Sunday 18 February 2018

Red Army will relish Perpignan's Christmas charm

Cathie O'Flynn

It's hard to believe that it is four years since Munster were in Perpignan, but they will be welcomed back this weekend despite the heavy defeat they dished out to USAP last week.

The French like the Irish and, in Perpignan, people like Munster. The visitors have made a big impression on the locals with all their colour, their singing and the craic. Locals see a lot of themselves in their Munster visitors, not least the passion that both have for their teams.

We are bringing in almost 400 Munster supporters this weekend and I know they will have a good time. Many have been here before -- a lot of people spend their summer holidays in this region -- but there are some things of which they should be aware.

The restaurants usually want you to book for dinner, so head to one near your hotel as soon as you arrive and book for that night. Good restaurants are the Arago (Place Arago, beside the USAP shop) The Cafe Vienne, The Napoli and USAP's own brasserie (pub/restaurant) called the 'USAP 1902', also on the riverside.

There is a great Christmas spirit -- Munster supporters will remember that from before.

Perpignan is all geared up for Christmas with its rows of little Barna huts all along the river, selling handmade chocolates, mulled wine, wooden toys and a host of other things.

Lunchtime's Formule (Special) is always a good bet and you must -- if you know what's good for you -- have a glass (or several) of the local Cotes de Roussillon red wine. Opt for the Cotes de Roussillon 'Village' if you like a full-bodied, fruity red.

Head over to the Place de la Republique tomorrow morning and enjoy the atmosphere at the fruit market, and stay for the traditional Catalan Sardane dancing. It kicks off at 11.15. Have a coffee in one of the many cafes, and watch the world go by.

You might like to visit the famous Galleries Lafayette (Perpignan's answer to BTs) or the Maison Quinta, a quirky shop where you'll get Catalan gifts.

It's in a little street behind the most famous Perpignan landmark, the Castillet. You can't miss it, it's the big pink castle-like building on the river, It's actually the old entrance gate to Perpignan, but it's now the heart of the city. Use this as your meeting point, it's so easy to spot.

There are two Irish pubs in Perpignan, neither of which are Irish! If you can't survive without a pint of Guinness, or 'Le Fish and Chips' then head to O'Flaherty's, not far from the Galeries Lafayette.

The weather forecast for this weekend is mixed. Maybe a bit of rain, 14/15 degrees, but not much wind, thank God!

And supporters coming this time should note one thing in Stade Aime Giral -- you need to buy special tokens in the stadium from machines that take notes and coins. You use these tokens to purchase the beverage of your choice. No cash is accepted.

Amusez-vous bien (have a great time), as they say here in Perpignan and may the best team win.

* Dublin native Cathie O'Flynn operates Catalan Wine Tours (www.catalanwine tours.com) and is based at Sainte Marie, outside Perpignan.

Irish Independent

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