Nestled in the foothills of the Pyrenees, in many way Perpignan feels as much Spanish as French. Sprawling suburbs radiate out from the tight knot of the old town, with its warren of shady alleys and shabby tenements coloured in shades of lemon, peach and tangerine. It feels a little rough around the edges compared to Montpellier or Nîmes along the coast, but it has a distinctly multicultural character – Spanish and North African accents are just as common here as French.
Historically, Perpignan (Perpinyà in Catalan) was capital of the kingdom of Mallorca, a Mediterranean power that stretched northwards as far as Montpellier and included all the Balearic Islands; the Mallorcan kings' palace still stands guard at the southern end of the old town.
The town later became an important commercial centre and remains the third-largest 'Catalan' city after Barcelona and Lleida (Lérida) in Spain.