by Tony Goodman
The PO has swapped flags for hundreds of year as kith and kin battled over the region’s riches. French/Catalan patrimony can be seen in the Spanish flavour of the local architecture, in village names and street signs. Its dynamism, sunshine, unique culture, approachable and generous people attract discerning visitors from the chilly north year after year. Taking a few moments to talk to the neighbours can help us enjoy the region we love.
Catherine Benoit is an osteopath who has lived in Perpignan for 10 years. We asked her a few questions.
1. Like the Anglophones who reside here in the P-O, you also made the decision to live here. In your case, you came from the Charente-Maritime, a region with a rich history, superb local produce and some of the best seafood in the world. Why move?
I was very happy living beside the Atlantic Ocean yet Perpignan and the Mediterranean always held a deep attraction to me so ten years ago I followed my heart. I love the brightness, the sun, the wind, the olives, olive oil, peppers, regional wines, the sea, mountains and the wild spaces. Getting set up here was difficult at first, the culture is different and I had to recreate everything but I quickly I felt ‘at home’ and at peace with myself.
2. You present regularly at health conferences and have written articles on the importance of a holistic approach to living well. You have a mix of English and French clients. What can they teach each other?
Difference is always the source of richness, it should be celebrated and embraced. Each culture has its own worldview tastes, colours, way of life, way of thinking. The way we use language and form human relationships are different. Living here, next to Spain, mastering a new language opened up a new world for me. Visitors should try to acquire a reasonable level of French and perhaps a few words of Catalan.
3. For visitors and people who have just arrived or who don’t live here in the P-O full time, what local habits should they adopt?
Northern Catalonia is different to the rest of France. The rhythm of life is quieter, more seasonal. Time flows differently. You are exposed perhaps for the first time to another language and culture, Catalan. It seems to me its important to enter into that culture, take time to learn the history and the language. Explore the music, art and of course the food and wine.
4. Perpignan is an old town, with a long history. What is your favourite thing to do in Perpignan?
I love to go to the organic market in the Place de la Republique on Saturday mornings. It’s wonderful. You can find a vast array of different products all organic and locally grown with respect to the people and the countryside. Vegetables picked that morning, fruit fresh form the trees, fragrant spices, bread, cheese, honey, wine and meat. After the market, I like to share a tea or coffee, chat with friends in the square and maybe walk around the narrow streets and passageways of the old city.
5. You must have a favourite secret place you love to visit and take friends.
The village of Castelnou, near Thuir, is recognised as one of the most beautiful villages in France. You must leave your car in the parking area and visit the village on foot. Lovely small streets from another time await you. In summer shops sell local handicrafts and produce and there is a market on Tuesdays.
I love to eat at L’Hostal the village’s traditional auberge established to provide healthy meals to workers. The menu is classic Catalan, fish and meat grilled over an open fire. The staff always make me feel welcome and the view from the terrasse to Mt Bugarach 40 kms away is magical.