Crowds got you down? This post is part of a series of 10 European Discoveries for 2019 — off-the-beaten-path gems where you can escape the tourist rut and find a corner of Europe all your own.
My favorite place to hit the beach in Europe is a little French Mediterranean town hemmed in by green hillsides and rocky cliffs, just a stone’s throw from the Spanish border. I “discovered” this postcard-perfect spot thanks to Steve Smith, the co-author of our Rick Steves France guidebook. Steve has a nose for all the best-hidden gems in France, and Collioure was the first place he sent me when we swapped guidebook research chores a few years ago. (I’ve since returned, just for fun and on my own dime — a sure sign that I’ve discovered a new favorite.)
In Collioure, beefy bastions protect five separate beaches, each with its own personality — swimming, sunbathing, windsurfing, kiddie beach, and so on. The historic town center is a Crayola stage set of pastel houses, gnarled plane trees, climbing vines bursting with flowers, and just enough quality restaurants to keep you well-fed on vacation.
There isn’t much in the way of sightseeing, but drivers can easily side-trip to the eye-popping Salvador Dalí sights in neighboring Catalunya: his psychedelic theater-museum in Figueres and his idiosyncratic waterfront residence in Cadaqués are both within a two-hour drive.
On the other hand, once you’ve settled into Collioure’s pebbly beach, looking past the stout watchtower at the shimmering Med, you may just find yourself surrendering to inertia. Throw your itinerary into the bay and just be on vacation. This is the kind of place where in-the-know French sophisticates on a budget — seeking relaxation rather than glitz — head for an unpretentious break.
If you appreciate small-town France, consider joining up with a Rick Steves Best of Eastern France or Loire to the South of France tour…then take a Collioure beach vacation after your tour. And for nine more suggestions on where to get away from the crowds, check out my 10 European Discoveries for 2019.