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What to see in Collioure on the Côte Vermeille

Boat bobbing in the harbour of Collioure at dusk

The Vermillion Coast is in the Pyrénées-Orientales, in the Occitanie region, where the craggy Pyrénées mountains descend into the Mediterranean Sea. The view seen from high above the coast encompasses a rich landscape of geometrically captivating vineyards and jagged shoreline. Inextricably anchored between France and Spain, Collioure is considered the pearl of the Côte Vermeille, the Vermillion Coast. It takes its name from the iron ore present in the local rock, which gives it a rusty red colour.

Known since the time of the seagoing Phoenicians, this charmingly romantic, picture postcard village was the trading port for Roussillon during the middle ages and the home of Fauvism in the very early years of the 20th century.

What to see in Collioure

Collioure’s strategically built castle, which juts out to the turquoise Mediterranean, was once home to the Kings of Majorca and became the scene for many battles for possession fought between France and Spain which France finally won in 1793. Just minutes from the Spanish border, Collioure is contentedly French with characteristically Catalan influences.

Breathtaking scenery and delectable local cuisine bring connoisseurs of the senses to this, as yet, undiscovered part of the Mediterranean. Though its beaches are jammed during the summer like its famous anchovies packed in a can, you’ll rarely see an American tourist. For serious wine lovers, Collioure is home to a variety of rich, red wine including Banyuls vin doux. First used as a sacramental wine in churches throughout France, Banyuls was made popular by the Knights Templar during the crusades of the middle ages.

A favourite with artists

Enchanting Collioure is a feast for the eyes, mixing Spanish flair with a French sensibility. The incandescent light which bathes the village drew artists to its shore. In 1905, Henri Matisse visited Collioure and was inspired by the lovely scenery and vibrant colors. His paintings ignites a new movement in art called Fauvism that revolutionized the concept of colour.

Never a strict art movement it, nonetheless, became the first avant-garde wave of the early twentieth century. Picasso, Chagall, Derain, Dufy, and Braque followed. They often stayed at and met to discuss art at the Hotel des Templiers bar, paying for their drinks with art. The hotel is open to this day and boasts an astonishing collection of over a hundred original paintings and sketches. The Fauves (wild beasts) shocked the art world with their “orgy of pure color”.

Painting with pure, unmixed colors, they disregarded the reality of their subjects shapes and natural palette. To honor their contribution to the cultural landscape of Collioure, reproductions of their works appear in an open air museum on the “Chemin du Fauvisme.” Through twenty bronze frames scattered along the route you can see what they saw and painted. Incredibly the view has not changed, in some cases, in over 6 centuries.

Matisse said, “My choice of colours does not rest on any real scientific theory. It is based on observation, on feeling, on the very nature of each experience.”

Within easy reach of Carcassonne, Perpignan and Montpellier, Collioure on the Vermillion Coast is worth experiencing.

Sue Aran lives in the Gers department of southwest France where she runs French Country Adventures which provides private, personally-guided, small-group food & wine adventures into Gascony, the Pays Basque, Tarn, Provence and beyond…

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