The seaside Catalan style can be found at Collioure, as charming a seaside town as there could possibly be, although it didn’t particularly impress me at the beginning as it started to rain heavily as soon as I opened the door of the train from Perpignan. After wheeling my suitcase through the streets for ten minutes, clutching my umbrella, I found my hotel. My room overlooked the Chateau-Royal the imposing fortress built by The Templars in the 12th Century and used as a residence by the Kings of Aragon and Mallorca (at different times). I also had a look down at the storm drain and noted there was no water in it other than a few puddles, meaning the storm was confined to the coast and hadn’t dropped much rain in the mountains.
The following morning the weather was sunny, the sky blue. The rain had gone, blown away by a constant wind from the north-west so strong by the sea I wasn’t able to take pictures with my camera in portrait mode as my arm kept being moved by the wind. The Mediterranean was flecked with white spray for as far as the horizon. The waves were crashing rhythmically against the unmoving rocks protecting the town. Out of the wind, I was able to appreciate the morning light of the town illuminating the pastel colours of the houses in the Moure, or old town, set on the slopes of the hill crowned by the military installations of Fort Miradou.
As I wandered around admiring the plants and flowers growing at the front of almost all the buildings I could begin to understand why the Fauves group of painters made Collioure their summer base. People such as Derain and Matisse must have been inspired by the clarity of the light and the preciseness of the colours in the houses – bougainvillea flowers in front of a light yellow facade was my favourite. The steep inclines on some of the steeper lanes and walkways does preserve the solitude.
There are artisan bakers on most of the narrow streets whose stock is sold out by lunch time. I bought an almond croissant and a bougnette for breakfast. The latter, a type of doughnut, was fried light and crispy and was the size of a small plate. It was quite messy to eat as there was plenty of icing sugar. It certainly delighted the fat pigeons who can hardly fly. They hang around the benches where people sit eating their purchases and admiring the view of the church de Notre-Dame-des-Anges and the brave people swimming in the water protected by the seawall. The church has a round tower which used to double as the lighthouse for the ships entering the small bay.
Looking the other way, I saw half-a-dozen wooden boats, so vividly painted their reflections showed their deep primary colours. In the old town some cafes exhibited Art Nouveau features as did houses I saw on the way to the art gallery. The exhibition had some three-dimensional paintings, the depth being provided in all cases by a coloured duck. The same artist had other paintings with vague outlines of deer in a forested glade. It was to show the idea of animal spirits in the woods, but every time I counted these ghosts I came up with a different number, so I am not sure what the correct answer was. Outside the gallery, a set of steps to the left lead to a windmill where there are fine views of Fort St Elme, built between 1538 and 1552 by the Spanish King Charles V. Since 2008, the fort has been a museum with medieval and Renaissance arms collections.
Crossing over the road I noted the palm trees dotted between the sand and the path that took me back between the Chateau Royal and the gently splashing waves. Since 1994 ‘Le chemin du Fauvisme’ has used the works of Matisse and Derain 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 their works exactly where these two masters of Fauvism painted the originals.
This extract is from the book Travels through History : France by Julian Worker