Collioure nestles in a secluded creek surrounded by towering hills of terraced grape vines and wild herbs, on the Mediterranean coast – 30 kilometers from Perpignan, 20 kilometers from Spain and 195 kilometers from Barcelona.

The coastline is rugged and bone dry, the hillsides are planted with the short vines, used to make Banyuls and Collioure wines and fortifies wines – great for an aperitif, and Cork oaks, which were originally planted to provide the cork stoppers for the bottles.

The vines cling precariously to the rocky hillsides aided by small terraces that trap the rare rainfalls and which provide a flat surface which prevents the wine-growers and vines alike from tumbling into the sea.

The views around the village are stunning – from the Pyrenees that plunge into the sea near Perpignan, to the deep blue of the sea that stretches on and on, only punctuated by the gleam of the backwash from the boats and the irridescent whiteness of the sails of yachts.

Collioure is one of those places where it seems almost impossible to rush, where just taking things easy comes as second nature and evertbody appears to share the same agenda, whether it be staring at the sea from the beachside cafés, strolling along the narrow streets, sitting on the beach or sitting on the harbour wall.

We are in France here, but there is a distinct Catalan flavour, whether it be from the tapas and seafood dishes on the menus in the restaurants, the road signs or the quick chatter of the older locals – you can feel the strong identity everywhere.

Collioure is most famous for 3 main things – anchovies (yes, but not like those on your pizza), regional wines and as a mecca for painters and artists – let’s face it, you won’t be short of subject matter here in this beautiful village.

Collioure was a settlement in neolithic times, by the Celts, Romans, The Sarasins, the Visigoths, The Spanish and The French.

The village has been recorded as having a château since 673, due to its strategic position for the Visigoths, and having been settled in prehistoric times, given the number of standing stones that can be found in the area.

The castle and the town was then owned by the Counts of Roussillon, the kings of Aragon, the King of Majorca – up to 1343 before reverting to the King of Aragon and finally falling into the hands of the French kings.

The château was completely rebuilt between 1242 and 1280 on the site of a hostel of The Knights Templars, on their way to and from the Holy Land to fight the crusades, before becoming the Royal residence for the Kings of Aragon.

Collioure was a busy trading port during the 13th and 14th century, exporting olive oil, textiles and wine in exchange for spices, oriental textiles and other exotic goods.

Collioure underwent a transformation to Spanish rule after the marriage of Ferdinand V of Aragon to Isabelle I of Castille and was subsequently occuppied by the army of King Louis XI of France between 1475 and 1481, who built the fortifications at Collioure which was renamed St Michel.

The village was built and rebuilt up to the point where the population was threated with exile to Port Vendres to make way for the growing military garrisson – the town was then rebuilt where it wan be seen today.

Matisse came to paint in Collioure in 1905, which opened the door for other illustrious artists among them Dufy, Picasso, Dérain, Marquet, Gris and Braque who were inspired by the light and the beauty around them.

The hotel, « Les Templiers » in the main street, provided bed and board to many of the artists, which can be seen by the 2,000 odd paintings which were given to the owners by visiting artists.

There are many things to see in Collioure, including, La Chapelle St Vincent dating from 1642, which overlooks the sea at the extreme end of the bay.

There is also St Nicolas du Cimetière dating from 1558, which houses a Dominican convent and the ruins of the 13th century cloister, but which today houses thecooperative wine cellar des Dominicans. Eleven of the cloisters were bought back by the town in 1993 and rebuilt in the gardens of The Park Pams.

There is also the church of St Sébastien de la Punta, which predates St Nicolas by 30 years.

Further away, up in the higher ground, there is a hermitage, Notre Dame de Consolation, built in the 17th century on a paegan worship site, which is worth a visit if only for the fantastic views across the bay from the ridge.

In the town, is the church of Notre Dame des Anges, dating from the 1684, where it replaced the church, Sainte Marie which was in the centre of the town, destroyed by Vauban in 1672, the clock tower is an ancient watchtower from the times of the Kings of Majorca.

Around the town there are many building which stand witness to the strategic and military importance, including Le Fort St Elme which overlooks both Collioure and Port Vendres.

The château Royal in the town was built on the site of the Roman fortress in 674 – it is owned today by the département of the Pyrénées Orientales and houses many cultural and artistic events.

The fort de Miradou, transformed in 1674 by Saint-Hilaire into a fort from a medieval château, the 14th century – La Tour de la Douane and  La Tour de Madeloch.

Above the town is a square and a round fortress system, built between 1726 and 1770 to protect the existing fortress system. The square fort is unchanged since the time it was built although it was damaged during the occupation during the Second World War.

On the hill, opposite the Château Royal, is the medieval Moulin de Collioure, built in the 12th century, it has been rebuilt by the town and is in working condition today where it still produces olive oil of Collioure.

There are lots to do and lots to see in and around Collioure – if I can give one piece of golden advice, it is – get there early !

Not only will your day be full, but there is very limited parking – just a couple of car parks on the road from Perpignan – which are always full and one on the hill abouve the town centre which is a bit bigger, but which also fills up quickly.

The best time to visit, if you can, is out of the main holiday season, when it is absolutely packed and where you will, more often than not be caught in long traffic jams in 35°c+ temperatures.

The best months in my experience, are September and October or April and May – although May starts getting busy.

Do taste (and take home) the Banyuls, the excellent Anchois de Collioure and the Rosé wine from the surrounding vines

Bon appetit, santé et bon voyage!

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