Collioure is a small Catalan town on the Mediterannean coast of France close to the Spanish border, backed by the Albère hills and the distant Pyrénées. Collioure has always been a strategically important place because of its favoured location on the coast and its two bays which are easily defended. Archaelogical remains from the time of the Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans indicate that this was an important place in the ancient world.
In 673, Collioure was occupied by Wamba, King of the Visigoths and he named the place “Caucoliberis” (Port of Elne) which confirmed its importance as a trading port. From 981 onwards, the counts of Roussillon and the kings of Majorca began to develop the town and built a fortress which was used as the summer residence for the royal court from 1276 until 1344.
How to get there
To Perpignan which is only 16 miles away. RyanAir fly daily to Perpignan from London Stansted – often offering very cheap flights. They also fly to nearby Carcassonne as do EasyJet. Alternative destinations include: Toulouse (1 hour 30 mins away), Gerona (1 hour 30 mins away) and Barcelona (2 hours away) which are destinations for OpenJet. All these airports have car hire facilities.
It is possible to travel directly from the Gare Austerlitz in Paris to Collioure but this journey will take approximately 9 hours 20 minutes and there is only one train a day. A better alternative is to take a train from Gare de Lyon and change at either Perpignan or Montpellier St. Roch and the journey time for these routes would be approximately 5 hours 45 minutes. It is also possible to travel from Gare Montparnasse via Toulouse Matabiau but the journey time would again be almost 9 hours.
It is assumed that Perpignan is the starting point for the final leg of the road journey to Collioure. Take highway A9 to the Perpignan South exit and head in the direction of Elne and then towards Argelès-sur-Mer. After that it is possible to take either the “Corniche” route or the route marked RN 114.
Office de Tourisme
Place du 18 Juin, BP2, 66190 Collioure
Tel: 04.68.82.15.47 Fax: 04.68.82.46.29
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.collioure.com
Open: July and August – 09.00–20.00, Sunday 10.00–18.00
April – June and September – 09.00–12.00 and 14.00–19.00, closed Sunday
October – March – 09.00–12.00 and 14.00–18.00, closed Sunday
Museums and places of interest
Musée d’Art Moderne (Museum of Modern Art)
The Museum of Modern Art in Collioure was founded by Jean Peské in 1930. In the 1980’s the municipality of Collioure acquired and restored Gaston Pam’s property so that exhibitions could be held there. The art works on show came into the possession of the community mainly through donations by Balbino Giner, Descossy, Perrot, Baloffi, Cocteau and many others. Exhibitions by contemporary artists are also promoted by the town of Collioure. Every two years since 1990 young European artists have had the opportunity of competing for the ‘Prix Collioure’ and the winners are then allowed to work in the museum’s studio for one year. A large exhibition marks the end of the year and when they leave, the artists give one of their creations to the museum.
Villa Pams, Route de Port-Vendres, 66190 Collioure
Open: 1st September to 30th June; 10.00–12.00 and 14.00–18.00, closed Tuesday
July and August; 10.00–12.00 and 14.00–19.00
Closed on 1st January, 1st May, 1st November, 25th December
There is an entrance fee.
Château Royal (Royal Palace)
The Château Royal was built on Roman foundations and is the centre of Collioure’s fortifications. Most of it was built during the reign of the Counts of Roussillon and Kings of Majorca between 1276 and 1344 and later it became a summer residence for the royal court. When the fortress fell into French hands in 1642 Vauban had the outer city wall built and the rampart flattened and this area is now occupied by a car park. In 1922 the castle was completely restored and remained in the possession of the French army until 1945. In 1951 it was sold to the General Council of the Pyrénées Orientales and is now the venue for exhibitions and other events.
Tel: 04.68.82.06.43 Fax: 04.68.82.23.55
Open: 1st June to 30th September; 10.00–17.15
October to May; 9.00–16.15
There is an entrance fee.
Fort Saint Elme (Saint Elme Fort)
The fort was built in 1552 by the Spanish King Charles V and is situated on a hill which towers over Collioure and Port-Vendres. For a long time it was the main base of the coastal defense system. In 1913 the fort was sold at an auction and has since then been privately owned.
Open: From 3rd April to 30th September there are guided tours every day from 14.30 to 19.00
There is an entrance fee.
Le chemin du Fauvisme (The Fauvism Trail)
In 1905 Henri Matisse and André Derain found their way to Collioure. Since 1994 ‘Le chemin du Fauvisme’ has used the works of these two artists to remind us of the importance of this small Catalan harbor in the story of twentieth century art. On the path you can admire nineteen reproductions of Matisse’s and Derain’s works exactly where these two masters of Fauvism painted the originals. It should be noted that the booklet that is available is in French only and this contains details of a twentieth panel relating to a work by Derain which has now been removed because the subject of the painting was probably at L’Estaque and not Collioure.
Espace Fauve, Avenue Camille Pelletan, 66190 Collioure
Tel: 04.68.98.07.16 Fax: 04.68.82.31.57
Conducted tours are available on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10.00 between June and September, groups by prior arrangement.
An interesting idea to compliment the trail is to get the leaflet from the tourist office giving details of studios and atétiers in the old town where contemporary artists work and exhibit. It is then possible to devise to a trail of your own visiting these establishments.
Le Petit Train Touristique
Discerning visitors may be tempted to overlook this rather blatant example of modern tourism but that would be a mistake in this instance. Leaving from Place du 8 mai 1945 in the town centre this two-carriage motorised train leaves Collioure to follow a narrow road up through the vineyards to Fort Dugommier and Fort St-Elme affording spectacular views back towards Collioure and of the surrounding countryside. It then descends into Port-Vendres before returning to Collioure via the coast road.
Tel: 06.15.15.66.04 Fax: 04.68.98.07.83
Throughout the thirteenth century, many crusaders passed through Collioure, including the knights of the Templar order, the Cistercians and the Dominicans, all leaving their mark in various buildings around the town. Gradually Collioure’s importance as a key port declined as the focus of the ruling Spanish moved westwards to reflect the growing significance of trade with the New World.
From 1462 to 1493 Collioure was under French occupation during the reign of Louis XI. After returning to Spanish control the French took charge again in 1642, after the Catalans freed themselves from Spanish supremacy. During this period Vauban, a French officer in the army of Louis XIV and a military engineer and architect altered and enhanced the town’s fortifications giving Collioure its current appearance. Through the Pyrenean Peace Treaty of 1659, the area of the Roussillon definitively fell to the French crown. And so it has remained French ever since but Catalan traditions are still proudly defended and celebrated.
One of the distinctive buildings in the town is the bell tower of the church of Notre Dame des Anges. This was built during the Middle Ages and was used as a warning tower for the harbor of Collioure with a brazier where there is now a pink dome. It was not until 1684 that today’s nave was added, after Vauban gave the order to demolish the old church of Sainte Marie in the historical heart of town. A new church was built in a Mediterranean Gothic style and although it appears to be very austere from outside, the interior is extremely ornate. The wooden altarpiece was carved and covered with gold leaf by Catalan artist Joseph Sunyer.
The town is basically divided into two parts by the Château Royal and the storm drain of the Douy. The area to the south of the castle is known as the Faubourg district and historically this would have been the Protestant enclave and the old town to the north would have been mainly Catholic. At the turn of the twentieth century the town was an important fishing centre and there would have been at least a hundred vessels of traditional design with lateen sails. The catch was principally sardines and anchovies and the town still has anchovy packing plants. It was the boats, the net-mending, the landing of fish and the drying of sails that provided artists with a rich supply of subject material and this continued up until the 1960’s when the fishing fleet gradually disappeared to be replaced by bigger vessels operating from nearby Port-Vendres.
The town is now a popular destination for tourists from all over Europe and further afield and there are many day visitors from the nearby seaside resort of Argèles-sur-Mer and from Spain. The beaches and cafés are packed during the summer months but out of season the town is very quiet with many businesses closed. It is perhaps at these times that it is easiest to conjure up the town as it once was and with a little imagination see what has fascinated artists, including Matisse and Derain, for more than a century.