Off the beaten path

Spending my summers in Europe has become an unhealthy habit—evident from my excessive student loans.

Hopping from tourist hot spot to tourist hot spot, I’ve never stayed in one place for more than a week.  I’d arrive in each city armed with a well-prepared list of museums, restaurants and monuments—courtesy of Google and TripAdvisor—determined to see every nook and cranny of the city.

But this summer “Perpignan, France” stumped the search engines.

Tasting Perpignan's traditional wines and cheeses.

Wikipedia listed two main attractions, some information on Catalan culture and an infamous 2008 plane crash in the Pyrénées. TripAdvisor’s results matched in scarcity. The “Things to Do” search resulted in five items, compared to Heidelberg’s 52. And its “Off the Beaten Path” search became impracticable considering all things Perpignan are truly off the beaten path—at least according to Google search results.

Contrary to Google’s vision of Perpignan, this city has more to offer more than plane crash sites and Catalan pride. But, without a reference to guide me I was forced to explore this city on my own. Stepping onto the winding streets, I was without expectations. Each corner held something of interest—the pristine waterway, the open-air markets and the prominent, stone Castillet—unspoiled by guidebook opinions.  While I don’t have the Internet or books to point me in the right direction I’ve learned from the locals. They’ve connected me to Perpignan’s characters, exposed me to the culture’s foods and wine and given me an authentic experience of the city.

Gaining my footing has not been without difficulties. I’ve had to choke down cold lasagna and sardine-topped pizza in search of a decent Italian place and waste a few euros on stale croissants before finding the fluffiest and flakiest in all of Perpignan.  While Google, TripAdvisor and guidebooks may have directed me to the top restaurants and bakeries, discovering Perpignan on my own has created an experience more personal than any other.