Places we’ve loved: Collioure, France
When Blonde and Brunette decided to do our first home exchange ever we committed to a month in Calella, Palafrugell in the Costa Brava region of Spain. We’d spent three weeks in the region less than a year ago so this time we were looking for new places to explore.
We were told that Collioure, France was a lovely coastal town less than two hours from our home base. It had the ingredients of a town success kit: history, artists, good food, interesting shopping and beaches. We got in our sporty Audi A3 (which we’d gotten a compelling bargain rate on from Kemwell), stalled it multiple times, got the Google maps lady pointed in the right direction (eventually) and took off.
Interestingly, Collioure has a very strong Catalan culture although it is (barely) in France. Phoenicians, Romans, Greeks and other bullies (both religious and military) fought over and conquered Collioure since at least as far back as 673 CE. If archaeology is your thing, you’ll love the place!
When we drove into Collioure we miraculously found our hotel, the Casa Pairal, the #2 rated hotel on Trip Advisor. To our astonishment it’s a member of the Relais du Silence hotels (which we’d never heard of) and which immediately made us nervous, as giggling is our specialty.
The hotel’s location is fabulous – right at the end of a small street in the heart of town. It has a nice swimming pool (although not if you’re serious about doing laps) and a bunch of grumpy looking people sitting around the pool looking as if they’re waiting for you to make any sound so they can glare at you. That made us giggle – a lot.
Although the hotel had helpful staff, parking (16 euros a day extra) and a pool, we wouldn’t recommend staying there. It did have free wi-fi with minimally acceptable reliability. But it cost us about $571 for two nights in a miserable, stuffy, cramped room with only one outlet for charging our various devices.
We had Room #5 which may be cursed so you can factor that in if you’re thinking of staying at the place Our room in this cone of silence was over the city square where the first night there was a circus, literally, under our bedroom window. The circus departed late at night only to be immediately replaced by a famers’ market, which got underway about 5:00 a.m. to the sounds of a man happily hacking chicken carcasses under our window.
All of this and we still loved the place! We had an excellent dinner of green salads, wine and seared tuna at Le Neptune. The manager and our waiter were extremely flirtatious and practically begged to have us take their pictures (which we did). They also took ours and we did everything but become Facebook friends on the spot. We can only assume they think two women traveling alone tip well if they’re flattered enough. That’s basically true but the dinner was quite pricey ($175 !!) so we scurried off after leaving an unremarkable tip. The restaurant is on a slight rocky cliff over the sea and the views are lovely. Make a reservation if you’re planning to go in high season or you’re likely to get turned away. (If we had it to do over again we’d go for lunch as most good restaurants have very reasonably priced top notch fixed price lunch menus, as we finally learned.)
For much lower priced and quite decent casual food go to Bar de la Marine along the river (the river that doesn’t seem to have any water in it). We ate there in a downpour and they still provided good service and reasonably priced food even as they frantically lowered side panels, moved people out from under drips (the water kind, not the human kind) and kept our wine glasses refilled. The chicken Florentine was very good although it’s dubious that Florence would recognize it as being their recipe.
There’s a lovely walk along the coast, much of which runs along the walls of a fortress/castle and several beaches. The beaches are fairly rocky so water shoes came in handy. There are boat trips you can take and various water toys to rent.
Along the promenade near the castle/fortress artists display their work. As per usual, some is excellent, some mediocre and some makes you feel slightly embarrassed for the artist. At least there’s quite a bit of selection. As plagiarized from their tourism site “Collioure has always been a source of inspiration for artists. Picasso, Derain, Dufy, Chagall, Matisse and Marquette have all stopped in Collioure to capture its special light and to immortalize the small Catalan harbor in their works. Called the City of Painters, Collioure continues to host artists from all backgrounds. Around 40 art galleries and a Museum of Modern Art are present.”
We found way too many stores selling tempting linen clothes. To be fair we also bought some cotton clothes, scoring a major selection in a morning shop-a-thon. Oh, and there was that purse store……
The farmer’s market was fascinating (although not enjoyable as an alarm clock). There were gorgeous fruits, vegetables, prepared food, flowers, honey, sausages and hams, olives, ugly clothing suitable for Russian tourists, soaps, cheeses and various crafts. We just loved it; it had a happy atmosphere and plenty of goodies to sample.
Our two night stay was a perfect sampler trip to at least get a taste of the charms of Collioure. If you get the opportunity, visit this town that combines the best aspects of Spanish and French culture and food.