Not far from the French border with Spain, the colourful port town of Collioure offers the best of the Mediterranean. Worlds away far from the glitz and glamour of the Côte d’Azur, this portion of the coast is remarkably undeveloped; the town is nestled beneath vine-cloaked hillsides that are a protected natural park.
Painted in brilliant hues and verdant with vegetation, Collioure is almost impossibly picturesque. It’s little wonder that travelers who discover Collioure speak of it in rapturous whispers. This authentic town—known for its bohemian, artistic spirit and superb anchovy catch—casts an undeniable spell over visitors. “No sky in all France is more blue than that of Collioure,” famously said Henri Matisse, who was so inspired in French Catalonia that his canvases burst with brilliant color. It was here that Matisse and André Derain started the Fauvism art movement.
You could easily spend a few weeks soaking up the ambiance in Collioure. In the spring, you can even ski the Pyrénées in the morning, then hit the beach in the afternoon. But if you only have a few days, here are a few musts to add to your itinerary.
Art buffs should stop by the Tourist Office (www.collioure.com/en) to arrange a guided tour of the Chemin du Fauvisme (Fauvism Trail), a circuit with reproductions of famous paintings set up around town.
Since 1870, the artisans at the family-owned Anchois Roque (40 rue de la democratie, 66190 Collioure. Tel: +33 (0)4 68 82 04 99) have prepared the Mediterranean’s finest anchovies according to a traditional salting recipe. Today visitors are welcomed to watch the process in the on-site workshop and pick up a few delicacies in the boutique downstairs.
The Cellier Dominicain is an atmospheric winery housed in a Dominican convent founded in 1290, where you can taste the fruits of the Vermillion Coast’s terroir (like AOP Banyuls and Collioure wines). There’s a small on-site museum with vintage photographs illustrating the grape harvest. Today the grapes are still harvested by hand in the traditional way- placed in baskets tied onto the pickers’ backs.
From the ramparts of the Château Royal de Collioure, the views are magnificent. The castle stages exhibitions throughout the year, like music concerts, a popular antiques fair, and Christmas market.
From the jewel of a Modern Art Museum, continue the climb uphill to the Collioure windmill. The moulin dates from the Middle Ages, and the town recently financed a magnificent restoration project, so that the mill continues to work today. The hillside has been planted with an olive grove, and the harvested olives are pressed at the mill to create a coveted quanity of Collioure olive oil.
In the evening, stop by Les Templiers (12 Quai de l’Amiraute, 66190 Collioure; Tel: +33 (0)4-68-98-31-10) for an apéritif. This café-hotel is an artists’ hang-out– the old haunt of famous icons– and the walls are adorned with over 2,000 works of art. Les Templiers is like a museum- but with incredible access to priceless oeuvres. For dinner, we recommend Casa Léon (2 Rue Rière, 66190 Collioure, Tel: +33 (0)4-68-82-10-74), which serves fresh Mediterranean fish (like line-caught seabass) in a lovely sea-inspired atmosphere (driftwood is used as décor). To cap off your meal, try the signature Crème Catalane– like a crème brûlée but flavored with orange blossom.
Where to Stay: Casa Païral
Originally built in 1875 as a mansion for one of the region’s most important families, the Casa Païral was transformed into a hotel in 1975. With Catalan architectural accents and a luxuriant garden, this three-star hotel is a lovely hideaway, grounded in its setting. There are only 27 rooms, individually decorated with antiques. The copious breakfast buffet is a great way to start the day. In the afternoon, relax by the pool in the shade of the magnolia and palm trees. Casa Païral is part of the Relais du Silence hotel collection.
Impasse des Palmiers, 66190 Collioure. Tel: +33 (0)4-68-82-05-81. Rates from 85 euros/night. http://en.hotel-casa-pairal.com