Subject: Re: Collioure, France
Hi Tom,

Collioure is a beautiful little seaside town. We stayed there for one night in the Spring of 2000.

Here is an excerpt from a travelogue of that visit:

Our decision to end the day's traveling in Collioure was truly a fortuitous one. This small seaside town is a gem. The town surrounds a medium size bay that is divided into two parts by the Château Royal, a castle which has a history dating back to Phoenician traders of the 6th century B.C. In the same manner of all the towns along this coast the village grew around the small port and up into the surrounding hills. Because of its trading importance coupled with the siting of the castle the town was fortified by its various occupiers. This is evident not only in the Château Royal but also in the Église Notre-Dame-des-Anges, and Fort Miradou on the hill overlooking the Old Quarter.

When we first drove into Collioure we made our way to the beach along the Port D'Avall the southern half of the bay. This afforded us a great sunset view looking past the Château Royal across the bay to the northern half of the bay, Port D'Amont, with the Notre-Dame-des-Anges separating its two beaches, Plage Boramar and Plage St.-Vincent. After receiving directions to the closest ATM we struck out along the seaside promenade beside the Château Royal. As we walked we encountered sculptures of picture frames placed so as to frame the particular view immortalized by the Fauves a group of painters (including Derain, Braque, & Matisse) of the early 20th century who captured the unique light and color of this wonderful town on canvas. As we passed the castle and made our way into the center of the village we encountered some of the uniquely colorful Catalan fishing boats tied to the quayside. Across the inlet from these boats and stored within a gated compound of the castle were some military-gray kayaks that we later learned belonged to an elite commando force which was headquartered in Fort Miradou above the Old Quarter. We observed these commandos training in the waters off the town, as well as, exercising on runs through the steep hills between the fort and village.

After acquiring a couple of days worth of francs we walked into the Old Quarter to find a room for the night. We rejected one hotel that seemed a bit pricey at approximately $50. Continuing deeper into the neighborhood we came across an apartment advertising chambres. Following the directions to an adjacent street we roused the landlady who kindly led us back to show us the room. On the second story with full bath en suite and our own small courtyard patio we jumped at it for a cost of only $32. The landlady accepted our cash and gave us the two keys for our evening's abode. My communication skills were really being tested. After five days in Spain my brain had become hardwired to thinking in Spanish. Now I had to try and push that aside while I dug deeper into my memory for the French vocabulary and grammar lurking there from three years college classes from the distant past. Surprisingly it slowly began to surface and I became comfortable communicating just in time to head back into Spain.

While Sara settled into the room I made my way back to the Renault and drove it back near our room. We took advantage of the clothesline in the courtyard to do a little laundry. Afterwards we made our way to Le Brasero a restaurant which had been recommended by Susie (fellow Ziner from Newton, Mass.). As the name implies grilled dishes were the specialties of this two-man operation. A very small operation with about eight tables and a bar along one wall. Colorfully decorated with a tropical motif, the bar being covered with palm fronds in the manner of a palapa in Mexico. We had arrived to find a couple of tables still vacant but they were filling fast. Dinner included an appetizer of fried artichokes, green salad topped with foie gras, broiled gambas (large shrimp), a grilled meat assortment, and for dessert a chocolate gateau. The two young men operating the restaurant did an admirable job with one in the kitchen and the other doing a nicely choreographed ballet around the tightly placed tables. Dinner came to $50 and was well worth it (When compared to the cost of our accommodations it is apparent where our priorities lie).

After dinner we took a stroll around the town looking in the shop windows and making plans for the next day's sightseeing in Collioure.

After an excellent night's sleep we arose early to a beautiful sunshine-filled Spring morning. our accommodations had included a unique aspect to our bedding which we would encounter a couple of more times on this trip-the monopillow. Instead of each side of the bed having its own individual pillow there was one long bolster-type pillow that crossed the width of the bed. Fortunately we had brought small individual pillows for the long flights which served to allow us some personal preferences for our sleeping comfort. A curious thing this monopillow. After brewing a couple of cups of coffee and attending to the previous night's wash we struck out in search of le petite dejeuner (breakfast).

It was such a beautiful day that we were immediately drawn out to the breakwater for views of the early morning light shimmering on the calm water. We were mesmerized looking up and down the coast but when we turned around and looked back towards the town the light's magic really came into play. The play of light and shadow on the pastel surfaces of the buildings rising up the hills was fantastic. It was readily apparent why the fauvists had selected Collioure as the sight to engage in their painting. After a few moments of enjoying this view we had to plunge into the streets of this town and chase the sun through the twists and turns of the steep alleys.

After we had made our way up the hill through the Vieux Quartier du Mouré, enjoying the flower-filled streets on our climb, we came to a dead-end street whose houses sat on the bluff overlooking the Mediterranean. These four homes had created a beautiful garden over the rocky hillside fronting their property and our arrival coincided with the sun's brilliant rays unleashing the different hues of yellow, red and purple among the blooming flowers. Both Sara and I wondered at the thought of spending two weeks inhabiting one of these ideally placed properties. Turning back towards the Vieux Quartier we passed the gate to Fort Miradou an operational French military base where elite forces (analogous to U.S. Navy Seals) train for their dangerous missions. While in Collioure we had several chance meetings with the soldiers; jogging past us on the steep cobblestone alleys, paddling quietly off the beach in their gray kayaks, or zipping up the coast in their motorized zodiacs.

Once we had returned to the center of town we stopped in at a bakery and purchased some cookies and pastries for breakfast. One more stop for some croquant Catalan, hard almond cookies not unlike biscotti, before we returned to our room for packing. Because we were uncertain how long the self-guided tour of the Chateau Royal would take we opted to checkout taking our bags to the car. Collioure seemed like an unlikely place for thievery and the bags would be out of sight..., fortunately, all turned out well. A quick stop at the post office before the tour of the chateau brought me feelings of deja-vu. And then I realized that years ago while taking French classes there had been lessons centered around A visit to the post office and Let's go shopping. Although this was my first visit to France I was experiencing this odd sense of familiarity which I can only attribute to these old memories of French class. At the same time vocabulary was surfacing from the deepest recesses of my brain's language center.

The Château Royal is an imposing castle that juts into the port bisecting it into the Port d'Amont and Port d'Avall. In the 13th and 14th centuries it was the summer home of the Kings of Majorca and then was taken by the Kings of Aragón (such as Ferdinand). The castle is heavily fortified due to its strategic location along the coast. The self-guided tour takes one from the underground passages to the ramparts and sentry towers. There are spectacular views of the port and town, as well as, the Albères mountains looming above the sea. With only a few other people touring the grounds we lingered enjoying the various views and marveling at the massive structure.

Afterwards we elected to join the many townspeople enjoying a late morning espresso on the central street. Soon we found ourselves reclining at an outdoor café table sipping coffee and partaking in the warm caress of the late morning sun with the local dogs stretched out at our feet. This moment will be imprinted on my mind forever. If I were to never make it back to France (and believe me I will) this half-hour in Collioure would be enough to endear that magical place to me for the rest of my life.

Tom, you might seriously consider heading back across the border to El Bulli restaurant near Roses. It is considered by many to be the best restaurant on the planet. Chef Ferran Adrià, simply put, has turned the culinary world upside down with his imagination and creativity over the last ten years. See it at:

http://tinyurl.com/le3c

In any event, we envy you your stay in Collioure. It is number one on our list of Mediterranean seaside towns in which we'd like to spend a couple of weeks.

John in San Diego