Making our way across southern France on what we are calling our farewell tour, we passed through the Languedoc coastal region, an area heavily influenced by the Moors, Charlemagne, and of course Spain. We landed in the small resort town of Collioure, 15 minutes from the Spanish border, in what is arguably one of the worst hotels we have ever stayed in, but literally a stone’s throw away from la plage and the action of this enticing seaside village. It takes a good day for the place to grow on you. It is hard to get over the peak season crowds, the complete lack of parking, and the blaring nightlife. But in the end, the pastel houses like so many cool shavings of Italian ice and the perfectly pebble beaches have won us over.
What I find breathtaking about Collioure is the cacophony of color. From the beach umbrellas and bikinis to the rooftops and shutters to the sailboats’ sails and covers, this one time fishing hamlet is a visual banquet. A once-mighty fortress, a winking lighthouse, and a churning windmill enhance the town’s delicious scene, all nestled in the shade of the magnificent Pyrenees. The saturation, sharpness, and shifting of colors is terrifically appealing. While Venice has her mystical light and the blending and bending of water and color that sometimes blurs the edges, Collioure has her petulant perimeters and distinctive frames. At any given time of the day, the Mediterranean turns from a calming turquoise to a deep azure to a stark cobalt blue. The rooftops roll from cool clay, to burnt orange, to fiery brown. Broad palm trees bind the boardwalk, their trunks and fronds so deliberate and precise, proof to me at least, that the gods were involved in shaping this marvelous canvas.
I suspect that Henri Matisse, André Derain, Marc Chagall, Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso shared this belief too. Scattered throughout the museums of Europe are marvelous paintings inspired by their own visits to this enchanting seaside town and the colorful Catalan harbor. The tourist office makes it easy to follow in the footsteps of Matisse and Derain with “Le chemin du Fauvisme”, a route lined with copies of their works placed at the spots where they were originally painted, allowing viewers to compare the paintings to the existing view.
Following the narrow cobbled streets through the charming chalk-colored houses dripping with Bougainvillea, the view of the sea is always a constant, and it is easy to understand why Collioure is considered the birthplace of the Fauvist Movement. According to Derain, the rare quality of the light was their muse; and as Matisse claimed, “No sky in all France is more blue than that of Collioure.” Today, Collioure is still a thriving art town with around thirty different artists living and painting here. It is a gem of a ville. If I had the talent to paint, I would make it my home too.