Collioure – A Splash of Catalan Culture and Colours

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Matisse loved capturing the abundance of light on his canvas often through an open window. La ‘’fenêtre ouverte à Collioure’ painted in 1905 overlooking the port (see picture here) is maybe the most representative of that period spent in Collioure. It was exhibited at the Salon d'Automne in Paris the same year and the critics rejected this anti-conventional painting and described the painter as ‘’fauve’’ a wild beast.

My regular readers would know that I am an advocate of slow paced tourism away from the urban French experience. This month, I would like to put Collioure in the spotlight, a famous small fishing port on the côte Vermeille, set between the Mediterranean sea and the Pyrenées mountains. Spring is usually the best time to visit when there are fewer crowds to enjoy peace and tranquility.

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Another painting with an open window facing the hillsides of the Pyrénées was painted in 1911. This painting shows another of Matisse’s perspectives showing how he was the Pyrénées and the Mediterranean was equally drawn by all his surroundings.  A Matisse expert gives us some background information about this painting in a 2 minutes gallery talk here.

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The name remained and Matisse and his friend Derein became the leaders of this revolutionary artistic movement Fauvism. Since then a myriad of artists including Picasso, this little Catalan fishing port has also drawn Chaggal and Dali. Set 26 kilometres away from the Spanish boarder and only 30 minutes away from Perpignan, Collioure has a distinctive French Catalan culture reflected in the splash of pastel-coloured houses, its terra cotta rooftops but also in its culinary tradition.

Visiting Colioure is like climbing through the colour. Set in the footstep of the Pyrenees monutains where the Pyrenees literally tumble down into the sea this little tranquil fishing port has been visited by many since the 7th Century where Collioure is first mentioned in official texts for its military and commercial strategic position. Counts of Roussillon, Templar Knights, Kings of Majorca have all left their influence and this is reflected in the concentration of the many forts including the Chateau Royal, Madeloc Tower and Fort Saint-Elme. Not to forget the unusual almost phallic shaped church tower, a landmark of the city so many times depicted by artists.

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Climbing up through the steep crooked streets of Colioure is like stepping back to Matisse’s perspective. The visitor is instantaneously astonished by the abundance of colours. The skies, the clear water, the colourful fishing boats, the cascade of bougainvillea and the colourful houses, all scream out ‘paint me’ or ‘instagram’ me in today's language.

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But the best perspective you can get is by undertaking one of the walks around the town.  There are many options on offer some quite energetic. Climbing up to the Tour Madeloc (pictured) at 656 metres is one of them. A beautiful coastal walk through the terraced vineyards, which produced the local wines le côte De Banyuls, is also another option along the GR 10. A shuttle bus service makes it easy to go back to town or explore the neighbouring towns.

Another Panoramic view of the Côte Vermeille ("Vermilion Coast") seen from the Madeloc tower (Department of Pyrénées-Orientales)
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The jaw-dropping coastline is a perfect location to enjoy some of the culinary treats that the region has to offer.

I would obviously recommend ordering some tapas including the local speciality of anchois (anchovies) as well as a local daurade (sea bream) with a glass of rosé and to finish off a crème catalane also accompanied by a glass of nice local Bayniuls sweet dessert wine.

L’Occitanie region remains a huge jigsaw puzzle of diverse cultures and languages, and contrasting landscapes which make it a special destination to explore.

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