A few years ago I was heading from Spain to France. I passed a popular town on the French coast just before I reached Perpignan and always regretted not stopping there. During my last trip, I finally make a stopover in Collioure and am so glad I did. It’s a fishing village on the Mediterranean that is (sorry to use this word but it really does apply) “charming”. But it has more than just “good looks”. Here are some things you might enjoy if you visit (and you should).
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The Background On Collioure
Collioure had been occupied by both the French and Spanish in the 1600s and 1700s because it was an important strategic location. Louis XIV took steps to improve the Château Royale de Collioure and Fort Saint-Elme as both fortifications were vital to the French. Those two fortresses still figure prominently in the town, one by the port and the other high on a hill.
Château Royal de Collioure
The Château Royal fortress is right by the harbour and unfortunately, when I was in Collioure, it was closed. One could walk up to the gate and walk around, but you couldn’t go in. Perhaps another time.
Do this. Take a hike up from the town to Fort Saint-Elme. It’s easy and not like hiking in the French Alps. On your way up you’ll keep thinking, “Wow. Nice view”. But your reward is truly given when you reach the top. Fort Saint-Elme typically has exhibitions and on that day it didn’t matter that it was closed as the weather was so nice and the view was excellent. From high above you can see the Moulin de la Cortina—another windmill in the south of France!
Town of Collioure
Today, when you walk around the small town, you will pass pastel-coloured buildings, cafes overlooking the port, attractive alleyways, and lots of restaurants and art studios. It’s understandable why so many artists headed to Collioure; the light, the colours, and the entire town were great inspirations.
Artists Who Were Inspired In Collioure
French artists Henri Matisse and André Derain spent time in Collioure in the early 1900s and refined the Fauvism style of painting which uses vivid (and intense) colours. Matisse’s most famous painting, “Open Window, Collioure 1905” is on display at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.
I knew nothing about Matisse and this short minute video by the BBC is very interesting as it discusses Matisse’s painting in Collioure:
When you are in Collioure, consider taking the Collioure Chemin de Fauvisme which is a walking route around town where 19 reproductions of paintings by Matisse and Derain are shown in the place where they painted. Check with the tourist office as there is information about their guided tours.
12 Points 2 Vue
When I reached Fort Saint-Elme, I discovered one of the 12 “frames” that are scattered throughout the town and area. Marc-Andre 2 Figueres created these “12 points 2 Vue” sculptures that have steps. Once you climb up, you then discover. They help “frame” your view and provide a perspective for the photo you might take. I found some around the harbour as well. There are installations of this art in Paris and Andorra as well.
Be sure to wander around the harbour and walk out past Église Notre-Dame-des-Anges de Collioure, see the lighthouse and Chapelle Saint-Vincent and then take a break by having a glass of wine by the water.
As a result of the Spanish involvement with Collioure and the town’s close proximity to Spain (only 30 kilometres from the Spanish border), Collioure is greatly influenced by the Catalan culture. So what does this mean? More tapas on the menu and Catalan-inspired dishes (ie. fish)!
Your Visit To Collioure:
I had the good fortune to not encounter any crowds in Collioure but this is because I went in the off-season. The village is known to be very crowded in the summer as it is a seaside, resort town. If you decide to go in high season, book your accommodations well in advance and keep in mind that parking will not be easy.
We stayed at a super hotel which was ideally located in town and not far from the port or all the restaurants. Parking was also included. Here is a link to the property: Hotel Le Bon Port. [Note: as of January 10, 2021, this property is not being listed on the Booking platform. This might be due to the lockdown in France. Check the link anyways in case things have changed].
Map Of Key Sites In Collioure
Click on the map or on this link and you’ll be directed to a Google Map indicating all the places in this post.
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Keith Van SickleApril 7, 2017 at 3:48 pm
There are excellent wines made in Collioure, both reds and sweet reds. Definitely a place to visit!
JanApril 7, 2017 at 9:25 pm
Yes, I enjoyed the wines of Collioure too!
Vicki WintersApril 10, 2017 at 7:44 pm
I love all of those coastal towns in Spain and France. I was
On the other side in Biarritz and St. jean de Luz and will have to check out Collioure sometime…..
JanApril 10, 2017 at 7:51 pm
Loved Biarritz and St. Jean de Luz as well. So many towns. So little time!
MicheleApril 10, 2017 at 8:27 pm
We were there off season and enjoyed wandering around minus the crowds and eating with the locals. It has a fascinating history and a great place to wander and just discover
JanApril 10, 2017 at 8:34 pm
Off season in Collioure is great and the food is fabulous!
Cathy SweeneyApril 10, 2017 at 9:54 pm
I think this is one of those times when “charming” is simply the best word to use. There’s really something special about those villages and cities in France on the Mediterranean. I’ve only been to a few but fell in love with the sights, sounds, food and ambiance. I’ve only visited in off-season so didn’t experience the crowds either, but it would be fun to experience a place like Collioure in the summer.
JanApril 11, 2017 at 9:44 am
Yes, I’d still like to see what the town is like in summer
Jackie SmithApril 11, 2017 at 12:05 am
We made a cruise stop there once – now many years ago – I still remember the amazing art and ceramics (two plates later. . .) they had for sale and the color of the sky. We said we understood after seeing that blue why so many painters were inspired to create there.
JanApril 11, 2017 at 9:45 am
Wish I had bought some pottery or art. Oh well. Another trip!
Doreen PendgracsApril 11, 2017 at 8:34 am
Thx so much for introducing me to Collioure, Jan. I’ve never heard of it, but when I return to France, I would love to check it out.
JanApril 11, 2017 at 9:45 am
Up until a few years ago I too had never heard of it…which is likely why it’s one of those “undiscovered…not yet ruined” towns!
Jenny FreedmanApril 11, 2017 at 11:31 am
We also unfortunately drove by on our way from Roses to Béziers. Your photos are making me wish we hadn’t. It’s such a wonderful coastline that I know we would have loved the town too. What a huge influence the area was with so many famous artists.
JanApril 11, 2017 at 12:12 pm
I’m sure there are many more towns I have missed so I too will have to return to the area.
cindyApril 12, 2017 at 4:57 pm
This looks like an interesting place that I knew nothing about. Thanks for the tip!
JanApril 12, 2017 at 8:00 pm
Sue ReddelApril 12, 2017 at 5:20 pm
You’re right Collioure is a ‘charming’ little town. I loved the art history angle as well. The BBC video provided wonderful background. And the frames located around the town were also very interesting and different. Thanks Jan, I just love learning more about France.
JanApril 12, 2017 at 8:01 pm
A new place for you to visit!
alison abbottApril 14, 2017 at 1:57 pm
The views are wonderful, especially love the one of Moulin de la Cortina-such a charming windmill and not something I would expect to see in France.
JanApril 14, 2017 at 2:05 pm
I think there are quite a few windmills throughout France. The only other one I know of is in Provence.
Donna MeyerApril 15, 2017 at 12:15 am
45 years ago–how is THAT possible???–I made a road trip from Paris to Barcelona with 3 other backpackers. We spent the night in Collioure, sleeping on the beach as I recall. I loved my tiny glimpse of the town and wanted to stay and explore more, but the others were in a hurry and we left again early the next morning. I have wanted to go back to Collioure ever since. Thanks for this glimpse and reminding I really should just go do it!
JanApril 15, 2017 at 10:30 pm
Wow. Sleeping on the beach! Bet you can’t do that now! I would be really interesting to hear your opinions on how things have (and haven’t) changed. Sadly, I’m sure it’s much more touristy.