Villefranche-de-Conflent, a fortified village in the Pyrenees

Villefranche de Conflent is located in the valley of the Têt, in the Catalan Pyrenees. It is one of the most beautiful fortified towns in France and is therefore visited by many tourists during the holidays. The village is strategically located at a crossroad of valleys where the rivers Têt, Cady and Rotja meet. For a long time it was located on the border between France and Spain and it was also the capital of the Conflent region. Due to this location, the city had built many defences. During the seventeenth century these defences were expanded even more and the Liberia Castle was built under the command of the well-known engineer and general Vauban. These days, Villefranche de conflent is a cozy village with atmospheric streets and squares. Villefranche is also the starting point of the Train Jaune.

Visiting Villefranche during the holidays

If you are on holiday in the South of France, in the region of the Pyrenees, be sure to visit this special fortified village. Upon arrival, you will immediately notice the high walls that surround the village. The walls consist of two levels, the lower one was built in the eleventh century and the upper one in the seventeenth century under the direction of Vauban. You can walk on the walls and see the towers. Several gates give access to the medieval village. It is an atmospheric village with narrow streets with boutiques, shops, galleries, restaurants and terraces. Visit the church whose construction began in the twelfth century. If you want to enjoy spectacular views, climb to the Liberia fortress.


  • Medieval village
  • Authentic walls and towers
  • Walls with 2 galleries
  • Fort Liberia
  • Church from the 12th century
  • Shops and boutiques
  • Restaurants and terraces

History of Villefranche

The history of Villefranche begins around 1090, which is when the town was founded by Guillem Ramo, Count of Cerdagne. During this time, southern France was divided into several counties who regularly waged war with each other. The Count of Cerdagne had Villefranche built mainly to defend himself against the soldiers of the Count of Roussillon and thus to protect the valleys behind it. For this reason, walls with watchtowers were built around the city. In the thirteenth and fourteenth century, the defenses were further expanded. In 1659 the Peace of the Pyrenees was concluded which is when the region finally became part of France. Louis XIV ordered Villefranche to be further fortified in case there was another war. Sébastien Vauban raised and reinforced the walls and towers so that they were more resistant against cannonballs.


In France, Vauban is a well-known name when it comes to military construction. Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban is one of the greatest military heroes. From an early age he fought in Louis XIV’s army. He then proceeded to rise to become general and was very successful. He was especially skilled in conquering cities and fortresses. This gave him a lot of insight into the construction method of cities and castles and insight into which way was most resistant against enemy replenishments. Due to this knowledge and experience, he was asked to strengthen fortresses and cities in France. A large part of the military buildings during this time were led by Vauban. He also strengthened Villefranche de Conflent.


There are three caves in the vicinity of Villefranche, two of which are directly accessible from the village. Traces of prehistoric habitation have been found, which is how we know that this area was inhabited from very early on. During the summer months, concerts are held in the caves. The special acoustics make this a unique experience.

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Fort Liberia

Vauban fortified Villefranche in the seventeenth century. However, there was one weakness in the defence which is the fact that Villefranche is low-lying. Due to this reason, Vauban built a castle on the other side of the river Têt, high above the village: Fort Liberia. From this high position, the French controlled the valley with guns. Fort Liberia is a beautiful building with several floors. Visit the castle and see how the soldiers lived here. Prisoners were sometimes imprisoned in this castle for decades during which they were put to work in the underground chambers to make gunpowder. In the nineteenth century, Napeleon III decided to dig a tunnel between the city and the castle. This tunnel is still there and can be used by the public. The tunnel is called "escalier des mille marsen", which translates to the staircase with a thousand steps. If you count the stairs you will count over 730 steps which is still quite a climb. You can also be brought to the castle by a 4x4. Regardless of how you get to the top, the view over the village and the valley is overwhelming.

Train Jaune

The Train Jaune departs from Villefranche de Conflent and makes a trip of 60km through the Pyrenees. This railway was built between 1903 and 1927 to connect the high plains in the Pyrenees with the lower areas. It is a route over a large number of bridges, through 19 tunnels and past many stations. These days it is used by tourists. The train has a speed of 30km/h. During the summer the train runs with open wagons so you can enjoy the beautiful views. Among other places, the train stops in Mont-Louis, a place whose ramparts where also designed by Vauban. Mont-Louis still has a training centre for paratroopers. The highest point of the railway is at Bolquère, which is where you reach an altitude of almost 1600m. The train is the colours of the Catalan flag and therefore is a symbol of the region.


The village has a lot of images of dolls and witches on a broomstick. This all has to do with a local legend which says that witches used to live in the caves of Villefranche during the winter. At the beginning of spring they would come out of the caves to celebrate spring together with the villagers. The villagers gave them food and gifts and the witches gave the villagers happiness, prosperity and joy throughout the year. It is therefore still a tradition in Villefranche to give a witch to a loved one or child as a sign of friendship and happiness. The witch would be hung in the house to ward off evil spirits and make room for happiness.

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