Collioure. A place to hide, ride and escape

Sunrise over Fort St Elme, Collioure, France

Over the weekend I ran into an old friend and by chance we meandered through the conversation to discover we’d narrowly missed paths 7 months earlier in the little publicised French seaside town of Collioure.

He’d cycled about 1000kms and gained 23,000 metres in altitude with a bunch of friends riding over the Pyrenees from Biarritz in the West. As they hooted down the last of the mountainous terrain they welcomed the site of the Mediterranean at the claws of the Pyrenees, at Collioure.

Artistic History
Collioure is steeped in artistic history, with the Fauve artists including Matisse and Picasso (among others) using it as a placement for their easels. Never mind the Chateau Royal that proudly commands the townscape and offers ancient stone seats for two to gaze out longingly at the water and forever blue skies above.

Made for two, stone seats within the protective walls of the Chateau Royal.

Looking through the Chateau Royal window to the Clocher or old lighthouse that is now a chapel.

I say narrowly missed paths because in this town of 2000 permanent residents I had the fortune of being one of them for five months and not much sneaks by in a 13th century village where the French commando training centre is based.

A Place to Hide
Collioure – a place to hide if you wish. The esteemed British historical writer Patrick O’Brian churned out his masterpieces in this beautiful village, by all accounts the apartment where he stayed was one floor below mine. Perhaps some of his writing eloquence has rubbed off, one can only hope.

Escape
For others, it is a village to escape to. In summer it peaks at 150,000 visitors, a proportion only really fit for a takeover assault. The powers that be have taken steps to maintain tourism at sustainable levels in this incredible region, for a further influx of patrons will cause a melt-down of infrastructure, roads and croissant baking capacities to the detriment of escape-artists from all over.

Escaping to Collioure throws you into a hamlet like none other. Many an artist has escaped to Collioure for the light and ambience. Painters delight in brush strokes daily, it may sound typical but Collioure really is as pretty as a picture. If you’re a painter, you may not want to visit, because like numerous others, you may not ever leave, just like Rennes did.

Food Fit for Royalty and Adventurers
Food fit for royalty, sneaks around every corner too. A catalan specialty restaurant only sources its ingredients from within a 20km radius and follows recipes from within a 200 year time-span. Sustainability at work, just without the green-wash marketing.

Chocolates, pastry or ice-cream treats your fancy? Why not try Olivier Bajard’s cacao based delights? Previously on the world stage, he now offers training in tantalising creations out of Perpignan, a short 20 minute train trip or slightly longer 1-hour bus ride away.

A selection of creperies will have you confused as you’re trying to clip out of your pedals after a road or mountain bike adventure in the hilly terrain that abuts the town.

For my mind, or stomach rather, the home-made chocolate sauce crepe at Café L’Insolite was never beaten. Even the guys pedalling for the Headcase Cancer Fundraising Ride stopped in for a re-fuel. Though, strolling along the Parisienne Champs Elysees in the wintery months and scoffing a lemon and sugar crepe from a street-vendor also sits up there on the podium.

Discover Treasures
To cycle in and around this region is like having a big unruly sand-pit at the bottom of the garden when you’re a kid. From the sanctity of your back-step, porch or kitchen window you can see it, but until you get up close the treasures it hides are not yet revealed. Digging around a bit you discover previous joys, the remains of an old castle, the seam of a new adventure.

Collioure and the Cote Vermeille could appear just as another tourist route. From Café Sola the mini-train takes you around the vineyards, up by Fort St Elme and by the Tour Madeloc, and if that’s your notion of getting to know what’s out there, that’s okay, but you’ve only just had a waft of the pain-au-chocolat without taking a bite.

Roadies and Randonneurs
Randonneurs can be seen trekking in, out, through, over, beyond Collioure following the yellow marker directions placed all around the region. It also makes a great way to discover a path for mountain biking, taking on the terrain that tests rider, skills and equipment. Or follow the MTB signs to take on more of a gravel road circuit to get a birds eye view of Collioure.

Underneath the watch of the Madeloc Tower "Tour Madeloc" are many a cycling route.

The roadies are not left by the roadside either. The coastal road makes for a welcome introduction to an undulating and captivating black carpet. North takes you through many more seaside holiday towns each with its own particular offer. Southward unfurls vineyards, ports, fortifications, many little coves and isolated beaches.

Dipping a toe in the Golfe du Lion marine park (or checking out the aquarium) will introduce you to abundant marine life and a refreshing afternoon bathe in sunshine.

As you pedal on to the south, the tastes of tapas will start to tease you as Spain approaches quickly, but not so easily up the climb to the old border post.

Collioure, not far placed from Spanish border crossings.

Heading west, as the Le Boulou Cycling Club often does, from Collioure via Argeles-sur-Mer rolls you along the prettiest of surroundings. The bike path affords you a safe and direct route beside the highway towards Le Perthus, the other Spanish border crossing. But, for the adventurous types, the back roads hugging the foot of the eastern chains of the Pyrenees offer rolling roads, towns every 5km or so and plenty of optical delights to make the ride pass by almost too quickly. You may even spot a hunter with his latest trophy.

The black carpet ride offers every rider a chance to shine.

A Place for Weary Heads
For all that though, one weary rider needs a place to rest after downing a chocolate crepe and a café noisette.

To say there is an abundance of choice would be far fetched. There is an assortment of hotels, guest houses and apartments available. From my first hand experience, you’d be wise to check these options out as a starting point:

Holiday Rentals Collioure – Contact: Phillipe Maraval
Rue Arago Rental Apartment: Contact: Nicci
Rue Pasteur apartments: Contact Garry: +33 6 22 20 59 42 or Email: gmcteigue@hotmail.com

And as you sit there gazing out over the water, think about what other excuse you might dream up to visit again, whilst tussling with the thoughts of whether you’re going to tell any other friends about your secret piece of far southern French {Catalan} paradise.

Oh, did I mention the new frontier in French winemaking?

*Thanks to David for re-igniting the memories.

Find a series of images of Collioure and the surrounds at our Gallery page.

European Cycling Tours
For European cycling tours you may like to consider a package tour in Italy, France and Spain. Or, for a tour that is tailored to your needs, perhaps even a few days of discovery in the Sud de France, please drop in a note here.

**Remember that you’ll also receive $150 off a Sierra Sports & Tours package if you use the code SSTMRQ at the time of booking.

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