Why Go There?
Modern Art Museum with works by Picasso, Chagall, Matisse … lots of contemporary art galleries and workshops … Catalan culture and traditions … excellent food market … very pretty old town … great stop off en route to Spain
Over the past fifteen years or so, the market town of Céret has become something of a magnet for a growing northern European, expat population (mainly English, Dutch, German and Scandinavian) who live or have second homes there, as well as an affluent French and Catalan population who also have moved there from further north or south. So it stands to reason that there must be something rather lovely about Céret. And indeed, there are a lot of lovely things about the place.
For many, Céret represents the quintessential southern French town – it has a very pretty historic old town at its centre, with avenues of trees lining its main throughway bordered by cafés, bistros, shops and boutiques whose tables and wares are set out on the pavements in the summer. On Saturday mornings, the artisan market stalls fill the old town streets with wonderful arrays of locally produced fresh fruit and vegetables, olives, cheeses, herbs and spices, cured meats, wines and honeys. There are the elements of French living that we are all familiar with: the local boulangerie providing crisp croissants every morning, the rich and vibrant café culture where hours can be spent perusing newspapers, gossiping and drinking copious amount of Pastis, the feeling that everyone knows each other and that greeting perfect strangers with a cheery “Bonjour” is de rigeur.
But this perceived Frenchness is certainly not unique to Céret, and definitely not what makes Céret special. For many, the true Céret is the Catalan Céret. Indeed Céret is located in the heart of French Catalonia, about half an hour south of Perpignan and just 15 minutes from the Spanish border. This history and its traditions are passionately celebrated with various festivals throughout the year such as the Céret de Toros – bullfighting, the Festival de Sardanes -traditional dancing, the Querencias – music and flamenco, and the Festival d’Havaneres – polyphonic choral singing, to name just a few. Whilst this distinctly non-French, very Catalan identity pervades life in Céret, and really defines the identity of the town and its people, it is not necessarily something that you’ll notice during a short visit – you have to spend time in Céret to fully appreciate the fullness of its character.
Having said that, there is plenty to keep you busy with during a short stay – and not least of all following in the footsteps of Céret’s most famous resident: Pablo Picasso. Picasso enjoyed several stays in Céret between 1911-1913, and many other artists including Matisse, Modigliani, Soutine, Aristide Maillol, Dali and Harold Weston have also frequented the town. The legacy of these artistic links led to the opening in 1950 of the Musée d’art moderne de Céret, which has quietly built up a respected reputation on the international art scene and boasts works by many important 20th century artists such as Picasso, Chagall, Matisse, Herbin, Miro and Soutine; contemporary works from 21st century artists; and provides an impressive space for touring exhibitions championing contemporary modern art of all genres. And after whiling away a couple of hours at the Musée, artistically-minded visitors can continue exploring Céret’s rich artistic scene at the numerous fine art galleries and artists’ studios based here showcasing local talent.
If mooching around galleries is not your thing, and you’d prefer to enjoy the great outdoors, you will not be disappointed in Céret. The spectacular countryside of the Vallespir valley in which Céret sits is a wonderful arena for lots of sporting activities including mountain biking, walking, canyoning, horse trekking, gliding, and newly introduced this year (2010) – bungee jumping! There’s also a rather brilliant llama farm to visit just outside Céret! Céret also makes for a great base in the summer away from the crazy madness of the beach resorts on the Mediterranean coast about 30 minutes away; and for quieter water pursuits the nearby town of Amelie-les-Bains is home to numerous sulphur springs where you can ease your aching joints after all the sporting action!
One final thing to note about Céret – the cherries! Every year over the last weekend of May, the entire town goes cherry crazy – celebrating Céret biggest and most renowned locally produced fruit. Cherries are a serious business here – by tradition the first of the season’s pick are even sent to the President himself – and the Fête de la Cerise is combined with a brass band festival to great effect. It’s a brilliant time of year to really experience the spirit of the town. For more information about everything on offer here please consult the Céret tourist office website (only in French for the moment).
• How to get there?
Several airlines to Perpignan (30 mins drive)
Ryanair to Girona (50 mins drive)
Ryanair flights to Béziers-Cap d’Agde (1 hour 15 mins drive)
Ryanair flights to Carcassonne (1 hour 25 mins drive)
Céret is accessed via the D115 off the A9 motorway, exit 43
SNCF rail links to Perpignan
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