River swimming: Caramany is situated next to a huge lake and swimming possibilities in the immediate area are many. However, I cannot stress enough how wonderful a day out at the rock pools (les Gorges du Verdouble) near the village of Duilhac is. The setting is idyllic, the water clear as crystal and the rock pools and small waterfall a joy to swim in. Unmissable. (30-40mins drive).
A day at Collioure town: the gem of the regional coastline. A small town full of charm and character, it has good swimming and dining possibilities. The small cobbled streets are very pleasant to stroll around and thankfully there is not too much tacky souvenir stuff around. Of course, Collioure can get busy in the summer. If hordes of people is not your cup of tea, then try nearby Port Vendres instead. Still a working port town, this is where you can also get excellent seafood at the right price.
Le Train Jaune/Villefranche-de-Conflent/Grotte des Grandes Canalettes: The Train Jaune translates as Yellow Train and was built in 1902 to connect the mountains with the plains below. Nowadays it is a tourist attraction and attracts 400,000 visitors a year. The scenery is spectacular and is a great for adults and kids alike. Your journey can start in Ille-sur-Têt if you wish. Alternatively and to ride the train solely for its most spectacular section, drive to the charming citadel town of Villefranche-de-Conflent. A scaled down version of Carcassonne, it is the perfect place to while a few hours away with lunch, dinner, shopping and/or a stroll. In addition, a mere stone's throw away is the Grotte des Grandes Canalettes which are spectacular underground caves. Do all three in one day or mix and match to suit your needs!
Wine-tasting with lunch: if you have not been down to this area before and you like wine, you will be amazed by the quality and how little it costs. Just about every village has a "cave cooperative", a winery which also doubles up as a shop. And because every village also seems to have a restaurant you can make a whole day or half day out of it. Villages recommended both for their wine and food are Rasigueres, Belesta, Caramany and Cucugnan.
Queribus and Peyrepetuse castles: standing proudly on ridges overlooking the surrounding area, these castles date back to the tragic chapter of the Cathars in medieval times. A break away religion from the Catholic faith known for its tolerance and openness, it grew in large numbers to spread over a large chunk of France. Rome’s decision was to brutally put down the Cathars. Their last stand was at Queribus where all the inhabitants, including women and children were massacred. Of great historical importance and only a 40min drive by car from Maison Caramany.
Caramany: Ok, it only has a population of 150 and there are no shops, but it is easy to fall in love with this village and its way of life. Pop into the “Mairie” (Village hall) to see if there’s an upcoming fête or petanque (French boules) tournament to participate in. Have a drink and game of pool with the villagers at the café a few doors up. Buy your baguette and croissants every morning from the van that parks up on the village square. Enjoy a barbecue on the terrace of Maison Caramany or take a picnic to the belvedere outside the village which offers breathtaking views of the lake below. Enjoy one of the many spectacular walks which start from the village by picking up a route map from the Mairie or by downloading one here or here (french version).
A day in Perpignan: with its palm trees and Catalan feel, coming into the city does not have to mean stress. Perpignan is small enough to explore on foot. The historical centre, with its narrow streets, is very enjoyable to stroll. You will find plenty of shops, restaurants and cafes here. Go see a film at Rive Gauche, my favourite art cinema which shows a variety of European films with an English speaking production usually on show.
Worth a go
The Safari park at Sigean: only 30 mins north of Perpignan . You can also do some of the circuit on foot near some of the tamer animals!
St Thomas outdoor thermal baths: If you like the idea of bathing in natural hot spring waters in the open air with nature and mountains as your backdrop, look no further than St Thomas baths (Bains de St Thomas). Located as you climb up to the Pyrenees, it will take you 1 – 1.5hrs to get there, but if you combine it with a stop and maybe food at the charming Villefranche-de-Conflent and/or the spectacle that is the Grotte des Grandes Canalettes (spectacular underground caves), it can make for a great day out. The baths are reasonably priced.
Salvador Dalí House (Portlligat, Spain): Built in the 1930s, this was the summer home of the famous artist Salvador Dalí. Book your tickets online beforehand. The drive will take appx 2 hours. The house is on the outskirts of the beautiful town of Cadaques, a great place to eat, swim and shop.