From mountain to coast…..
The day we left Les Baux was overcast, and by the time we reached Argelès-sur-Mer, near the Spanish border, light rain had set in. We were concerned as we knew that we had to park a little way from the hotel which was right in the middle of the little town. It was also market day, so the road up to the hotel was closed, meaning we couldn’t even pull up outside to offload our suitcases.
Our decision to grab the first parking space we found and take it from there paid off – no sooner had we locked the car to make our way to our accommodation, than we realised it was only a short walk away. Mathieu, one of the owners of L’Hostalet, the little place where were staying, greeted us with a smile in spite of the fact that we arrived earlier than we’d said (because of the weather), and hopped on his “tripoteur’ to assist with our bags.
During World War II, Argelès-sur-Mer was the location of a concentration camp, where up to 100,000 defeated Spanish Republicans were interned next to a windy beach in abysmal sanitary conditions by the French government after the defeat of the Spanish Republic. The refugees streamed to the camp from the winter of 1938/39 after the collapse of the Catalan front following the rebel offensive
Walking to Collioure
The next morning we woke to perfect blue skies, albeit a little chilly in the morning – after all it was almost the end of October!
Breakfast was served outside, on the square behind the hotel. David and Mathieu, the couple that own and run L’Hostalet were the perfect hosts. David, originally from the UK, seemed to play the role of barista, and made a good noisette (the French version of the macchiato). Mathieu, a local having spent some time in Barcelona amongst other places, made a mean chocolate muffin type delicacy. They also provided us with fresh breads, home-made jams, crepes, croissants, fruit and freshly squeezed orange juice.
Once totally stuffed, we decided to take a walk along the beachfront. A real beach….sand not pebbles! The last sandy beach on that part of the French coast before Spain. We were fortunate to come across an amazing photographic expedition all along the esplanade. A display of life-size photos of African animals.
Thinking we’d only make it to the marina, we couldn’t resist continuing further west along the beautiful coastline. Up and down sandy paths, along roads and over the beach, we eventually reached the town of Collioure.
Entering the main street, we spotted a patisserie and were drawn to the yummy looking pastries we could see in the window. And the almond croissants we treated ourselves to were even better than they looked! We sat down on the sea wall and relished them, resulting in gooey finger-licking hands.
Like Argeles, Collioure has a strong Catalan culture. It is also significant in the power struggle between Spain and France for territorial supremacy. It was taken in 1642 by the French troops of and officially surrendered to France by the 1659 Treaty of Pyrenees. Because of its highly strategic importance, the town’s fortifications, the Château Royal de Collioure – which we visited – and the Fort Saint-Elme stronghold, were improved by the French military engineers. Nevertheless, Collioure was besieged and occupied by the Spanish troops in 1793, marking the last Spanish attempt to take the city. The blockade was broken a year later. It was interesting to see how the castle – the Chateau Royal de Collioure – had been adapted over the years to cater for its different uses.
Hoping to have a late lunch in Collioure before getting a ferry back to Argeles, we wondered past the many, very busy restaurants along the waterfront. Not finding anything that attracted us (and being put off by the hundreds of flies that seem to have appeared from nowhere), we changed our mind. This meant the hour wait for the ferry seemed to be a waste, so we chose to walk back instead.
By the time we arrived back at the marina, we figured we deserved a break and sat down to aperitifs – a carafe of white wine – overlooking the yachts. We do like boats!
Relaxing in Argeles
Other than going to the car wash to prepare our lease car for its return, we spent our last day in France relaxing around the small town. After waking up to a misty morning and enjoying another HUGE breakfast in the square, we meandered along the beachfront again, this time ending up at the marina for lunch.