Superb beaches, snowy peaks and bucolic valleys, medieval villages, vineyards and orchards and a French way of life spiced up by a little je ne sais quoi, Pyrénées-Orientales has it all including long hours of sunshine as befits the mainland’s most southerly department. You can bathe in the Mediterranean, ski in the Pyrénées, and whatever the season, enjoy a unique culture blending authentic France with the vibrant colours of Catalonia and a touch of old L’Occitanie.
It all goes back to the late 13th century when the ancient province of Roussillon was ceded to the Kings of Majorca. The region prospered under the new rulers, but when the House of Aragon took over, rebellions and war eventually broke out and in 1659, at the Treaty of the Pyrénées, Roussillon was returned to the French crown against the wishes of most Catalans. Its spirit was strong, however, and across the department, the red and gold stripes of Catalonia still flutter in the breeze alongside the tricolore. The only exception is the Occitan-speaking Fenouillèdes, which adjoins Languedoc in the north-west. It was never ruled by Majorca but was incorporated into the newly created department in 1790.
Three near-parallel rivers flow across PyrénéesOrientales from the mountains to the sea: the River Tech in the south; the River Têt, which reaches the Mediterranean east of Perpignan; and the River Agly in the north, which tumbles down from the rugged hills of the Corbières to carve its way through the spectacular Gorges de Galamus. Laced in forest, garrigue and vineyards, these northern reaches are a peaceful haven for trekkers and history lovers. A 450,000-year-old human skull was found in a cave above the Gorges de Gouleyrous, and in the nearby village of Tautavel, the prehistory museum happily competes with the wine-producing trail.
Blessed by a glorious climate and a fine terroir, PyrénéesOrientales is a prime wine-producing area where the sweet fortified wines of Maury and Rivesaltes in the Agly valley, or Banyuls on the coast, complement the reds from Collioure and the Côtes du Roussillon and Roussillon Villages. AOCs abound, but look beyond the labels and you will find much enthusiasm for innovative, handcrafted wines.
Jonathan Hesford and his Kiwi wife, Rachel Treloar, moved to Pyrénées-Orientales in 2005. “We had a dream to make wine from our own vineyard,” Jonathan says. “I studied the trade in New Zealand before we decided to come to France. We found a small wine estate in Trouillas, near Perpignan, which was perfect for us, and then we created Domaine Treloar, our own brand, and built our house within the ‘ cave’. The initial reason for choosing this region was the promising terroir but we also love the scenery, the uncrowded roads, the fascinating history and the relaxed down-to-earth way of life. We enjoy the nice mixture of Catalan and French culture, the cuisine, and mainly through having young children and working in viticulture, we have made friends with many locals. Now we have 10 vintages under our belt. We provide