After spending three months with family and friends in the US, I’m back in Uzès. For the return trip to France, I came by the southerly route: Barcelona to Collioure. While sitting at the beach in Collioure, enjoying the views, the breeze, and an Aperol Spritz at a seafront cafe, I realized it was the perfect travel plan.
The Perfect Travel Plan: Choosing Collioure
It’s somewhat surprising that so few non-French know about Collioure. It’s packed with French couples and families, so it’s their secret. Shhhh… don’t tell.
I discovered Collioure when my friends from North Carolina, the “Golden Girls,” visited me in France. (Read more here) It’s been on my list to revisit ever since.
A City of Special Light
My return to Collioure was without an agenda. I just wanted to soak up the “light” that draws so many to the seaside town.
Some of the most brilliant artists spent time in Collioure “following the light.” Among them, Henri Matisse and Andrè Derain. During their time here, they captured every angle of Collioure on canvas.
Because the beautiful city is set between the Mediterranean sea and the Pyrenees mountains on the only east-facing coast of France, Collioure experiences exceptionally long hours of sunshine. Also, the Mediterranean has almost no tides. So when the sun rises over the water, there is no surf to break the sun’s reflection off the sea, nor to diminish the green and red colors of the Pyrenees.
“Collioure has no shadows.” Andre Derain
The light exposure, natural scenery, and historical monuments drew Paul Signac, Matisse, Derain, Chagall, Dali, and Picasso, and hundreds of others to Collioure. In fact, it is here that Matisse experimented with colors. Collioure is the “birthplace of Fauvism,” the 20th-century art movement led by Matisse that liberated the concept of color. He introduced vibrant colors and vigorous brushstrokes in a way never seen before.
“When I put a green,” Matisse would say, “it is not grass. When I put a blue, it is not the sky.” Matisse saw color as a tool to “interpret nature and submit it to the spirit of the picture,” he said.
A City of Artists
Collioure continues to host artists from all backgrounds. More than 40 art galleries and a Museum of Modern Art are active with hundreds of exhibitions. Visitors can tour along a trail in the village where famous Fauvist works were painted or drawn.
“Il n’y a pas en France de ciel plus bleu que celui de Collioure… Je n’ai qu’à fermer les volets de ma chambre et j’ai toutes les couleurs de la Méditerranée chez moi.” Henri Matisse
It’s all about the light.
The Perfect Travel Plan: Exploring Collioure
Because I visited Collioure as a wandering tourist, not as a travel writer, I wanted to get into the “moment” if I was going to make this the perfect travel plan. I looked forward to walking, reading local guidebooks, and going with the flow.
Here are sights in Collioure you literally can’t miss
Notre-Dame-des-Anges, Our Lady of Angels, stands on the outcrop of rocks as in 1693. The symbol of Collioure, the baroque pink dome carved by Catalan sculptor Joseph Sunyer was added in 1810.
Château Royal is across the bay. The Knights Templar built the castle around 1207. The Kings of Majorca built a second castle by the 13th century. In the 16th century, after a brief occupation by Louis XI, the Spanish occupied Collioure again and turned the castle into a modern fortress. France annexed Roussillon and Collioure in 1659. The castle has been in French hands since that time.
The history of Fort Saint- Elme began in the eighth century as a watchtower. The French troops of King Louis XIII took the fort after the signing of the Treaty of the Pyrenees and adapted it for artillery and it was a defense site through the French Revolution. During WWII the Kriegsmarine occupied Fort Saint-Elme. They destroyed parts of the structure upon their escape from the Allies. It is now a museum.
Le Moulin de Collioure, the oldest windmill in Roussillon, has been converted from a cereal mill to an olive mill.
The Perfect Travel Plan
Bites in Collioure that are so good
When I’m in the States, I miss French food. So my first stop in Collioure was at dinnertime at La Cote à l♉s What a great find!
A restaurant from my previous trip to Collioure would be on this best travel plan if I had made a reservation in time. Restaurant La Balette has a menu and view that are unmatched. Reservations are a must. Check out all the photos from my earlier post.
A Petite Train Ride
Finding all the incredible views of Collioure was simple, even without a car. Le Petit Train Touristique leaves every hour from downtown for a 45-minute drive along a scenic route that takes you into the hills above Collioure. With a short stop at Fort Saint-Elme, the train passes through neighboring Pont Vendres on the return.
Dog Heaven: Fannie’s Favorites
My new senior adoptee, Fannie, was on her first road trip with me to the US and back to France. Here are some of her favorite moments in Collioure.
Note: Les Jasmins was a “no frill’s apartment that had everything I could want. For example, “Natalie,” the owner was a great host. In addition, Les Jasmins has the perfect location for a short walk to town; it is private and quiet; COVID clean; and best of all, I love that it was dog-friendly.
A big thanks to our new friend, Pierre. This knight-in-shining-armor made certain Fannie and I made our train in Collioure with all our baggage!