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Supporting Munster Rugby abroad was on my bucket list for way too long. And so I found myself visiting Perpignan in the South of France to attend Munster’s Heineken Cup fixture against the local team.
GETTING TO PERPIGNAN
Perpignan is a summer holiday destination so is not well served by international flights during the winter. As my visit was in December, I flew into Barcelona‘s El Prat airport in Spain and rented a car to drive cross-border. The drive took a little over 2 hours driving at the maximum speed allowed on the tolled motorway. I returned to Barcelona via the Costa Brava scenic coastal road which took several hours.
Trains from Barcelona Sants to Perpignan can take anything from 1.5 hours to 3 hours.
Girona Airport north of Barcelona is another arrival option when visiting Perpignan. It’s possible to get a bus or a train from Girona city centre to Perpignan.
If you wish to avoid cross-border travel, then flying into Toulouse and getting the train or bus to Perpignan is also another winter option.
WHERE TO STAY IN PERPIGNAN
Perpignan city centre is compact as residential areas and industrial estates form much of the sprawl on a map. The centre is pretty and is the recommended area to stay when visiting Perpignan for a city break.
These are the hotels that our group of Munster fans recommend: Kyriad Prestige Perpignan Centre del Mon, Mercure Perpignan Centre, Ibis budget Perpignan Centre. For other accommodation options check out booking.com’s main Perpignan page.
THINGS TO DO IN PERPIGNAN
I gave myself a couple of hour’s head-start on my sister and her troop of seasoned supporter friends to discover the attractions of Perpignan at my ease. The artisan cafes on the meandering rues and boulevards were as good an attraction as any. After all, I visited Perpignan in the middle of winter so the warm coffee was welcome.
The city has plenty of artisan shops and boutiques that are reasonably priced as well. The two products sold that stood out were clothes and chocolate. If you’re looking for either (or both), Perpignan is the place to go.
Perpignan is built on two rivers, the Têt and the Basse, that converge in the eastern suburbs. Having a stroll along these waterways is a pleasant way to pass and hour or two.
Cathedrale St-Jean has an underrated exterior but the large frescoes on the inside are worth seeing.
The Palace of the Kings of Mallorca (Palais de Rois de Majorque) is one of the other main sites in Perpignan. It dates back to the 13th century when Perpignan was part of the Principality of Catalonia, hence why the architecture looks a bit Spanish
Rugby is popular in the South of France and this was my reason for visiting Perpignan. Stade Aimé Giral is the home side’s stadium and is located on the north side of the city. It is served by the number 4 bus from the city centre and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!
My sister’s group had been assured by a combination of websites and hotel staff that bus number 2 would lead us northbound to Stade Aimé Giral, although one lone voice was advised to take the number 4.
Having gone astray, we returned to the city centre where a passenger with a match ticket advised us to follow him. “Le stade est quinze minutes à pied”, he assured us. Worryingly, kick-off was also in quinze (15) minutes but the group was spared the walk by the appearance of the elusive number 4 bus.
Supporting Munster Rugby abroad is a sport in itself.
It was well into the small hours of the morning when collective pulses returned to normal, such was the intensity of the match. Decisions repeatedly went against Munster but justice was dispensed in the eightieth minute via JJ Hanrahan’s try giving Munster a one-point victory and giving the supporters’ cardiac muscle a much-needed rest.
VISITING PERPIGNAN: FINAL THOUGHTS
Lonely Planet and Rough Guides describe Perpignan as “rough around the edges” and “grubby” respectively. I wouldn’t entirely disagree.
On the contrary, it was a pleasure to experience a new destination and the camaraderie of the Munster Rugby fans on tour. The trip proved my point that sports tourism has cultural, social and economic benefits.
General information on the country can be found on my France page.
Author’s Note: This post was originally published in April 2014 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.