Cote Vermeille Property - an insider's guide

A guide to the Cote Vermeille or Vermillion Coast

Côte Vermeille - inspirational beauty

The Côte Vermeille or the Vermillion Coast is nowhere near as well known as its more easterly neighbour, the Côte-d'Azur (Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur Property Guide), but to those who know it, this stretch of Mediterranean coastline is quite possibly the most beautiful in France. Certainly, great artists such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse sought and found inspiration there for their paintings, exhilarated by the vibrant colours of the sea, sky, buildings and landscape, the clarity of light and the Catalan character of this unique area of France.

Where is the Côte Vermeille?

The Côte Vermeille lies along the Mediterranean Sea, between Argelès sur Mer and the Spanish border, following the line of the eastern Pyrénéan Mountains. As you follow the coast from the east, you will see big changes taking place in the scenery; the long, golden stretches of sand and large towns disappear, being replaced by rocky coves, Catalan fishing villages and a backdrop of soaring mountains.

Part French part Spanish flavour

The Côte Vermeille, so named for the rusty red colour of the rocks that characterise this stretch of the Mediterranean, offers a very different flavour from anywhere else in France - part French, part Spanish. The mountains are an ever present feature of the landscape, as are the vineyards that run almost to the beaches along much of the coast, and the towns and villages are set in natural coves and harbours along the way, separated by rocky outcrops.

A great place for property seekers

The Côte Vermeille has a wealth of lovely places to visit, and is fast becoming among the most desirable places in the south for property seekers. Less expensive than the Riviera, yet with a similar, warm, sunny climate and scenery that is equally stunning (if not more so!), this part of the Mediterranean, near to Spain, has character villages, fabulous beaches and clear, blue seas, a huge variety of sports and leisure opportunities in both summer and winter, in addition to the thriving city of Perpignan. It is also easily accessed from the UK as Perpignan has an airport, a TGV station and is situated on an excellent network of auto routes and Route Nationales. (French Connections, Travel France.)

Best towns and villages of the Côte Vermeille:

1. Argelès sur Mer
Argelès sur Mer (Argelès sur Mer Property Guide) is the best known of the seaside resorts along the Côte Vermeille, and the only part of this coast which has a large expanse of sandy beaches. Often said to be among the most beautiful seaside resorts in the country, Argelès offers the best of two worlds: a modern tourist orientated beach area, and an old town, packed with character.

The two worlds of Argelès sur Mer

In the beach area, known as Argelès Plage (Argelès Plage Property Guide), you can enjoy water sports, lounge around in the sun on Blue Flag recommended beaches, eat exquisitely fresh seafood in a large choice of restaurants and enjoy a lively night life in the bars and cafés. In the old town, on the other hand, you can wander the pretty cobbled streets, soak up the atmosphere and shop til you drop for local crafts, gastronomic specialities, local wines and bric a brac at the twice weekly markets, held in the open air in traditional style.

2. Collioure - the Jewel of Côte Vermeille

Collioure Collioure Property Guide) is known as the Jewel of the Vermillion Coast, and for a very good reason. It is a town with which you fall in love at first sight. It is a place of intense colour and light, a flamboyant Catalan ambience, traditions, festivals and absolute beauty. The great painters, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Salvador Dali, were illustrious names among those who were drawn to Collioure to find inspiration for their work.

Colourful houses and busy harbour

Collioure is an old fishing village, and fishing is still very much of importance. Anchovies are the local speciality, and the signature dish of the village is the scrumptious Pissaladière, a savoury tart of anchovies and onions. The harbour is a riot of colour and activity in summer, with fishing boats chugging in and out alongside small pleasure craft. The houses of Collioure come dressed in typical Catalan colours of vivid pinks, yellows and blues, red-roofed and shimmering in the summer sun.

3. Port Vendres

Next along the coast, travelling east to west, is Port Vendres (Port Vendres Property Guide). Dominated by its harbour, which is a natural deep water harbour where large cruise ships, commercial liners and fishing boats can all find a berth, Port Vendres is never less than fascinating. The fish market is unmissable, evidence of the town's history and traditions surviving in the modern world, and evidence too that the fabulous fish you will be eating in the restaurants that line the seafront is as fresh as it can possibly be!

4. Banyuls sur Mer

I must confess, this one is close to my heart. A personal favourite, Banyuls sur Mer (Banyuls sur Mer Property Guide) combines the atmosphere of a lively old fashioned seaside resort with a picturesque quality which makes it really rather special. The main beach in front of the town is lined with bars and seafood restaurants, where you can relax and enjoy the flavours of the sea, washed down by a glass of excellent wine from the vineyards which carpet the hillsides climbing steeply up from the coast to the foothills of the mountains.

Stunningly beautiful tiny coves

The resort is perfect for family fun, with a diving platform floating in the sea, ice cream kiosks and safe, clean beaches and waters. The tiny coves that are found just around the corner from the main beach (just follow the coast road and park up where you can!) are not only stunningly beautiful, with craggy outcrops of red rock and a feeling of privacy that can be hard to find on the Med these days, but are also a renowned centre for scuba diving. The clear, clean waters here are a protected marine reserve, offering unrivalled glimpses of marine life for divers and snorkellers.

5. Cerbère

Cerbère (Cerbère Property Guide) is the last town on the French coast, before hitting the border with Spain. The exuberant colours of the houses contrast vividly with the blue of the sea and sky, the misty greens of the surrounding foothills and the sparkling, snow-white tops of the Pyrénées, creating a stunning scene. With its solar lighthouse and Catalan feel, this town is nothing if not picturesque, and has all the best of the Côte Vermeille attractions of clear seas, water sports, wines, fishing harbour and good facilities for shopping and dining.

Great location

Cerbère is well placed for ease of access from the UK, thanks to its railway station which links Perpignan to Barcelona, and therefore perfect for popping into Spain for shopping trips and further discovery of the Catalan- Mediterranean way of life.

Summer in the Côte Vermeille

The summer months can be pretty busy along the Côte Vermeille, although there is always the chance of finding a pretty little cove that is hardly occupied. Even in the busiest times, the beaches here are rarely crowded in the way that those of the large resorts can be, making beach days out far more pleasant. The towns and coastal villages buzz with activity in the long, hot sunny days of July and August, with the downside that parking can be difficult. It is wise to be aware that some shops and restaurants open only from May until October.

Côte Vermeille in winter

The coastal towns do indeed become quieter in winter, with the tourists departing and leaving the residents to settle down for a more peaceful time as the summer sun loses heat, although it does continue to shine most days, even in the coldest times of the year! The onset of winter, though, is no reason to depart, if you are fortunate enough to own a property on the Côte Vermeille. The nearby city of Perpignan (Perpignan Property Guide) is always bustling, and offers excellent shopping, dining and cultural venues. Barcelona too, is only a short drive or train trip away, and is best seen in the off season when the numbers of tourists are low.

Activities available all year round

Meanwhile, in winter, you can exchange swimming and scuba diving for skiing and snow boarding in the mountains! Walking is a popular activity at any time of year, and is perhaps particularly enjoyable in spring, when the coastal routes are quieter, the hills and mountains green and fresh, or in autumn, when the vines turn to red and gold and the grape harvest comes in. (Sport in France.)

Gastronomy of the area

The essentially Catalan gastronomy of the Vermillion Coast is nothing short of spectacular, and quite, quite different from that of the rest of France. Seafood predominates, of course, but is served in the extra tasty, Catalan style, with fresh anchovies given the added zing of chillies and olives, fresh fish cooked over an open fire and dressed with olive oil and herbs, spicy charcuterie, Crème Catalane (the Catalan version of Crème Brulée) and tomato bread. The region also produces some lovely wines, and there are many caves along the Côte Vermeille where you can taste before you buy.

Getting to the Côte Vermeille

If ease of travel is important to you, you couldn't pick a better destination. The city of Perpignan has flights direct from the UK with budget airline Ryanair, and should this not suit, even the airports of Girona, Barcelona and Carcassonne (Carcassonne Property Guide) are within a very reasonable drive of the area. Train travel is another good choice, as the TGV runs through France to Perpignan. Finally, the road network taking you from the UK through France to the Vermillion Coast is excellent, with predictable times and few hold ups on the auto routes in even busy periods.

Property prices and availability in the Côte Vermeille

The property market on the Côte Vermeille is buoyant, and the area continues to gain in popularity due to its beauty, climate and accessibility. Property in the seaside towns and villages is rarely cheap, although apartments and small village houses can be moderately priced, but it still represents a big saving on similar property purchases in the east in Provence, while offering similar advantages. A short drive inland will afford more options, as property is cheaper here and tends to have more land. (French Property Prices.)

Additional articles which may be of interest:

Languedoc-Roussillon Property - an insider's guide
The prettiest villages in the Languedoc
Languedoc Property - Top 10
Retirement in Perpignan

About the author

Joanna Simm moved to the Languedoc area of south-west France in October 2004 having found her property through French Property Links.

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