In the foothills of the Pyrenees
Castlenou is one of the Most Beautiful Villages of France in the foothills of the Pyrénées-Orientales, not far from Perpignan and the Spanish border.
The village is dominated by the castle of the powerful Viscounts of Castelnou and a watchtower. It was referred to as early as 984 AD as the new castle (Castlenou means ‘new castle’), possibly because the castle in the neighbouring village of Camélas is older.
The castle was abandoned in the 18th century, after which the village was almost deserted. At the end of the 19th century a restaurant was opened in the castle, which involved restoration.
The 20th century saw the discovery of Castlenou as a tourist hotspot. The rest, as they say, is history. The village today is a firm favourite in France (as voted for in 2015). It is pleasantly touristy, with lots of artisan shops, bars and restaurants. The castle was ravaged by fire in 1981, but has since been restored.
The drive from Le Fort Pouzols-Minervois to Castelnou takes around 80 minutes (65 miles, 104 km), most of it along the A9 motorway (toll road) between Narbonne and Perpignan.
The picturesque village is organised around two streets, Carrer d’Avall (Lower Street) and Carrer del Mig (Average Street), linked by steps. Keep an eye out for the charming 12th century church, semicircular bread ovens on the front of several buildings, and carved stone decorations most likely taken from the castle. There’s a market on Tuesdays in summer from 10am to 7pm.
A visit to Castelnou can be combined with nearby Perpignan, an attractive and lively town. The interesting fortress of Salses is also located off the A9 motorway from Perpignan to Narbonne.
At a push, the African Reserve at Sigean with its lions and other exotic animals could be an option, but a refreshing drink or meal in the seaside resorts of Gruissan and Leucate may be a better way to round off your day.