Collioure and Banyuls, plus inland Côtes du Roussillon
By Richard James
This Guide was last updated on 23 April 2010
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Each time you drive along the spectacular coastal road between Collioure and Banyuls-sur-Mer, or peer out of the dusty windows of the local train, you will marvel afresh at the impossibly sloped vineyards above you. How can vines grow and be looked after up there, balancing so precariously on rocky schist terraces, without falling into the sea? With the colourful Albères hills along the Spanish border as an ominous backdrop, this southeastern chunk of the Roussillon is known as the Côte Vermeille (vermilion coast). This beautiful terrain shapes some of the best and priciest wines in the south - structured, yet rich, perfumed reds (Collioure AC or Vins de Pays) and sometimes extraordinary sweet, yet tannic Banyuls Vins Doux Naturels – fortified reds crafted from Grenache.
Staying in this compact area, especially in one of the coastal towns, enables you to visit quite a few producers combined with attractive walking, meaning a car isn’t essential, though if you have one you can enjoy some wonderful drives across the border to Spain, either super-twisty, hugging the sea or super-twisty, over the wild hills. The coastal chunk of this micro-region, east of the A9 motorway, starting from Perpignan and taking in Canet, Saint Cyprien and Argelès, is much flatter until you hit the Albères. Southwest of Perpignan, with the small town of Thuir at its heart, is the up-and-coming wine area known as Les Aspres (dry land in Catalan). Beyond here stands the omnipresent bewitching Canigou Mountain (2,800m), set slightly apart from but categorically marking the beginning of the Pyrenees.
Situated in the Pyrénées-Orientales department, this micro-region sits at the eastern end of the Pyrenees Mountains. The vineyards are bordered by two specific ranges, Mont Canigou to the west and Les Albères to the south on the Spanish border. Vines, olives and fruit trees are grown almost side by side along the Tech River valley. The gravelly, stony landscape, where many (but certainly not all) of the better wines are produced, consists of black and brown schist soils with sandy granite and clay/limestone slopes. The steep terraces in Banyuls and Collioure overlook the Mediterranean and soils are predominately schist with a rocky sub-stratum.
This is one of the sunniest areas in France with high summer temperatures often exceeding 30°C, and little rainfall that usually falls as violent storms risking damage to the vineyards. The warm summer winds accelerate the ripening process, whereas in winter these wild winds can make the temperature drop drastically, yet keep the rain away.
By road the most direct route from Paris takes just under eight hours using motorways nearly all the way: A10, A71, then right to the end of the A75, which crosses the river Tarn on the the tallest road bridge in the world, the spectacular Millau Viaduct, completing the journey on the A9, exits 41 or 42 (the A75 and A9 will finally join together in 2010). From Perpignan you can take the N114 which goes to Collioure and Banyuls. By train, the TGV runs direct to Perpignan with a journey time from Paris of around four hours 30 minutes. There are small international airports at Perpignan and Carcassonne; or you can drive south for 2 - 3 hours from the larger Toulouse airport, or north from Girona or Barcelona in Spain.
Conseil Interprofessional des Vins du Roussillon,
19 Avenue de Grande-Bretagne, 66000 Perpignan
Perpignan Tourist Office,
Palais des Congrès, Place Armand Lanoux, BP 40215, 66002 Perpignan
Collioure Tourist Office,
Place du 18 Juin, BP 2, 66190 Collioure
Languedoc-Roussillon General Tourist Information
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