Perpignan and Montpellier, France
We returned to France to explore the South coast. Our route started from Perpignan near the Spanish border. We were welcomed in a French way: SNCF (the French railway monopoly) was on strike so we had to take a bus instead.
We were told that Perpignan is the poorest city in France. There are a lot of immigrants and gypsies, who wore black clothes instead of the traditional gypsy outfits. The city is pretty divided and there are separate areas for each group. The city centre is old and quite dilapidated and thus one of the poorest areas. The alleys are narrow and colourful with a lot of laundry hanging on lines in front of windows.
Warm South Coast
From Perpignan we continued towards Montpellier stopping in the little city of Narbonne on the way. Montpellier is nowadays one of the biggest cities in France. It used to be the 20th city only some fifteen years ago, but holds now the 8th position thanks to the university students and job seekers.
Montpellier people come from all parts of France and they have a healthy attitude towards their home town: it’s just a city, nothing to boast about. The city is young unlike the neighbouring Nîmes which dates from the Roman era.
The train ride to Nîmes was just half an hour. On the coast distances are really short, but note: none of the cities are really on the coast unlike in Spain. Not that it mattered this time, though. The weather was warm, but not warm enough for swimming.
Hiking and eating berries
Southern France is the area of Occitan, a Romance language. It is taught at school, but has no official status in the country. Street names are in both languages, though, which gives a nice, exotic touch to the area.
We had a chance to get acquainted with local vegetation and landscape as we went hiking near Nîmes. The arbutus (in French arbousier) trees were blossoming and their berries were really tasty. A nice break from the busy city life.