Wanting to escape the confines of my little apartment in a colorful little city in Southern France, I hop on a train with my boyfriend. We travel a quick twenty minutes down the coast passing glimpses of mountain villages through the wide train car windows. Once we see flashes of deep blue, excitement ripples through my veins.
Life Inside a Snow Globe
Even though new year has come, life in France is at a standstill. There is no lockdown, but a 6 PM – 6 AM curfew keeps French residents at work and home, with little wiggle room in between. As chairlifts remain forbidden to open, ski stations are deserted save for those who sled, snowshoe, and and cross country ski. Exploring new places isn’t really an option either: travel between regions is permitted, but with restaurants and museums closed, there isn’t much to do. I know these restrictions are for the best, but sometimes I feel like I am rotting away at home.
Going outside is allowed and unlike during lockdown, there are no limits on how far we can go or how long we can be out, as long as we make it home by 6. I live in a charming little city, but sometimes I feel as if I’m stuck inside of a snow globe. It’s picturesque, but once you are out of the center, there’s not much to see. Luckily, Perpignan is surrounded by nature and all you need to do is hop on a bike, train, or bus to experience it.
Before going back to teaching English at the local university, I wanted desperately to go somewhere. Day trips to the mountains were now out of the question, so I had to think of another way of escaping city life. When the gloomy skies finally subsided and the Mediterranean sun came out again, I thought of my favorite village by the sea. I figured some sunshine and sea views would help boost my spirts as well as some hiking to de-stress.
I had been longing to visit the Fort Saint Elme, a 16th century military fortress built by Charles V. It seems as if every part of this corner of France is filled with history. On the pebbled beach in Collioure, you can spot the fort looming on top of the hill even on a foggy day. Alas, the fort is closed to the pubic momentarily, but just becuase I couldn’t visit it, didn’t mean I couldn’t admire it up close.
Once we arrive at the quaint Collioure train station, we make our way down a street filled with bare plane trees. Pastel candy buildings stick out like a pack of multi-flavored chewing gum. As my boyfriend is examining a military statue, I see a glimmer of blue form the corner of my eye drawing me closer. I had been to this town on the Côte Vermeille several times before, but I am still enamored as if I were seeing it for the first time.
Sundays in France are usually quiet, but a few others are out and about enjoying the warm, late January day. People are masked, but joyful, almost as if we weren’t in the middle of a global pandemic.
To my left stands Collioure’s emblematic stony church and empty rainbow cafés. To my right there is a Medieval castle. Along its walls, kids run and play, elderly coupled walk their tiny dogs, and artists sketch the seascape.
Across the water, I gaze at the terra cotta homes speckled on the rocks and wonder what it would be like to live here. Above on a terraced hill, I spy a lone windmill. At the very top of the hill stands the military fortress that once surveyed the coast.
We make our way towards the hill passing closed restaurants and merchants. One whimsical shop that catches my eye is a pastel pink anchovy seller with vintage painted signs. I think of my grandfather who once worked for Gorton’s Seafood and imagine he would enjoy learning about the fish manufacturing here.
Windmills and Olive Groves
Getting closer to our hiking trail we peep into the courtyard of the closed modern art museum. I admire the clementine trees whose small orange treasures are just out of reach.
We notice a winding path of stone steps and start to climb. Surrounded by a canopy of soft green, we reach an olive grove.
Many steps later my heart is beating faster and my breathing becomes heavier. As we look up we find we’ve reached the Moulin.
We cannot climb to the top, but the views from the base of the olive oil mill are still breathtaking. Above the olive trees we catch glimpses of the sea and village below.
We continue past the grove on to a rugged path. Shrubs, pine trees, and a bright yellow mimosa flowers perfume the air. The higher and higher we climb, the more vast our views become.
A Little Piece of Heaven
The climb isn’t long and we reach the top in less than an hour. The path is quite rocky though, so it’s more of a medium difficulty hike.
We spot bare grape vines awaiting spring, the railroad tracks where we took the train to come here, the colorful town with its church and castle now in miniature, miles of coastline, and gentle waves.
And mountains, many, many different mountain ranges. From where we are standing we can see the edge of the Massif des Albères, the rolling hills of the Fenouillèdes and their wind turbines below, the plateaus of the Corbières in the next department over, as well as the tip of the Canigou, the sacred Catalan mountain kissed with a blanket of snow.
When we finally reach the fort, I feel a twinge of sadness because I know we can’t go in. The feeling passes quickly however, as I stare back at the bird’s eye views. A curfew, so what? Museums are closed, so what? None of those restrictions stopped me from having a wonderful day hiking by the sea not too far from home.
Thank you so much for reading and let me know, what are you doing to stay sane in this difficult time?
À la prochaine,