Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Collioure, France

Situated in the very south of France, (approx. 15 miles) from the Spanish border, this picturesque town of Collioure sits in the foothills of the Pyrenees and is an idyllic place to visit. Set on the rocky coastline, nestling in an unspoiled, protected environment, Collioure offers a little something for everyone. Collioure is what many look for when they head to the French Riviera (Côte d'Azur) — a sunny, relaxing splash in the Mediterranean, however after living in the Côte d'Azur for two months, its clear that Collioure is markedly cheaper and a bit less glitzy (a winning combination for a relaxing weekend or week-long holiday).

This port town has had a long and rich history. Large numbers of Phocaeans, Roman and Greek seafarers made Collioure their destination and left behind a rich archaeological heritage. From 981 onwards, the Counts of Roussillon and the Kings of Majorca began to develop Collioure and build a fortress which became the summer residence of the Kings of Majorca from 1276 to 1344.
Chapel, Collioure

Throughout the 13th century, many religious crusaders passed through Collioure, such as the Order of Knights Templar (hence the famous legend of the Knights of the Templar's treasure) in 1207, the Cistercians in 1242, and the Dominicans in 1280. Later, the discovery of America in the 15th century led to a gradual decline in the port of Collioure's activities. From 1462 to 1493, Collioure came under French occupation during the reign of Louis XI. In 1642, having freed themselves from Spanish colonisation, the Catalans fell under the occupation of French troops again. During this period, Vauban altered the fortifications giving Collioure its current appearance. In 1659, the Treaty of the Pyrenees was to attach the Roussillon region to the French crown permanently.
Beautiful stone walkways and brightly painted houses!
In the early 20th century Collioure became a center of artistic activity, with several Fauve artists making it their gathering place. Thus Collioure has been accredited to being one of the birth places of Fauvism. Artists André DerainGeorges Braque, Henri MatissePablo PicassoJames Dickson Innes and Charles Rennie Mackintosh have all been inspired by Collioure's royal castle, medieval streets, its lighthouse (converted into the church of Notre-Dame-des-Anges) and its typical and beautiful Mediterranean bay.
Postcard setting port lined with wonderful seafood restaurants.
One can see how an artist would be inspired by the blue green of the Mediterranean against a backdrop of green hills covered with vines and the ports brightly colored houses. With a strong influence of Spanish architecture, food and culture, one truly feels as though they are at the crossroads of both France and Spain. 

A super charming little street with great bars, galleries and restaurants: Rue de la Fraternité
Many small streets are lined with little galleries which offer a variety of different styles of art. From the town's celebrated Fauvism to more contemporary works, there are many different choices for the art enthusiast. 

The further you climb up the hills of the city, you will find yourself among lemon trees, beautiful bougainvillea covered stone cottages and grapevines (not to mention incredible views of the city and sea).

The Mediterranean--a great place to kayak or snorkel too!  

When going in the sea, be prepared! The beaches are beautiful but do not have a sandy bottom (or beach) and it can be a bit treacherous! The beaches are filled with rocks and pebbles so having the right footwear when entering sea makes a big difference! "Aqua shoes" don't exactly scream sexy, but your feet will thank you for the extra protection! 

Because Collioure attracts hundreds of visitors a year, the center of the town is filled with touristy shops, Catalan/French restaurants and bars. There are several open air terraces which over look the sea and harbor.

Collioure is famous not only for its scenery and heritage, but also for its delicious cuisine and specialties including anchovies and AOC wines. Back in medieval times Collioure’s reputation revolved around the salting of anchovies, sardines and tuna. Salting is a hard way of making a living and, generation by generation, the anchovy salting families have become fewer and fewer. In 1870 there were 140 boats and 800 fishermen. Now, in Collioure, only two anchovy salting families remain: Ets Roque and Ets DesclauxNow, anchovies may not sound that appealing, but the anchovies of Collioure are a must try. Typically not a major fan I was surprised at how much I enjoyed them and we stocked up on some before heading home. My particular favorite Collioure anchovies are the local specialty (laundered in vinegar) and can be found in most restaurants

Ets Desclaux: Since 1903
Every type of locally prepared anchovies!
Just remember to put them in the refrigerator within 3 hours!
 A place to stay in Collioure: Hotel Relais des 3 Mas 

Entrance to Relais es 3 Mas
There are several options when staying in Collioure, but we stayed at a family favorite called The Relais des Trois Mas. With 23 rooms, the intimate but unpretentious hotel’s location couldn’t be any more perfect. The hotel overlooks the harbor of Collioure, one of the gems of the region. The hotel says, you actually have “les pieds dans l'eau” when staying there. In short, your feet can touch the water. Whilst the rooms of the Relais des Trois Mas are on the smallish side, they are nevertheless well decorated with some nice touches, including lovely wooden ornamentation on the headboards. To highlight the hotel’s artistic sensibilities a few rooms are named after painters whose works appear on the bathroom tiles (we stayed in the Dali room). Prices range between 100.00 euro to 475.00 euro a night. 
Hot tub and sauna look over the sea and port! 
Direct foot path along the sea from the hotel to the heart of the village
Places to Eat in Collioure:

1) Le Neptune

Locally farmed chicken tajine. Yum yum. 
Beautiful seeing, especially at sunset!
2) Restaurant La Balette at Relais des 3 Mas

Anchovies done Relais des 3 Mas style!
The meal at La Balette was so unbelievably good, we ate there two nights in a row. Everything was delicate and delicious--the perfect mixture between gastronomy and art! They also had a good wine list! 

An insane flavor sensation with this fresh strawberry macaroon balsamic reduction basel creation!
With nightly sunsets like this in Collioure, we can see why the Fauvist artists came here to find color and be inspired....

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