Cultural Divide of the Pyrenees Mountains

July 7- July 9, 2017

This weekend on an excursion with my International Studies Abroad program, I crossed the Pyrenees Mountains, which act as the border between France and Spain and divide the Iberian Peninsula from the rest of Europe. Along the way were stops in Girona, Montpellier, Arles, Aigues Mortes and Colliure. As we stopped in these small cities and towns in Northern Spain and Southern France, it was obvious that the barrier created by mountains created significant differences in architecture, language, food, and history. Although these smaller cities in the South of France were once included in the kingdom of Catalunya, and still hoist the red and yellow stripes of the Catalan flag, so much of their culture was totally distinct from the Catalan heritage present in Barcelona.

Below is a quick recap of my favorite spots as well as some photos of the beautiful towns, landscapes, and food that this weekend beheld.

Girona, Catalunya

This medieval town  was used as a backdrop for Season 6 of Game of Thrones, but has been home to Greeks, Romans, Catalonians, and the people of Westeros during its storied history. With a Roman wall surrounding the city still standing, and architecture that walks you through its centuries of history it has an incredible charm. There is even an Eiffel bridge, constructed by Gustav Eiffel before he began his project on that tower in Paris.

Montpellier, France

Montpellier bared a striking resemblance to Paris with royal architecture, white washed buildings, rot iron details decorating store fronts and balconies, marble lined streets, and lovely squares with intricate carved statues. Being much smaller than Paris, however, this town had a much more friendly and homey feel. We ate a delicious dinner, served by a very handsome french waiter, watched the blur of the lights of the merry go round as the sun set, and strolled through Montpellier’s annual festival with local artisans, wine tastings, food booths, gelato, waffles, crepes, churros, and live music. The city park filled with the whole town as friends greeted each other in french, exchanging three kisses on the cheeks.

Arles, France

This charming town, originally modeled after Rome by the romans, featured a colosseum, forum, and theatre with original stone from the era before Christ. More recently however, Arles was the home of Van Gogh for 18 months and a muse as he discovered new ways to use light in paintings and depict the night sky. Van Gogh would paint starry night while in a mental institutions just several kilometers from Arles.

Aigues Mortes, France

A tiny town still withheld by its medieval walls was set on the banks of a lake with a salt concentration similar to that of the Dead Sea. The lake has this mesmerizing red-pink color, brushing with white foamy strokes and blues reflecting the midday sky.

Collioure, France

this tiny beach town that sits underneath a castle and windmill on the hill, at the foot of the Pyrenees mountains was a daydream. Although the beaches were rocky, not sandy, the breathtaking views of the Mediterranean spotted with sailboats and fishermen distracting from the pain in my butt.