Wait, is this France?!

I was hot, exhausted and excited when I stepped off the five- hour train ride from Paris. But after a look around the train station,  I thought I may have stayed on the train too long and entered Spain.

Instantly I noticed that the air, the vibe and the architecture was vastly different from the French mecca I had just stayed in, and when I asked, in broken French, if I was in Spain, the conductor laughed. “Madame, you are in Perpignan.”

A little street in Perpignan

I had been to Paris for the first time almost 10 years ago and the five days I recently spent there were pretty amazing. The city, of course, feels old. In Paris, every turn and twist of the city feels deep-routed in a historical fairytale and above all, the city feels surprisingly clean.

Perpignan, on the other hand, had a “worn-in” charm that did not seem as “fairytale-French” as my previous  French destination.

Palm trees line the streets and brightly colored plastic picnic tables sit in front of Kebab and coffee shops. A city that has been said to be neither entirely French, or entirely Spanish, Perpignan’s streets reflect its mixed heritage.

The roofs were also another reminder of Perpignan’s Spanish influence and history. The bright terracotta sea that floats above all the buildings is uniform. And from the perspecive of the top of le Castillet, the single color blends the entire city together. It almost looks like rolling hills as opposed to individual buildings.

A view from the top

Unlike the typical “Paris” streets, Perpignan offers a variety of buildings adorned with blue doors, pink exterior walls and sometimes even purple shutters. The fun use of color is a reminder of homes in near-big city Barcelona and the Méditerranéen that is only minutes away.

Perpignan’s location has historically been strategic for battle, but it is also a city that blends two very different culures.


The women are far less “dressed-up” in Perpignan as they are in Paris. While all French women take time and pride in their appearance, I was shocked when getting off the train to see other women sporting Havaianas, which gave me, as a casual San Franciscan, some great relief. It seemed slightly ridiculous to me that all women in France wear stilettos non-stop. But, if I hadn’t gone to Perpignan, I still might believe that all French women wear heels.

While Perpignan does not lie on the beach, the dress, the decor and the food of the city reflect a much different climate and lifestyle than its French counterparts. Just as “siestas” are a way of life in Spain, it seems that in Perpignan this time is also important to the vitality of the city, something I did not find in Paris .

Everywhere in Perpignan there is color

French is in fact the primarily language in this region, as with any other “French” cities, but time and time again, like the first few moments I arrived, I feel as if I stayed on the train too long and I am not in a French city, but I am in  Spain.

It’s pretty confusing really.