Postcard Worthy Views
Updated: Dec 11, 2020
Collioure is a town on the Mediterranean coast of southern France just a stone’s throw from Spain, or correctly Catalonia. On the sea, the medieval Chateau Royal de Collioure offers dramatic coastal views, the 17th century bell tower of Notre Dame des Anges Church was once a lighthouse, and on the hill strategically is the Fort Saint-Elme. Actually the town was taken by French troops in 1642 and formally surrendered in 1659 with the Treaty of the Pyrenees. In reality, all of this area of France up to Perpignan was part of Catalonia and still carries a lot of those old traditions….including flying the red and gold flag and its motto is the same as that of the local Catalan rugby team (Sempre endavant, mai morirem) - Always Forward, We'll Never Die.
Luckily the military engineer de Vauban during the reign of Louis XIV made a vast network of fortifications to protect the area from the Spanish including the small fishing port of Collioure, because it was besieged and occupied by Spanish troops in 1793 but to no avail. It was retaken by the French.
With all of that out of the way, in the early 1900s it became a favorite haunt of artists. The light sparkles off the water in a rounded little bay, even though I am not a painter I couldn’t stop taking pictures here. Artists like Andre Derain, Georges Braque, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and neighbor Salvatore Dali painted here. Actually Matisse said upon arriving in 1905,” No sky in all France is more blue.” Today there are more than 30 art galleries and workshops of artists. You can walk the Chemin du Fauvisme, which has empty picture frames that are strategically placed around town highlighting the actual views of paintings that were created in the same spots.
Wandering the charming town, watching the locals, stopping at the market or just sitting in a café you can feel how special the place is... but before becoming an artists’ enclave it was a fishing port and anchovies played the major role in the economy. So if you can’t afford to take home a Matisse, you can still buy salted anchovies as a remembrance.
For me, Collioure is a name of an AOC wine and is one of the most difficult areas in the world to cultivate the vine, but they have been doing just that for past 20 centuries. It is impossibly steep, inhospitable slopes, which plunge into the Mediterranean and therefore cannot be mechanically harvested. Gnarled vines twist from the harsh, windswept landscape of pure bedrock. Grenache and Mourvèdre thrive with patient care, cleansed by the salty sea air. Vincent Cantié is an artist from another era, eking out masterpieces from these foreboding, beautiful hills. This cuvée is a classic southern French red, with the attitude and spiciness you’d expect from a full-blooded Catalan try Collioure Rouge “Puig Ambeille.” Or another famous name from the area is Gerard Bertrand, is one of the most outstanding winemakers in the South of France, where he owns numerous estates among the most prestigious crus of Languedoc Roussillon. Formerly the IWC Red Winemaker of the Year and Wine Enthusiast's European Winery of the Year, he is known locally as the "King" of the Languedoc.
The boundaries of the Banyuls AOC production area run between the four ports of the Vermilion Coast: Collioure, Port Vendres, Banyuls and Cerbère, covering a total of 617 hectares. This is the driest and warmest of France’s winegrowing regions. These poor soils encourage very deep roots, imparting complexity to the wines. Both red and roses make up 83% of the production. Collioure is known as the Jewel of the Cote Vermeille and the vineyards above it are called the Garden of Eden. Don’t miss it.