When Blonde and Brunette did our first home exchange we committed to a month in Calella Palafrugell in the Costa Brava (aka Catalan) region of Spain. We’d spent three weeks in the region the previous year so were looking for new places to explore this time.
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, views of the Pyrenees and beaches. We got in our sporty stick-shift Audi A3, stalled it multiple times, finally got the GoogleMaps lady pointed in the right direction (after using some regrettably harsh language with her) and took off.
Interestingly, Collioure has a very strong Catalan culture perhaps because it’s only 15 miles from the Spanish border. Phoenicians, Romans, Greeks, Visigoths and other bullies (both religious and military) fought over and conquered Collioure from as far back as 673 AD. Eventually it was under the occupation of French troops again and, in 1659, the Treaty of the Pyrenees attached the region to France permanently. (Although the Spanish took another run at it in the late 1700s. Everyone seems to have calmed down since then.)
Collioure, when it wasn’t being invaded or defended, managed to find time to also become a haven for painters. It’s in a region of France renowned for its beautiful natural lighting. When combined with the castle, fortresses, beautiful bay and medieval streets it was enough to attract even Picasso and Matisse. Many artists still live in or go to Collioure to paint and/or sell their art.
Our accommodations in Collioure
When we got to Collioure we went straight to 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, maybe because they’re silent). That 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). It also had grumpy people sitting around the pool looking as if they were just waiting for us to make any sound so they could glare at us. We felt like we were going to drop huge piles of glass plates even though of course we didn’t have any. Silence can be peaceful or oddly intimidating!
Although the hotel had helpful staff, parking (16 euros a day extra) and a pool, we wouldn’t recommend staying there. It had free wi-fi with barely 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. It may be the #2 hotel but there are only 14 hotels!
Our room (#5) 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 chickens to pieces under our window!
Collioure’s charms and food
All of this and we still loved Collioure! We had a palate-thrilling dinner of green salads, wine and seared tuna at Le Neptune.
The manager and our waiter were extremely flirtatious and practically begged to have their pictures taken with us.. We assumed they thought two women traveling alone would tip well if they were flattered enough. A good strategy but the dinner was quite pricey ($175 !!) so we sauntered off after leaving an average tip.
The restaurant is on a slight rocky cliff over the sea and the views of water and sparkling lights at night 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 high-end restaurants have reasonable fixed price lunch menus, as we finally learned.)
For 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 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 doubtful that Florence would recognize it as being their recipe.
What to do in Collioure
For the most part just walk around town and enjoy it. They have a couple of museums, a small old-fashioned carousel near the beach for non-iPad jaded children, a public library with free wi-fi and even a casino (quelle horreur!).
There’s a lovely, flat walk along the coast, much of which runs along the walls of the fortress and a classic Mediterranean Bay. The beaches are rocky so water shoes came in handy. There are boat trips you can find other water toys and adventures.
Along the promenade near the 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 a selection!
We found way too many stores selling tempting linen clothes. To be fair we also bought some cotton clothes, scoring a major wardrobe selection in a morning shop-a-thon. Oh, and there was that purse store……
The farmer’s market was busy, colorful and aromatic (although we had not liked it as an alarm clock). There were gorgeous fruits, vegetables, prepared foods, flowers, honey, sausages and hams, olives, soaps, cheeses, lavender and various crafts.
We just loved it; it had a happy atmosphere and plenty of goodies to sample. It also had people we thought were weird and who thought we were weird so everyone was happy!
Our two night stay was a perfect sampler to 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.