Saturday, June 27, 2009


Collioure is the next village to where I live and quite different from my own town and pretty well unique on this part of the Mediterranean coast. Formerly a fishing village - this activity is now centered on the next town south Port-Vendres - but still famous for its anchovies, Collioure is a lively artists colony. This dates back to the early years of the 20th century when artists such as Matisse and Derain first discovered Collioure and were amazed by the brilliant light and colour, compared with their rather drab home environment in northern France and Belgium. They created a whole new style of painting known as Fauvism, which shocked many of their contemporaries.

Today Collioure's steeply sloping cobbled streets are lined with artists' studios and galleries and a hotel on the waterfront has a priceless collection of works of art left to them by the Fauvists and others in payment of their food and lodgings.

Between Argelès and Collioure the Mediterranean coast changes abruptly from flat sandy beaches to a rugged, rocky coastline, where you can find interesting coves and hidden parcels of sand for a quiet day out. This is where the eastern end of the Pyrenées plunges ino the sea and explains why the region is called Pyrénées-Orientales.

If you have a head for heights and strong legs, you can climb to the top of the mountain range to one of the early watch towers that were used to signal the arrival of Spanish invaders, using either smoke signals by day or bonfires at night. The centre of Collioure is dominated by the summer palace of the Kings of Majorca (their main residence is in Perpignan) both of which can be visited. They are reminders of when the region was under Spanish control, before the border was moved a few kilometres south.

On the surrounding slopes of Collioure you will see many hectares of vines producing the AOC Collioure rouge and rosé wines, and further south the vins doux naturels (sweet wines) such as AOC Banyuls and Muscat de Rivesaltes, which is also produced north west of Perpignan. Many vineyards offer guided tours and the popular tourist train does a circuit of the some of the nearby vineyards.

Collioure is very busy in summer and access by road can be difficult, although you can use an out-of-town car park and take the navette into town. Another possibility is to take the coastal train from Perpignan, Elne or Argelès (which continues south to the Spanish border at Cerbère and Port-Bou, where there are connections to Barcelona). There are also regular ferry trips from Port-Argelès, just a few minutes across the bay. You can also walk along the coastal path which starts at the Racou, a former artists' colony and the last sandy beach, just south of Port-Argelès.

Another artistic centre is at Cerèt, about half an hour's drive inland from the coast, famous for its associations with Picasso and the Cubists. There is a museum of modern art with a permanent collection and visiting displays.