We packed up and left Roses in the morning and headed for the windy coastal road that would take us into France and up the Cote Vermeille. Although we only had 39 miles to drive, progress was slow on the narrow roads that turned and weaved around each bay. We were rewarded with amazing views of fishing ports below and birds of prey soaring above us and were happy enough to potter along. We pulled in every now and then to allow the stream of cars behind us to overtake.
Our first stop for the day was Banyuls Sur Mer. We lucked out with a parking spot on the main road just out of town and then strolled down along the seafront. It’s a beautiful seaside town with a promenade along the beach and avenues lined with plane trees. We stumbled across a market and shared an awesome savoury crepe (which I think is called a gallete) at one of the stalls. We got talking to the owner who was really sweet and enthusiastic about our trip, and had also done a similar route in a camper van a few years back, but taking in Slovenia and Croatia too.
We then made our way back to Harvey and headed up to our next stop, the picture postcard town of Collioures. The roads in and out of the town are so tight that we had to park in the motorhome carpark above the town. Turns out this was also an Aire with motorhome facilities so we decided to park for the night.
We left Harvey and trekked up to Fort St-Elme which is a military fort built between 1538 and 1552 by Charles V. It was a steep trek up to the summit on a dusty track, passing vineyards as far as the eye could see. The views down to Collioure were well worth the hike. We could see little boats bobbing in the port and the pebbly beach and around the craggy coast. We spotted an old windmill and I’d read that you could take a footpath down to see it. Uncertain we’d selected the right track, we started our descent down a scrabbly path covered in loose rocks, walking through almond groves and more vineyards. The Moulin de la Cortina is a 14th-century windmill and looks like something out of an Enid Blyton story.
Now we’d come this far we continued our exploration into the town of Collioure itself, which was stunning. Effortlessly beautiful town houses painted in pretty pastels lined the promenade and cutesy cafes dotted the lanes. It had a really nice artsy vibe to it, with loads of independent galleries and boutiques. Apparently it was a place of inspiration to artists such as Matisse and, later Picasso and it’s easy to see why.
The seaside castle called the Chateau Royal gave the whole town a sense of grandeur.
Having geared ourselves up for a bit of a slog in the still-strong afternoon heat, we headed back up the steep hill to the motorhome. We still get a bit nervy about leaving Harvey for prolonged periods of time in empty car parks but on our return we were pleased to see fellow motorhomers had joined for the night. This was our first stopover in an Aire and we loved it. The view was incredible and the sense of freedom we got from knowing that we were self sufficient in the van was liberating. We can drive and stop anywhere without having to factor in specific campsites which is more cost effective. We can still run the fridge and cook and have showers and we don’t need an electric hookup to power anything inside the van. We had a BBQ and sat watching the sun go down as the most incredible colours danced across the sky.