I might be 48 this year but when my parents tell me I have to do something, well, I do it. Over lunch earlier this month they asked about our upcoming trip to France as it is a country they know well, particularly the area we were heading to. “You must go to Collioure” they both said, almost in unison. They went on to explain about famous artists, hippy vibes, the light being extraordinary and because at that point I was 85% gin and Yorkshire pudding I didn’t really take much in other than the name of the town and that we must visit.
Having done some research on the area in the following few days I began to see why they were so taken with it. In fact, so taken that they even considered buying a flat there many years ago. The only way I can describe it is like Monaco but with out the money. And I don’t mean that in a derogatory way; far from it, I mean it in a very positive way. A small town that clings to the side of cliffs, with a monastery guarding the inhabitants and a church that used to be a lighthouse. What more could you possibly ask for?
We dumped our car in the first car park we came to as we approached the town, suspecting that later on parking might not be so easy, and it was then a gentle walk along what we thought was an old river bed, into the centre of the village. A quick stop for a cafe au lait and we carried on wandering into the heart of the town. It isn’t big, and is an easy town to wander, especially when the sun is shining as it was for us. Be warned though that in the summer it will be heaving, so go out of season and you will have the place pretty much to yourselves.
Once you have wandered for a while it is easy to see why Derain, Matisse, Picasso, Charles Rennie Macintosh and many other artistic types have been inspired by the streets and people here. In fact in one of the bars there are 98 reproductions of the original works that Derain and Matisse painted. We decided not to go and see them as we wanted a reason to come back again.
The Chateau Royal de Collioure sits above the town and from 673 has gone through many occupations, and occupants. Kings of Majorca, Louis XIV, Spanish Hasburgs, and 1939 it was a men’s prison. It is hard to see that now as gorgeous buildings covered in wisteria surround the central square.
As always I also found myself drawn to the Notre-Dame-des-Anges church that was once a lighthouse. It sits right on the beach, as you would expect from a lighthouse, but the interior was something I really wasn’t expecting:
Nor was I expecting to see a group of Spanish school children weeping as they stood in front of a grave in the cemetery of Collioure, and kissing the Spanish flag draped on the railings before they left.
The final resting place of poet Antonio Machado who fled Francoist troops at the end of the Spanish Civil War and died in the town in 1939 is in the cemetery and is adorned with tokens of affection to a man who clearly still plays a large part in Spanish history.
If you are ever in the south of France, do visit this town, it is steeped in history but makes for a gorgeous day out.