The coastline southwest of Sète – until you reach the Pyrenees and get close to the Spanish border - is quite flat with sand beaches, lagoons, marshland… a paradise for birds.
There are some interruptions, with a few rocky hills, often with the remains of some fortifications. Here is an example – Gruissan with its “Tour Barberousse”, all that remains of a 10th century fortified castle. The old town, to a large extent built by stones from the demolished castle, surrounds the hill by circular streets. On the nearby beach you can find a great number of chalets built on stiles – to escape from periodic flooding. Nowadays they are protected from the sea by a dike, so the ground floors are habitable.
Getting close to the Spanish border and the Pyrenees, the landscape changes radically. We are reaching the “Vermillion Coast”… and also the Catalan culture and language... and Collioure.
There are some records of a “Castrum Caucoliberi” as early as 673 and, being so close to what took centuries to establish as a real border, this place has, of course, had a high strategic value for a long time. The present Castle of Collioure has a long history, starting with the Knights Templar during the early 13th century, then being transformed by the Kings of Majorca during the 13th and 14th centuries, further transformed by the Habsburgs Charles Quint and Philip II during the 16th century and finally by Vauban by the end of the 17th century.
Apart from the beach, the port and the castle, the town must also be visited for its charming streets and alleys – and of course bars and restaurants.
The place has been appreciated by many artists, especially during the early 20th century. Here are just a few examples.
Close to Collioure is a place named Paulilles, now a protected area, a recreational park, close to the sea. Previously you found here the French Nobel Dynamite Factory, founded in 1870 and closed in 1991. Of some 80 factory buildings only a few have been saved, serving as museum, restaurant… Among the documents in the museum I saw a letter by Alfred Nobel, written in Swedish, to a local collaborator.