Collioure and Banyuls, plus inland Côtes du Roussillon
By Richard James
This Guide was last updated on 23 April 2010
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The old Catalan/Majorcan capital, split by the River Têt, has a condensed centre easy to discover on foot; the heart of its old town is found along and south of the Têt’s tributary, the much slimmer Basse. The 13th century Palais des Rois de Majorque and other interesting historical sites recall the region’s complex past, fought over by kings of Aragon and France following the eclipse of the mediaeval Catalan kingdom. Part of the city centre, particularly alongside stretches of the river and into the old town, is car free; there are plenty of shops, bars and restaurants to stroll around or sit outside. Perpignan railway station, inexplicably cited by Salvador Dalí and numerous travel guides, is undergoing a major overhaul to better accommodate the new high speed train line to Barcelona.
This old-as-time seaside town may be cute and touristy but it is nevertheless difficult to resist. Best visited outside of the summer season, when the place is heaving with, admittedly more up-market tourists than other resorts, but far too many cars (relative to parking spaces). And the weather is usually lovely in spring and autumn. With its crumbling fortress, tiny pebbly beach and sedate fishing village charm, you can stroll around aimlessly, sit and watch at numerous cafés and dine outdoors; or energetically hike in the countryside and hilly vineyards behind it taking a camera and picnic.
In the heart of Collioure-Banyuls wine country, Port-Vendres is more down-to-earth and ‘lived-in’ than Collioure. This working port – you can sail to Morocco from here – is also a nice seaside town with quite a long sandy beach.
Larger and less claustrophobic in the summer than Collioure with a long wide beach, Banyuls-sur-Mer contains plenty of restaurants and wineries. Many producers traditionally have their cellars and shop in town and own parcels of vineyards here and there across the three villages.
Not as pretty, yet dramatically set with its coastal road carved out of the cliff face and mammoth frontier railway station underneath, Cerbère marks the beginning of the breathtaking ascent and then descent towards Portbou over the border (although not for the Catalans).
Attractive, fairly lively town famous for its delicious black cherries (apparently there’s a connection with the word cérise, French for cherry) and for its Museum of Modern Art, containing works by Picasso, Braque, Chagall, Matisse and Miró.
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