Cerbere, Collioure, Port-la-Nouvelle … we’re in France! 🇫🇷

After a wonderful few days in Girona we caught the train to Cerbere in France. It is the first French town over the boarder (or the last if you are heading south!). We booked ourselves into a small apartment with kitchenette in a complex with a pool and close to the beach. We were hoping to just relax, walk on the sand and perhaps even have a swim in the Mediterranean.

Travail – “travel fail” (thanks Mum!). We arrived in Cerbere [by train] and couldn’t find a taxi. We started walking, then a very friendly teenager stopped and offered help! His English was no better than our French but nonetheless he called his mum, got a number for a taxi and tried to call a taxi for us BUT here in Europe 12-2pm is closed! After doing a hundred [well maybe at least 10!] ‘merci’s / thankyou’s’ he ran to catch his train and we walked into town – 15mins (which wasn’t that far compared to the next town!) found a place that was open and had a casual lunch. We finally communicated with them about a taxi and asked them to call for us and when it finally arrived we transferred to our holiday destination [for three nights!! – pre-paid of course!!].

As we arrived I had that sinking feeling that all was not well 🤔 When we finally found our ‘apartment’ it was to discover that we were in a resort which would be all good if the rest of the resort was open!!!!! After an hour, we messaged the owner and told him we weren’t staying, and caught a taxi back to ‘town’. It would have been fine if it was as advertised, but it wasn’t – the supermarket was closed! It was 5km from town – not the 1.5km advertised and the restaurant was closed!! EPIC fail !! I immediately asked for a full refund, which we thankfully received.

We ended up staying the night in a lovely (but tiny) hotel with incredible views over the bay. If you were here on a Pyrenees hiking trip it would be perfect! We walked the 500m into town had a quick dinner, bought a few beers then headed back to sit on the tincy balcony!, planned our next destination and watched the sun set. After a lovely breakfast on the main balcony the next morning, the hotel owner dropped us to catch the train to Collioure.

OMG it [Collioure] was fantastic, the accommodation was wonderful and we had a fabulous three nights here – had only booked two but was so lovely we stayed one extra . We paid a bit extra one night and had tapas and sangria, delivered to our wee patio by the hosts daughter! If you are on Facebook, you will by now have seen the hilarious video from that night! I think perhaps you needed to be there to ‘get it’. We have met so many people who have said they couldn’t travel ‘together’ like we are … but we are still laughing 😂

Collioure is such a pretty seaside town, charming, romantic, relaxing and full of history (and vineyards!). We walked and walked here, especially in the old city which is ‘footsteps’ only. The wonderful lanes with colourful houses and cute cafes, the ‘Château Royal de Collioure’ [semi-ruin built by the Templar Knights] on the promenade, which just sort of rises up out of the shimmering blue Mediterranean and commands its place as the guardian of the city. Then high on the hills behind is Fort Saint Elme.

In centuries gone by Collioure was two villages – one on each side of the river. But back sometime in 16th century [after lots of fighting with the Spanish] the Fort was modernised for the King of Aragon and the two small cities became one, although they still have a different charm. Then Spain besieged it again during the 17th century, before the French won it back in the 18th century. So much fighting!! Somewhere in the middle of all that it was a fortified army fortress.

It is the home base for training the French Divers/Army and they were doing some of there training while we were there – “CNEC (Centre National d’Entrainement de Commando) trains men and women in the armed services to survive in war zones.  In the mountains around Mont Louis (the highest garrison in France) and in the sea at Collioure trainees, subjected to permanent mental stress and physical fatigue, learn to manage both and find the strength to accomplish their military objective.” Hmmmmm – is this where they learned to bomb the Rainbow Warrior back in July 1985?!? Greenpeace were to commence anti-nuclear protests [in the Pacific] when the French Secret Service went to NZ and put a stop to their [Greenpeace] mission by placing ‘limpet mines’ on the Rainbow Warrior blowing it up and killing one person. A bit a of hiccup in our otherwise friendly relations – except for Rugby! We were leaving for Europe in 1985 and then were actually in France in 1987 when we won the Rugby World Cup … just a bit of trivia [our travels last time, not the bombing] for you 😂

The Pryenees which are covered in snow, rise up steeply behind the port, are overlaid with terraced vineyards, which have been growing grapes here for hundreds of years – since the Phoenicians! And it is still hand picked and crafted. Lots of Red varietals which is great for Sangria. There is so much work in the terracing and it is said that if the terracing was laid in a line, it would be as long as the Great Wall of China. The other thing that Collioure is famous for is its anchovies … they nearly came on our tapas plate, until we confessed we don’t like them!

Every time we walked to the beach there were artists all sitting and sketching, painting trying to recreate ‘art’ like the masters’ – Matisse, Picasso and Derain [and a host of others]. I found some of the original works by the masters a bit child like! Apparently the ‘light’ here is famous for luminous quality. Anyway we did visit the small art museum, that houses a reputable collection of ‘originals’ but I wasn’t inspired by any of it!! Actually they didn’t have any Picasso or Matisse, so maybe that was the problem. In several places around town there are copies of the famous pictures, from where the artist created his famous work.

One day we took the wee tourist train up to Fort Saint Elme, through the vineyards, and another afternoon we did a three harbour boat cruise. We just loved our time here walking and exploring – I can only imagine in summer it would be crowded and if you were a local you would want to scarper for the hills, except you need to make a living as it is the opposite in winter and there are hardly any people about. The ‘beaches’ are pebbly so not comfy for lying on but the two bays are so beautiful and we thankfully had fabulous weather.

From charming Collioure we headed to pitiful Port-la-nouvelle [sounds okay], which is described as a wonderful seaside resort town, safe beaches with walks and trails. Also a busy port town. We booked ourselves three nights here – our second ‘travail’!! Firstly the weather was terrible, secondly our accommodation was below par, thirdly because the weather was terrible everything closed!!

We arrived after a short train trip to discover that the even the train station wasn’t open! We asked some young men about catching a taxi and they said there were no taxis, but to catch the bus. So while it was pouring with rain we waited for the bus … it did turn up but it wasn’t going in our direction on this loop, but he would do a loop that got us closer to town in 45 mins or so!!

Even though is was raining steadily we decided to walk!! I am not sure why we did this, we should have just taken a sightseeing tour on the ‘other loop’. Anyway walk we did!! Approximately half way (20 mins) we came across a largish supermarket that had a cafe [and the WC!], so we grabbed a quick lunch and then we were off again. When we arrived at our accommodation and we were shown to our room I felt like we were going to be prisoners for the next two days if the weather didn’t ease up!! We did get a few hours here and there, but essentially we wasted two days here and it was even more maddening as there was no tea/coffee making, very poor WiFi and no TV!!! Arrrrrgh … just as well we had a book to read and the bed was comfy!

So that is us for now – lessons learnt 1. Port-la-nouvelle is a July/August destination only, together with Cerbere and 2. Collioure is fabulous and everyone should visit!

“Never get so busy making a living … that you have no time to make a life”

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