“Walk, just walk,” was the advice we received from Carl, the owner of our petite weekend pad in Perpignan, when we asked him what we should do. “Oh, and eat and drink…” And so began a long weekend of food, wine, walking and conversation in Perpignan, one of Southern France’s liveliest cities.
We had escaped sleepy little Ceret for the Easter weekend, on the pretext of attending the spooky Procession de la Sanch, Perpignan’s Good Friday ceremony. But we had other motives: we were also after good food. While Ceret is lovely and laidback, and ideal if you’re content to cook at home (which we do love doing of course), the food scene is dismal.
So here we were in Perpignan having coffee in the sunshine on the square outside Déclic, Carl’s favourite café, on Place de la Républic. An Australian expat of French heritage, and a former Hollywood-based film post-production manager, Carl has lived in Perpignan for five years with his French partner, renovating and renting out cute self-catering studios in the old city.
Carl also runs a Perpignan travel and accommodation website, so it made sense to get his advice on the best strategy for approaching the Procession de la Sanch and his tips on how we should spend the rest of our time in the town.
“I really just love to wander around and try the different produce, and I recommend you do the same,” Carl suggested, “I love to eat and drink, I really enjoy good wine and food, but I’m happy with a three euro bottle of wine, some Comté cheese, and a few olives. Look, I’m happy to just smell a sausage.”
“But I also love communicating with the people who make the stuff. They’re real characters and I enjoy interacting with them. There’s a guy who comes to the Saturday market and sells this wonderful garlic from the Toulouse area (also famous for its garlic sausage). I have a butcher I go to and she’ll hurl insults at me and then tell me what to buy.”
“Pradal (pictured) is owned by a mother and her two rugby-playing sons, where I’m served great duck breast by Mum as she calls out to her son “Stop smoking and get back in here and help your working mother!” before handing over to me to lecture her naughty ‘boy’ about how bad smoking is. He must be 182cm tall and weigh in at around 120 kgs, yet I have to warn him that smoking may stunt his growth!”
“When I go to the cheese shop – they do the best fresh yoghurt and churned butter – I’ll buy some Comté; it’s anything from 18- to 24-months old – and he’ll ask me which one I want and we’ll talk about cheese. It’s all part of why I’m here,” explained Carl.
Carl suggested a quick walking tour, so we could get our bearings and he could point out his favourite shops and places to eat. “I really love Perpignan,” Carl told us, as we strolled the narrow cobblestone lanes of the old town, stopping at this little lane or that gourmet shop, so he could explain the best time to drop into a particular store and what to try and buy, pointing out a significant monument or newly restored building or an architectural detail he liked.
“I love the vibrant colours of the buildings, the pretty ironwork,” Carl explained. “The town is alive – there’s always something going on. I’ll hear a trumpet and drums from my window and I’ll stick my head out and there’ll be a band and crowd moving down the street, so I’ll just go and follow them. It’s a really dynamic town and it’s continually evolving.”
“But most of all, I love the food and I love the people who make it and sell it. I love the way they are doing what they want to do, and they are really passionate about what they’re doing. These are people who can probably talk about tomatoes all day!”
Carl offers quick walking tours to all of his guests when they arrive. If you’re staying at Carl’s apartments, don’t hesitate to accept. If you’re not, see our Weekend in Perpignan story for our tips on what to do – based on Carl’s advice of course, along with a few discoveries of our own.