By David Quick
Leaving the grey chill of the British winter to head for the Mediterranean is always a pleasure, and I had the especial good fortune of a week of exceptionally warm and sunny weather on my walk along my favourite section of Mediterranean coastline last March. We began in the French fishing port of Collioure. I say 'French' but in reality the place is essentially Catalan, and the border a few miles to the south was a fairly artificial notion long before the EU was dreamed of! Catalan flags flutter from town halls, and crème catalane is the dessert of choice in every restaurant!
Collioure is a delight in every season. In summer, it bustles in the heat, eventually going to sleep about 4 in the morning. Off-season, it is tranquil and calm, but with plenty of restaurants, shops and cafés open. Wandering about the ancient streets you gain a wonderful sense of history, and the low sunlight on the buildings is just perfect. We stayed in the Princes de Catalogne, an unassuming 3-star hotel that enjoys a great location, tucked quietly off the main street. We dined in a harbourside restaurant and enjoyed the famous Collioure anchovies – another essentially Catalan dish, and the perfect accompaniment to a bottle of delicious local red. Not forgetting the glass of Banyuls sweet red that locals justly choose as an aperitif…
The next day the port of Banyuls was our destination, and our walk led us round the ancient Château des Templiers and over a lovely sandy beach, before saying farewell to Collioure and striking out across a wide track towards Port-Vendres. Above us loomed the imposing fort of St-Elme, one of numerous historic fortresses and watchtowers that guard this coastline. We crossed through busy Port-Vendres, pausing for a stimulating coffee, before heading round Cape Béar. Here a quite wonderful path afforded us sweeping views of the coastline to the south – as far as Cape Creus that appeared so far away it seemed impossible to reach on foot by the week's end! We rounded the cape and descended to an exquisite bay, where even in March it was warm enough to sit in the sun on the soft sand and forget all about the busy world. The enchanting path continued past coves and bays to reach the broad shingle beach of Bernardi. Here, a little reluctantly, we turned inland, into the vineyards that produce the region's renowned wines. Another lovely path, this time through the vines, led us towards Banyuls, and the Hotel Catalan, which boasts fabulous sea views from the restaurant and spacious bedrooms.
The next day began with a transfer down the coast to the lovely broad bay of Garvet, in 'Spanish' Catalonia. The walk began with another beautiful rugged cape, Cap de Ras, the path running right by the blue water, before reaching the first houses of the small port of Llançà. Here, too, though, the path was right by the sea, with the villas beyond. We stopped for a seafood lunch in Llançà, before continuing on the coastal path. It is an extraordinary route, dropping down onto small sandy coves, then leading along cliff-tops. In the summer, or even late into autumn, we would be stopping every few minutes for swims. Not even we mad English are crazy enough to try that in early March, but it was certainly warm enough for frequent rests on the rocks, just gazing out to sea.
After a night in quiet, authentic Port de la Selva, in the comfortable Hotel Porto Cristo, we were ready for the climax of the week, the wonderful walk through the Cap de Creus Natural Park. Yet again, we had wonderful weather, and the walk did not disappoint. The landscape is wild and rugged, and there was more uphill than on the other days, with views that cannot be equalled. The destination matches the walk, and there is a real thrill to reach the pretty, whitewashed houses of Cadaqués, as much an inspiration to artists as Collioure. Wander through the streets looking in the shops, or sit at a beachside café reading a book – this is a place you never feel like leaving.
But leave we had to do, as Barcelona awaited, after a taxi transfer and a terribly efficient Catalan train. After so much quiet, Barcelona was another world, but as wonderful as ever. We stayed opposite the cathedral in the comfort and style of Hotel Colón (Catalan for Columbus!), and enjoyed a wonderful meal in a stylish restaurant just two minutes' walk from the hotel – where, of course, I just had to have anchovies again!
Note: David did a shortened version of the walk so as to fit in a couple of nights in Barcelona. Normally you would have two nights at each village except Collioure. We suggest a circular walk from Banyuls for your day there, and recommend that you fill your day in Port de la Selva with a visit to the impressive monastery of San Pere de Rodes high above the coast. Two nights in Cadaqués at the end gives you time to appreciate this beguiling fishing village and stroll around the headland to Dalí's house in nearby Port Lligat.