France and Spain are two bordering countries in the South of Europe. These two European countries were considered as two powerful empires during the 16th and 17th centuries, as they both explored the world to the East to discover and conquer new lands. Nowadays, the Spanish and French influence can be strongly felt in many places worldwide. Their cultures, religions, and languages are integrated in the lives of many people. French and Spanish are two major languages in the world, while the Catholicism is a major religion. Moreover, these two countries are well-visited by many tourists worldwide. If you happen to visit France or Spain, you can see that many historical and cultural accounts are shared by these two countries which dated centuries before Christ. This is more visible on places that are close to their borders, such as the French cities close to the Spanish border. The bordering cities and towns in the Southern part of France and the Northern Spain manifest strong Catholic belief as shown by a number of churches and pilgrim areas (the majority of the cities in the South of Spain have Moorish and Muslims/Arabic influence). The Roman influences are also visible not only in the French and Spanish languages, but also in a number of architectures in both regions.
In this blog, I will focus on the French cities close to the border of Spain, starting from East to West of France (see map). The South of France is one of my favorite place in Europe due to warmer weather, relax culture, and culinary experiences.
French cities close to Spanish border
Perpignan is a French city close to the Mediterranean Sea and to the border of Spain (around 13 kilometers). It is one of the favorite city to visit for a day by tourists in Languedoc Rousillon region due to its Catalan (Northern Spain language) atmosphere. Yes, the Spanish influence is very visible in the city since it was once the capital of the Kingdom of Mallorca in Spain. Aside from many gothic architectures and historical buildings in the city, many of the street signs and menus in Perpignan are also influenced by Spanish since these are in two languages, Catalan and French. Popular places to visit in Perpignan include The Castillet (large red building in the center of Perpignan), St. Jean Baptiste Cathédrale (a Gothic style cathedral), Palace of the Kings of Majorca (Gothic style palace), Sant Vicens (a 100-year old vineyard), Place de la Loge (center in Perignan) and Musée Hyacinthe Rigaud (art museum in the city center of Perignian).
Narbonne is one of the lesser known cities in France but is definitely one of the best places to visit. It is a town in the Occitane region, which is just 8 miles from the Mediterranean Sea and 45 minutes no the north of Perpignan. This town is historically rich since it was an old settlement founded by the Roman Gaul in 113 BC. Due to its close location to the Mediterranean Sea, Narbonne flourished as a port. During the Middle Ages, the southern part of the town is ruled by the count of Toulouse while the northern part is ruled by the bishop of the town. Only in the beginning of the 16th century that the town became united under the French crown. The top places to visit when in Narbonne includes the majestic Cathedrale St-Just, Abbaye de Fontfroide (former abbey with stunning gardens), Palais des Archeveques (an impressive ancient buildings), and Chateau de Krakantes (great vineyard at the end of the Mediterranean).
Carcassone is a fortified French city in the Occitane region known for tourism, winemaking, and manufacturing. This place is also famous for its Cite de Carcassone, a medieval fortress built during the Roman-Galo period and is now included in the UNESCO World Heritage site. This place is strategically located for reaching other big cities, such as Lourdes (1 hour drive), Toulouse (1 hour) and Barcelona Spain (3 hours). Other places to visit in Carcassone include Chateau Comtal, Cimitiere dela Conte (a graveyard/cemetery), Cathar Castles, and Eglise Saint-Nazaire (a church).
Just 80 kilometers on the west of Carcassone, Toulouse is a large city (fourth in France, next to Paris, Marseille, and Lyon) located in the South of France. This city is famous for University of Toulouse, built in 1229 and is considered as one of the oldest universities in Europe. The presence of the university makes Toulouse as the 4th city with the highest number of students in France, around 140,000 students, therefore making this city very lively and vibrant even during the weekends. Some of the many famous places to see in Toulouse includes the UNESCO heritage sites Canal du Midi and the Basilica of St. Sernin, Le Capitole (the Capital building), Pont Neuf (bridge that can be found all around the river and promenade), Jardin Japonais (Japanese garden), and Church of Les Jacobins.
Lourdes is a famous pilgrim area for many Catholics worldwide due to Marian Apparitions. History tells that a peasant girl Bernadette Soubirous has seen the the appearance of Mary, the mother of Jesus, in 1859. Bernadette was later on canonized and the famous apparition area, the Grotto of Massabielle, is now part of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes, which houses several pilgrims and monuments. This sanctuary is one of the most visited in the world, with four million pilgrims every year. Aside from the religious importance of Lourdes, the town was also known for its Chateau fort de Lourdes, which is a castle located on a rocky mountain.
“Pau has the world’s most beautiful view on the earth, just as Naples has the most beautiful sea”, according to the French poet Alphonse de Lamartine. Pau is again one of the French cities that provides a mesmerizing panoramic view of the Pyrenees mountain and the wine region Jurancon in Southwest France. As part of Nouvelle-Aquitane region, this city is just 50 kilometers away from Spain (45 minutes drive) and 100 kilometers distance from the Atlantic ocean. Pau had been historically important to Spain, being the seat of Kings of Navarre in 1512. Some of the activities to do when in Pau includes a visit to Chateau de Pau, Museau des Beaux Arts (for free), wonderful ride in Funiculaire de Pau (for free!), and stroll to Boulevard de Pyrenees, Parc de Chateau and Parc Beaumont to enjoy the picturesque view of Pyrenees.
Biarritz is a coastal French city, which is only 35 kilometers away from Spain (around 30 minutes drive). This city is facing the Atlantic ocean in the Southwestern part of France. This place is known for its seaside tourist destination, and is therefore famous for surfing and whaling. There are various things to do when in Biarritz. This includes Grand Plage (Hotel du Plais and the Casino Barriere), Rocher dela Vierge, Cote de Basquez (a surfing area in Europe), Biarritz lighthouse, and Aquarium de Biarritz. For a more complete places to visit, check this site from The Crazy Tourist.
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