Saturday, 9 September 2017


Collioure is quite of a hidden gem, or at least, given that I found it by chance and had not heard about it before, that's how it seems to me. During the summer there's a special train "Le train des plages" that for a reduced price (still not cheap, but trains in France are pretty expensive) takes you from Toulouse to different Mediterranean resorts spanning between Narbonne and the Spanish border. Over these years I've been several times in Leucate, that is 2 hours far from Toulouse, so it's pretty good for a day trip to the beach. There are 3 different beach villages in the area (La Franqui, Leucate Plage and Port Leucate), and a cute small village, Leucate Village, nice for taking a coffee in the "Place de la Republique", between a morning bath in La Franqui and several afternoon baths in Leucate Plage. These beachs are OK, but lack of any particular charm (they're mainly a simple touristic resort built from the 70's), but if you like swimming in calm and warm water, they are a nice option for a summer day in Occitanie.

Last year I visited one day in Port la Nouvelle, OK for some swimming, but the lack of any charm here is almost painful... So this year I decided to give it a try to some of the more distant locations (3 hours), I settled on Collioure mainly cause the village and the beach are just adjacent to the train station (no need to take a shuttle bus like in other destinations) and because one of the beachs had (at least partially) sand, rather than painful pebbles. I leveraged this first trip to stop for a couple of hours in Perpignan where I pretty enjoyed a fast stroll around the city center that was good to show me that the city well deserves a full day visit (I guess this autumn).

Once in Collioure I was immediately amazed. The narrow pedestrian streets of the city center with those 2 or 3 stories buildings in bright colors, with those nice art shops and the beautiful plants growing next to most buildings and climbing up their walls (I absolutely love this) really captivated me.

Then I got to the sea side to be confronted with the views of the Notre Dame des Anges church on one side and the imposing Chateau Royal on the other. As I hate pebbles (I guess I have delicate soles) I headed to the second beach (Port d'Avall), on the other side of the chateau (where part of the surface is sand). Wow, it's just beautiful. Swimming in the calm, warm water with the castle on your left and the nice buildings and nearby small mountains behind you is one of those memories that will be coming up to my mind every now and then.

It seems people have been mesmerized by this small village for quite a while, which made it one of the essential locations in the development of Fauvism. Matisse and Derain lived in the village for a while, producing here some of their main works.

Collioure also hosts the grave of the Spanish left-wing poet Antonio Machado, who died in exile in this village, few days after having crossed the border fleeing from the fascist beasts that were destroying his country and would keep it in the darkness for the ensuing 40 years.

On a related note, something pretty interesting in the portion of French coast going from Leucate to Marseille is the proliferation of lagoons between the coast line proper and the main land, it's what is called "etangs". The first time I noticed this was when going by train to Montpellier. When approaching Sete I could see water to both sides of the rail track! Sete sits just between the sea and the lagoon, being traversed by canals and bridges, and though it's not a "French Venice" or something of the sorts... is well worth a visit. When you take "le train des plages", the portion between Narbonne and Port la Nouvelle is pretty amazing, the train goes along a narrow land strip traversing the lagoon, which is surrounded by small mountains with some ugly factory on their feet and eolic parks on their tops.

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