop across the border on regular shopping trips, as prices of virtually everything are even lower than in our part of France.

Within the region, the main north south routes are the N114 which serves the Mediterranean coast, and becomes a steep, winding two-laner just after Port-Vendres. It is however used daily by the local buses, lorries and vans making deliveries, and tourists in camper-vans and private cars.

Further inland is the N115 which goes to Céret and the spa resorts such as Amélie-les-bains, before petering out at the Spanish border, which can nonetheless be crossed if you are prepared to tackle the winding mountain road for several miles.

Even further west is the third major road, the N116, which goes to Prades (famous for its annual music festival), and on to the ski resorts around Font Romeu, and Andorra, for more cheap shopping.

The local towns and villages around Perpignan and as far south as Cerbère are served by bus, with a recently introduced flat rate fare of 1 euro, susidised by the Conseil Général. The journey into Perpignan rarely takes more than half an hour from virtually anywhere within the department.