Tran­quil towns on Franco-Span­ish bor­der

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Travel - Rick Steves Rick Steves (www.rick steves.com) writes Euro­pean travel guide­books and hosts travel shows on pub­lic tele­vi­sion and pub­lic ra­dio. Email him at [email protected] steves.com and fol­low his blog on Face­book.

Along the west­ern Mediter­ranean coast, two easy­go­ing — and easy-to-en­joy — beach towns stand like sis­ter cities on each side of the bor­der be­tween France and Spain. Both Col­lioure, in France, and Cadaques, in Spain, are off the grid when it comes to glitzy re­sorts. And each has a de­light­ful am­biance, with wel­com­ing beaches, quaint back streets and scenery that in­spired many no­table 20th cen­tury artists.

On the French side, Col­lioure is where I like to un­wind and re­group. When I’m here, I en­joy a slow cof­fee on la Med, lose my­self in the old town’s streets, com­pare the gelato shops on Rue Vauban, re­lax on a peb­ble-sand beach and take a hike. The hills above Col­lioure de­liver fan­tas­tic views of its bay and the sun-bleached, ter­ra­cot­ta­roofed vil­lage be­low. Most of Col­lioure’s shop­ping, sights and ho­tels clus­ter in the old town — most ro­man­tic in the even­ing, when yel­low lamps re­flect warm pas­tels and deep blues. By Mediter­ranean stan­dards, this sea­side vil­lage should be slammed with tourists; it has ev­ery­thing. But, out­side of peak times, it is re­mark­ably quiet.

Col­lioure is blessed with a priv­i­leged cli­mate and an en­vi­able set­ting. For more than 2,500 years, em­pires have bat­tled to con­trol its po­si­tion on the Mediter­ranean at the foot of the Pyre­nees. The moun­tains ris­ing be­hind Col­lioure pro­vided a nat­u­ral de­fense, and its shel­tered port gave it a com­mer­cial edge. To­day, it’s a pas­tel treat with six petite and peb­bly beaches, Col­lioure’s sand-and-peb­ble beach ends at the Notre-Dame des Anges church, a view that has in­spired many artists. Spain’s port town of Cadaques is an idyl­lic al­ter­na­tive to the glitzy Mediter­ranean re­sorts.

leafy squares un­der a on­cemighty cas­tle and a light­house to mark where the Pyre­nees meet the sea. It’s no won­der that artists such as Henri Matisse, An­dre Derain, Pablo Pi­casso, Ge­orges Braque, Raoul Dufy and Marc Cha­gall all painted here at one time or an­other.

Just 15 miles from the bor­der, Col­lioure shares a com­mon his­tory and in­de­pen­dent

at­ti­tude with its re­bel­lious sib­lings across the bor­der in the Span­ish prov­ince of Cat­alo­nia. Un­de­ni­ably French yet with a proud strain of Cata­lan cul­ture, it flies the yel­low and red flag of Cat­alo­nia, dis­plays street names in French and Cata­lan, and sports a few busi­ness names with el and els, rather than le and les. Less than a cen­tury ago, most

lo­cals here spoke Cata­lan; to­day that lan­guage is en­joy­ing a resur­gence as Col­lioure re­dis­cov­ers its roots.

About an hour and a half drive away, Cadaques is a sea­side gem at the east­ern­most tip of Spain. With white­washed build­ings, a gen­tle ocean breeze and dreamy bay views, Cadaques is idyl­lic and re­mote. It has no train

ser­vice and only a tiny ac­cess road that dead-ends. If you want a peace­ful beach es­cape near Barcelona, this is it.

Since the late 1800s, Cadaques has served as a haven for in­tel­lec­tu­als and artists. The fish­ing vil­lage’s craggy coast­line, sun­drenched col­ors and laid­back life­style in­spired fau­vists such as Matisse and sur­re­al­ists in­clud­ing Rene Magritte, Mar­cel Duchamp and Fed­erico Gar­cia Lorca. Even Pi­casso painted some of his cu­bist works here.

Most trav­el­ers in Cadaques are here to see the home of sur­re­al­ist artist Sal­vador Dali. I con­sider it the most in­ter­est­ing home of a de­ceased per­son­al­ity in all of Europe. (It’s very pop­u­lar and only al­lows eight vis­i­tors at a time for es­corted tours, so you must get reser­va­tions on­line in ad­vance.) Dali was raised in nearby Figueres and brought in­ter­na­tional fame to this sleepy Cata­lan port in the 1920s. As a kid, Dali spent sum­mers here in the fam­ily cabin, where he was fas­ci­nated by the rocky land­scape that would later be the back­drop for many sur­re­al­ist can­vases. He and his wife (and muse), Gala, con­verted a fish­er­man’s home — about a 20-minute walk from the city cen­ter — into their semiper­ma­nent res­i­dence, di­vid­ing their time among New York, Paris and Cadaques. It was here that Dali did his best work.

Be­yond the Dali House, Cadaques of­fers lit­tle in the way of sights, but the old town is re­mark­ably char­ac­ter­is­tic. I like to stroll along the wa­ter from the Dali statue on the beach, past the casino where time stands still, and ad­mire the “ele­phant trees” im­ported from Cuba (many Cata­lans moved to Cuba in the 19th cen­tury and came back home when Span­ish rule ended). Up­hill, the Jewish Quar­ter is still rich with ves­tiges of the strong Jewish com­mu­nity that thrived in Spain un­til 1492. That’s when Chris­tian fa­nati­cism (gone wild with the fi­nal vic­tory over the Moors) led to the ex­pul­sion of Jews and Mus­lims from Catholic Spain. At the top of town, the Church of Santa Maria of­fers com­mand­ing views of Cadaques. In­side, an opulent baroque al­tar fea­tures 365 carved fig­ures cov­ered in gold from the Amer­i­cas.

In spite of its fame, Cadaques is mel­low and feels off the beaten path, much like its French coun­ter­part, Col­lioure. In these two sis­ter towns, time seems to move a lit­tle slower, and that’s ex­actly what makes them so en­joy­able.

CAMERON HE­WITT/RICK STEVES’ EUROPE

RICK STEVES/RICK STEVES’ EUROPE

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