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From Montpellier to Girona to Barcelona to Valencia...one month, no car

I'm planning a month long trip next April, shortly after I retire, to explore whether or not I might want to spend at least some years of my retirement in Spain or the Languedoc region of southern France (or Italy for that matter, but that's another trip). I've picked these areas for initial exploration on the basis of climate, affordability, geography and cultural interests...never been to any of them and needed to start narrowing the options somehow!

My initial plan is to arrive in Montpellier, spend several days there, then head to Carcassonne via train for another short stint. Then, train back to the coast (Beziers, I think) and take the train to Girona. From there, it'll be on to Barcelona and Valencia.
I should make clear that this is an initial exploration trip, with the intention of coming back to anyplace I really like and spending several months there, exploring in more depth. Right now, I just want to get a feel for the people, the food, the lifestyle, the weather and topography and see if any place really speaks to me. I think I'm more drawn to cities...large or small...than to picturesque small towns, but would like to make some daytrips to the countryside just to get a taste of it. Would like to find someplace with some expat community, but I've zero interest in winding up in a Little Britain. I would much rather find some place that I can grow into and become part of, rather than carve out a little English speaking niche of it.

Questions for anyone who knows these areas: Can you suggest any smaller towns I can get to on public transit that would be worth while experiencing?

Are Beziers and Perpignan worth spending any time in?
I'll b traveling in April, so I assume that means crowds for holy week. Other than book early, any words of advice about something I MUST see or should avoid?
Thanks so much!

Posted by
5648 posts

If I could retire right now in Europe, I'd choose Provence, and base myself in or near Avignon, but that's me. One Little Britain is the southern coast of Spain, to the west of Malaga, complete with Weetabix in the grocery stores and English soccer on the telly in the local bars. I don't believe any of the locations you mention would make you feel that you'd arrived in the London suburbs.

Carcassonne has a fabulous castle, which in April might not be full of the busloads of tourists, and kids staying at the hostel inside the castle grounds, that you'll find during the summer. While you're in the region, Albi and Cahors might also be worth investigating. Down on the coast, Sete is attractive to lots of seagulls, and we spent a night there (it was late and we needed a place to sleep) but that one night was enough. Perpignan might not be high on my list.

Girona is a modern city down low, and the old town up high, which has lots of intriguing, narrow, steep passageways and great public squares. The college is up in the old town, near the cathedral, so we encountered lots of college kids there this past November, and lots of English was heard among them, but it appeared they weren't native English-speakers. Girona has also traditionally been a base for many American pro bicycle racers when they're in Europe. Barclona's just an hour away by train. The Girona station has one area for "regular" trains, and a completely separate area for fast AVE trains, so if you're departing by train, ensure that you're in the right part of the station.

Barcelona offers a major urban location on the ocean, with neighborhoods offering a range of vibes. We saw lots of Catalonian flags on display from people's windows this past November, so it appears that many residents may consider themselves to be Catalonian first, Spanish second.

I suspect that April may be the height of orange season in Valencia, for what that's worth.

Posted by
84 posts

Thanks so much for the advice, Cyn! I too might pick Provence, but as I said affordability is one concern, and I understand that the Languedoc Roussillon region may offer much of the same charm, terrain and climate at a lower cost. I will check out the two towns you mentioned near Carcassonne. What you say about Girona confirms what I've learned elsewhere , and further inclines me to think it very promising. I am so excited about this trip, and another I have planned to explore Puglia and Sicily! I am so eager to start really traveling and enjoying this next part of my life!

Posted by
3118 posts

Since you using public transportation you might find Rome2Rio helpful. While the sight isn't perfect, it does give you options to consider.

We were just in that region and liked Collioure, France with a daytrip to the Modern Art Museum in Ceret. We also drove to Perpignan but I'm not sure I'd plan for a lot of time there. I think there are better places to stay--just my first impression. Barcelona is a great city but a bit expensive. We also spent a few days in Zaragoza, Spain--a medium-sized city with quite a lot to see and great tapas. Overall, the city was less expensive than some. You might plan for a few major stops and leave some days open in between to either stay longer or go somewhere that you hear from other travelers about along the way.

Have fun planning and congratulations on your upcoming retirement!

Posted by
84 posts

Hey Sharon, thanks for the tip about Collioure. I just read about it and it sounds great. Definitely going on the itinerary. I'm glad you mentioned Rome2rio, too. I had been using it to get a sense of how hard it would be to get from one place to another via public transit, but wasn't at all sure how reliable it was. Have you found it to be pretty good?

On Barcelona, the truth is, it's probably not on the docket for a potential retirement spot...too pricey. But since it falls between Girona and Valencia, how could I NOT stop and explore Barcelona for a few days? We'll just chalk those days up to pure vacation!

Posted by
5648 posts

Hi Again Melissa- Since you mentioned Sicily, we had a great (but too-short) visit there, over Christmas in 2012, and would like to return. I don't know whether Sicily is on your retirement radar screen or just for a visit, but places we particularly enjoyed were Erice (a small cobbled town perched high above the city of Trapani on the coast), Agrigento, and Modica. Note that many cities and towns have steep, extremely narrow streets (I doubt anyone in Sicily drives a Hummer!), and often there's an "old town" at the top of the hill and a newer town spread out lower down. Sometimes it's all on hilly terrain, and there are stairs instead of sidewalks. The people we met and the food were all marvelous. The influence of Ancient Greek and other cultures was fascinating. We rented a car to get around. Temperatures were mild in December but I imagine would be HOT during the summer.

Posted by
3118 posts

Hi Melissa,

I like Rome2Rio just to get ideas about transportation options. Then follow-up with actual rail, bus, or airline websites to verify. Sounds like your plans are coming together!

Posted by
245 posts

We did Valencia to Barcelona to Girona, then Girona to Figueres to Cadiques back to Valencia all on train in mid May. We were in Girona for the Fleur de Temps which I highly recommend. There were 120 flower and art installations scattered throughout Girona some indoors and some outdoors. Enjoyed The Dali museum in Figueres and the house in Cadiques. We bused between Figueres and Cadiques. If going to both I would suggest breaking it up in 2 days because it is a lot to take in and Cadiques is a lovely place to spend the night. We stayed at a lovely hostel and the owners husband runs a golf cart up to the house which was fun. Would also add take Eurostar trains instead of the local ones. If you buy 60 days ahead the prices are similar or cheaper.