Villefranche-de-Conflent is situated at about 440 metres above sea level. In a deep valley, it is surrounded by two rivers, the Cady and the Tet. Established in the late 11th century by the Count of Cerdagne, this strategic town was originally an Aragonese outpost facing the French defensive line known as the “Fils de Carcassonne”. Today it is recognized as a wonder of military architecture with Unesco World Heritage site status. The town is also known as one of the most beautiful villages and most visited places in France.
This ancient town has kept its wonderful history and status as a defensive site. Its historic centre mainly consists two street, Place de l’Église and Rue saint Jean. Stroll along the streets you will see some weird craft shops, clothing shops, and several particular buildings of interest.
The ramparts of Villefranche de Conflent
The ramparts were built around Villefranche-de-Conflent between the 11th and 13th century with eight towers built as part of these fortifications. Some of the towers still exist. Later, in the 17th century, the ramparts were reinforced by Vauban, the France’s famous military engineer.
There are several doorways through the ramparts. During the 18th and 19th century the neo-classical monumental gateways were added at either end of the town, the Porte de France and the Porte de’Espagne. The massive thick walls are surrounding the entire village. You can walk on ramparts. There are two paths, an upper path built by Vauban and a tunnel vault built in the Middle Ages.
The pink-coloured stone houses
The pink-coloured stone houses built around the 13th century are famous and attractive. You will notice that the pink marble is used in many of the village monuments, such as the Church of Saint-Jacques. Because the village sits in a valley bottom and is squeezed inside the walls, houses along the streets are taller than usual at that time in order to win more spaces.
The ground floor of these houses are shops or restaurants and the doorways are often round or arched. Local inhabitants usually live upstairs. Some of the houses have a central patio allowing light to enter the rooms.
It takes only around an hour to walk through the main streets. But you can stop at those shops to check what they sell. One shop sells chocolates in design style. Another Crêpe eatery is colourful decorated. If I didn’t look in detail, I wouldn’t think it is an eatery.
We had our dinner in a very up-level restaurant, La Patio. It offers many Catalan dishes. One starter from a set menu was Mackerel with tarragon prepared in traditional mustard and served with toasts. It was super yummy. A set menu for a kid costs only 10 Euro, with codfish or Catalan sausages as the main dish.
If you want to keep your budget low, no problem, there are plenty of other restaurants offering simple but tasty food. We bought Crepe for our lunch. The small eatery is run by a German Couple. But they speak very good English. A crepe with cured ham and cheese costs only a few Euros.
St Jacques’ Romanesque Church
The Roman style Church of Saint-Jacques has its decorative entrance made of pink marble. It has some excellent roman capitals and inside there are some interesting pieces of religious art such as Renaissance and Baroque altarpieces.
The Fort Libéria at Villefranche-de-Conflent is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built by Vaughan, it stands 180 metres high above the village. Fort Libéria is reached by steep staircases up the hill, known as the ‘escalier des mille marches’ (staircase of a 1000 steps). On the north side of the village, the lovely stone bridge Saint Pierre leads you to the staircases. The stone bridge was rebuilt after the flooding of the Tet in 1421, which washed away the town’s three bridges. Later, in the 18th century, it became the valuable access to the Fort Libéria.
Fort Libéria, also called Villefranche Castle, was built in 1681 to prevent the enemy from occupying this strategic position overlooking the town. It could house a garrison of up to 100 men in peacetime and operated autonomously in the case of a siege. The irregular fortification fits perfectly into the mountain relief. It is worth to walk up the staircases because, on top of the hill, the view from Fort Libéria is awesome.
The Yellow Train
Villefranche-de-Conflent is the Yellow Train’s starting point. You can take a ride to another UNESCO place Mont-Louis La Cabanasse. The Yellow Train route climbs up the steep mountains and down to the valleys, crosses wonderful landscapes and passes many tunnels. It is a very scenic ride through French Pyrenees.
Read more from my post: The Scenic Yellow Train Ride Through the French Pyrenees
The Prehistoric Cova Bastera opposite the entrance of Villefranche-de-Conflent
Cova Bastera is a prehistoric cave. As a Conflent’s exceptional natural heritage, it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Cova Bastera is located in front of the ramparts, directly opposite the entrance of Villefranche-de-Conflent on the RN116.
Les Canalettes and Les Grandes Canalettes cave systems
You should not miss the Les Canalettes and Les Grandes Canalettes. The caves form an absolutely fascinating and beautiful underground world.
Les Grandes Canalettes
Les Grandes Canalettes cave is located at 300 metres from the medieval town of Villefranche-de-Conflent. There is a decent trail taking you through a series of caves that contain wonderful stalagmites, stalactites and coloured pillars of mineral rock. Each cave has been given a name according to how the calcifications appear.
Further down the road towards the Corneilla de Conflent is another cave Les Canalettes. This magical underground world was first opened to visitors at Easter 1954 by Jean Castillo. His son Elie and his daughter-in-law Georgette took on the management of the cave.
Where to stay
It is not possible to do all the things listed above. Fortunately, there are two hotels in the town which offer you great comfort at best values.
Hotel l’ancienne poste is only 500 metre from the town centre. It offers an American breakfast and a children’s playground. Perpignan is 51 km from l’ancienne poste. The nearest airport is Perpignan – Rivesaltes Airport, 54 km from the property. This property also has one of the best-rated locations in Villefranche-de-Conflent! Guests are happier about it compared to other properties in the area.
Couples particularly like the location. they rated it 9.8 for a two-person trip. It is also rated for the best value for the money in Villefranche-de-Conflent when compared to other properties in this city. For further details and prices please check here.
The place is not busy even during the summer holiday season. Most tourists are locals or Spainish. If you stay in a big city like Perpignan, Villefranche-de-Conflent can be a perfect day trip destination. It is also a family-friendly holiday destination. We liked the area very much and are looking forward to the next visit already. In the summer there are bike trails. Not far from Villefranche-de-Conflent there are two villages, Mosset and Eus, they both belong to the list of the most beautiful villages in France, according to a French tourism website. They are easy reachable from Villefranche-de-Conflent.
Even in winter, you can have a skiing holiday at several ski resorts in the neighbouring areas, such as Font Romeu, Les Angles, Formigueres etc. They are all not far from Villefranche-de-Conflent. You can really spend days in the area. To start to plan your holiday, please check hotels at Booking.com.