A few weeks back, I was delighted to find an invitation to Collioure for a mid-week jaunt with Sarah and her friend, Debbie, in my inbox. Not surprisingly, I rather enthusiastically jumped at this opportunity to join them, as I love to travel, especially to new places. Sarah had mentioned Collioure had come highly recommended for its Marché de Noël (Christmas market), which made the anticipation all the more interesting.
We got a mid-day start on Thursday, arriving in Collioure close to 1:30pm, making it about a 2.5 to 3 hour drive from Toulouse. We were lucky that Sarah has a car and volunteered to drive, but you can also get there by train from Toulouse. I believe you can take the same train that goes to Carcassonne (which offered an AMAZING view from the car) and onward to Narbonne then maybe onward to Collioure. Regardless of how you get there, the ride will be gorgeous, full of hillsides, mountain vistas, as well as the Mediterranean coast.
Once we settled into our hotel, we started exploring the city while also looking for a spot for a late lunch. We settled on Chez Simon, which overlooks Église Notre-Dame des Anges as well as Le château royal and is nestled just outside of the main beach. It was a bit windy/chilly, but the sun was shining bright, so we sat on the patio to admire the lovely views. I opted for some tapas: manchego cheese (my favorite) as well as some grilled calamari. Sarah and Debbie both ordered salads with jamon serrano, manchego, and honey (I had a little bit of meal envy once theirs arrived) as well as scallops and some little, blistered peppers. All our food was tasty and had more of a Spanish feel than (say) French. I’d recommend this place if you’re looking for lunch and/or an afternoon snack.
Following lunch, shopping at the Marché de Noël began. Normally, the Christmas market is in the Le château royal, but this year the castle is undergoing some sort of architectural work, so it’s simply within the streets of the village. I’m not sure if this makes it more or less quaint, as we still enjoyed the shops. Many of the products were similar to what’s offered here in Toulouse, but I found there were more artisan/artist boutiques selling one-of-a-kind or unique pieces than what’s available in Toulouse.
I, particularly, fell in love with some scarves in Boutique Mané. We’d been wandering around and toward the back of the store I saw an interesting scarf made out of silk ties. I looked at the price tag and saw 23 euros. “Wow – what a deal!” I thought. I chatted with the shop owner, tried on the scarf and began looking at other scarves they had in the same vein. It’s at this point Sarah uncovered the actual price of the scarf – 230 euros. So, a bit sad, I didn’t buy the scarf for myself or anyone else. I asked the boutique owner for her card and she wrote, “Col porteur d’élegance” on the back. With this I was able to find the artist (Nathalie Couterau) as well as photographic examples of her scarves (photos from below are from her site). Prepare yourself, Mom, I’m going to inquire as to whether we can create these ourselves!
There were also a number of boutiques selling (lovely) scarves and some with really interesting origami ornaments. Debbie ended up buying a few of those, and I’m wondering if I should have done the same.
After we’d hit all the stores, we decided to check out the Église Notre-Dame des Anges. The first photo above you notice a bell tower. This is (now) part of the church, but (originally) was a lighthouse for Collioure, only becoming part of the church after a lighthouse was no longer deemed necessary for Collioure and the adjoining church built. Inside it was incredibly dark and quiet. So quiet you could hear the wind whirling around, but nothing else. It had a spooky yet lovely quality to it. I’d say this felt like the center of the village/town.
We wandered around the outside and were able to capture some lovely photos of around the church and castle (see below). In the fourth photo below, you can see Le fort Saint-Elme in the top/center. This is apparently the #1 thing to see in Collioure, but we didn’t make it up there, though I’m sure it affords outstanding views. We had a windy day, but all in all, I can only imagine this is an insanely popular spot as soon as the temperatures rise. Jim and I might have to come back in the summer (or make our way to Narbonne).
After a little more exploration, we retired to our hotel to clean up and relax (aka enjoy a bottle of wine) before heading back out for dinner. Sarah had done some research and decided upon Casa Gala. As such, we made our way there for dinner, but found it closed for the duration of December (oh the perils of traveling outside of the busy season). As such, we wandered along the street to La Casa Linga, where we feasted on seafood tapas (sardines, mussels, shrimp, oysters, etc.), local wine, local digestifs, as well as tasty chocolate desserts. The waitstaff was both friendly and prompt. I’d recommend this place if you’re in town. I also think I could get used to all the seafood served here (Toulouse is a little more pork and duck forward).
The next morning we got up and decided to head north to Perpignan (on the way back to Toulouse) to check out their Marché de Noël. We arrived close to 9:45am, but the market didn’t fully open until 10am. As such, we took in some sights before we started our shopping.
Below you’ll notice both sides of the Lower (the Tet tributary), which bisects the city. The little huts on the left make up the Marché de Noël with a ferris wheel at the end. I imagine this is quite a sight at night when everything is lit up for the holidays. The tributary itself, is extremely shallow (we’re talking ankle deep), which surprised me as I read Perpignan is a city that often suffers extreme flooding from the Tet.
We walked toward the ferris wheel and found the Cathédrale Saint Jean Baptiste (below).
Following our cathedral tour, we made our way through the stalls at the market. They had some local foods, smoked meats, scarves, as well as jewelry. Sarah purchased some earrings and Debbie a few scarves before we got back on the road and made our way home to Toulouse.
All in all, it was a perfect overnight trip with new friends full of beautiful sights, great conversation, plentiful shopping, tasty food, and memories for a lifetime. I’m so glad I went, and can’t wait to return once it’s warmer!