Best Kept Secrets
French-Spanish Borderland Sojourn
(7 DAYS / 6 NIGHTS)
**Traveling alone: add $955 for a private room (rates are based on double room occupancy).
2019 DATES: May 26-June 1, June 2-8, June 9-15, June 16-22, June 23-29
(Minimum Age: 21 .)
Catalonia has been one of the most prized destinations for artists and art lovers for over a century. Catalonia is a nation, not a country, with the border that separates France from Spain running right through it.
This sojourn invites you to walk in the footsteps of some of the most renowned painters and writers of the 20th century as you explore their most beloved Catalan towns. You'll be treating yourself to a sojourn in a mountainous Mediterranean coastal region where you'll discover the enchanting historical heritage and vibrant Catalan culture on both sides of the border. You'll drink sun drenched local wines and dine on regional specialties in fabulous restaurants that reflect the sophisticated, yet laid-back Catalan lifestyle.
On this trip you'll unpack your bags in a French-Catalan fisherman's village and take day trips to explore the region. Many of the charming towns you'll visit are still home to thriving contemporary artist communities and abound with galleries and art studios that you can visit. Your first day trip is a short hop inland and over the border to the Spanish city where Dalí grew up. Your second excursion is a road trip that will take you further inland to gain access to some of the area’s most inspirational spots, including a village with the coveted title “Most Beautiful Village in France”. The third day trip will whisk you back across the adjacent border where you’ll enjoy mouthwatering Spanish food, visit the fisherman's cottage where Dalí lived and vacationed, and ride along the scenic Costa Brava (or Wild Coast). When you see the bright white buildings that stretch across the rugged coastline and jagged mountains like a beaming smile, you'll instantly understand why this was Dalí's favorite place on earth.
You'll be based in the port-town beloved by painter Matisse & author Patrick O'Brian. Sojourning in one hotel for the whole trip means you can unpack your bags and make yourself at home in town for a relaxing trip, without having to repack or change hotels. You have options throughout the sojourn so you can choose according to your interests and make this an active walking tour or a relaxing getaway. Options include:
- Take a guided tour of Salvador Dalí’s House Museum, Teatro Museo Dalí,
- Stroll through Collioure to discover spots painted by famous artists including Matisse;
- Browse through contemporary art galleries in Collioure and Cadaqués;
- Visit traditional wineries and taste the unique local wines and sweet Banyuls aperitif;
- Take easy walks in the mountains and along the coast;
- Explore remote cobblestone villages;
- Shop in a traditional Mediterranean outdoor market;
- Take part in the French lifestyle in restaurants, cafés, and historic town centers;
- Enjoy a Michelin star restaurant experience;
- Enjoy free time for strolling along the beaches, exploring the local church & castle, shopping, or extra wine tasting in Collioure.
(Be sure to look at the detailed itinerary below)
Your base town will be Collioure (pop. <3,000), a quaint harbor-village nestled between the vineyard covered mountains and the sea on the craggy shores of the Vermilion coast --home to renowned author Patrick O'Brian for 50 years. The colors and charm of this area inspired some of the most famous European painters of the 1900s. Collioure's winding roads leading through pastel colored buildings, its red rooftops contrasting against the green mountains, and its stately church and castle juxtaposed against the blue sea inspired Matisse and Derain to found a new art movement that emphasized the use of strong colors: Fauvism. Though there is so much beauty and serenity in Collioure that you could happily spend your entire sojourn there, you wouldn’t want to miss out on some of the other breathtaking spots nearby.
You'll stay in a locally owned boutique hotel located right on the harbor with its feet in the sand and sweeping views over the bay with its castle and lighthouse. The hotel was recently renovated: each room is named after one of the many artists who visited the region and features prints of the artist's work. The hotel houses the town's only Michelin star restaurant, where you will enjoy one of your meals. The hotel has a swimming pool in addition to beach access (note: the Mediterranean is brisk at the time of year we visit, so you may prefer the jacuzzi).
YOUR GUIDE (There will be an assistant for groups over 8 people)
You will be traveling with Lisa Gustavson (the owner, founder and CEO of Sojourner Tours).
"The first time I visited, I fell in love with the little Mediterranean harbor town where you'll be staying.Together, we'll visit some of my favorite spots in this beautiful region and enjoy the local food and culture at a laid-back pace. One of the reasons I love Catalonia is because of the rich art history on both sides of the French-Spanish border. As we explore, I'll talk to you about the history of the Catalan nation and share stories about artists who loved it here: Matisse, Dali, Picasso."
The French-Spanish Borderland Itinerary
Arrive in Collioure, a colorful port town
AFTERNOON: Upon arrival, you can settle into your comfortable room in a centrally located boutique hotel. While other guests are still arriving, you can start to explore the town on your own, relax at the hotel or perhaps get a drink at the tavern frequented by O'Brian and scores of passing painters.
RECEPTION & DINNER: You will meet your guide and the rest of the group to celebrate the beginning of the tour French-style with a typical apéritif at 6:00 pm. You will then enjoy a laid-back dinner at a nearby bistro.
Daytrip to Dali's hometown
Collioure & Figueres
In the early 20th century, Matisse became the leading modern artist when he set about capturing the brightly colored fisherman's boats and houses in Collioure.
Not far away just over the border, the surrealist artist Salvador Dalí was born in the Spanish city of Figueres. Today, the city boasts a large and elaborate museum housing a wide range of original works by Dalí... the biggest of which being the actual museum which the eccentric artist designed himself.
MORNING: After breakfast at the hotel, you will have a little time to get to know the town you'll be calling "home" during your sojourn.
- OPTION: Take a guided tour around town to get oriented. You'll discover the location of the art museum, wine cellar, anchovy packing plant, cookie factory, the bar frequented by Matisse, Picasso, O'Brian and much more.
- OPTION: Explore at your own pace.
AFTERNOON: In the late morning, taking the old route through the mountains, you'll head over the border for a late Spanish lunch in Dali's hometown, Figueres.
You'll spend the afternoon in Dalí's childhood Spanish city. The old town and its pedestrian streets are easy to explore on foot and dotted with specialty boutiques and cafes.
- OPTION: Visit the quirky and awe-inspiring Dalí Museum, designed by the artist himself in the theater where he had his first public exhibition.
- OPTION: Take a 15-minute walk up to the local castle where you can make the 2-mile walkaround its ramparts for views over the famous Empordà plain and the sea on a clear day.
- OPTION: Explore at your own pace.
After your activity, you'll have enough free time to stroll around the charming historical city center, peek in some boutiques or have a drink at a café beforemeeting back up with the group to return to Collioure.
DINNER OPTIONS: You'll have a light dinner at a restaurant in Collioure. Alternatively, you may opt out of the group meal to pick your own dining option or to enjoy a more private experience.
Roadtrip to a Remote Village
Several of France's most beautiful villages lie in the remote hinterlands of the Pyrénées-Orientales region, where you will be staying. The official title "Most Beautiful Village of France" is carried by less than one percent of all of France's villages. Such places are deemed exceptional based on the quality of their architectural and environmental heritage, as well as the authenticity of village life. Venturing to these secluded treasures is a real treat that most travelers would have a hard time to reach without a guide.
MORNING: You’ll start the morning with a ride inland where you can choose between two options:
- OPTION: Take an easy 10-15 minute hike to visit a striking geological marvel called "the Organ of Roussillon" (Les Orgues de Roussillon). Erosion has created pillars of sandstone that are striking against the mountainous backdrop.
- OPTION: Visit a tiny village where an artisan is famous for hand-making knives and where a micro-brewery-brasserie is located.
Then you'll continue to your main destination, one of the "Most Beautiful Villages of France", a feudal hilltop village, which is crowned with an ancient castle.
LUNCH: You’ll have lunch in the medieval village on the terrace of a restaurant chosen for its sweeping views over the rolling landscape.
AFTERNOON: Lunch will be followed by some free time to explore the castle and do some wine tasting or stroll around the village on your own. In the late afternoon, you'll have a guided tour of the village before leaving. On the way back to Collioure, we'll make a stop in the small town of Thuir for a guided tour of the Bhyrr cellars where you'll discover an old-fashioned sweet red-wine based aperitif barely known outside France.
DINNER: You will be free to choose your own restaurant in Collioure.
Market day, Collioure & Fort Saint-Elme
There is no lack of inspiration in your base town. Something breathtaking can be found everywhere you turn: mountains and sea, a castle, a fort, as well as a windmill, and even a lighthouse turned church. It is no mystery that painters and writers are so fond of Collioure. Even the regular houses and commercial buildings are charming: following tradition they are painted in a colorful array of pastels that pay tribute to the days when fishermen used leftover paint from their boats to paint their houses. In addition to Matisse and Derain, many notable painters have captured scenes of Collioure on their canvases, including: Georges Braque, Othon Friesz, Pablo Picasso, Charles Mackintosh, James Dickson Innes and Tsuguharu Fujita. The celebrated English author Patrick O'Brian made Collioure his home for 50 years!
MORNING: You’ll spend the morning shopping in Collioure’s Mediterranean outdoor market for things to eat on today's picnic. Then you'll have free time to enjoy Collioure: go wine tasting at the local cellar, visit the anchovy packing plant, stroll, shop, go to the beach...
LUNCH: You'll dine in a Michelin star restaurant which overlooks Collioure and offers a special menu featuring products purchased at the market.
AFTERNOON: After lunch, you can join the group to visit Fort Saint-Elme for a guided tour and to enjoy the panoramic views:
- OPTION: Hike up past O'Brian's home and through the vineyards, past the ancient olive press-windmill to Fort Saint-Elme which overlooks Collioure.
- OPTION: Take the Petit Train for a narrated ride up the steep hill past the vineyards to the Fort.
- OPTION: Continue to visit Collioure at your own pace.
You will have time to rest or explore before dinner.
DINNER: You'll enjoy a picnic of local products purchased at the morning market.
Wine tasting & Walking along the Coast
This active port next to Collioure has a lively fishing industry. In addition to fishing boats, large vessels such as freighters dock here. Nevertheless, you can still see the charm that drew the celebrated Arts & Crafts architect Charles R. MacIntosh here a century ago. The real treasure is walking along the unspoiled coast around Cape Béar. Here you’ll sneak off to discover a local secret: past the lighthouse in Paulilles bay lies a beautiful little beach with vineyards stretching out behind it and an excellent winery.
MORNING: You'll take a briefride to neighboring Port Vendres (about 2 miles away). You’ll start the day at a tiny museum to learn more about the famous architect/designer and watercolorist Charles R. MacIntosh (a contemporary of Frank Lloyd Wright) who retired here. Then you can choose:
- OPTION: spend an extra 90 minutesexploring the museum, walking around town or relaxing at a cafe overlooking the harbor. Then ride to rejoin the rest of the group for wine tasting.
- OPTION: hike around Cape Béar passing by seven of the spots where MacIntosh did watercolors. Your hour and a half long hike along the coast will take you past a lighthouse to a prestigious winery hidden in a secluded bay with a beach.
LUNCH: You'll eat at the winery.
AFTERNOON: Lunch will be followed by wine tasting. You can stay in the bay for as long as you like to swim and visit an old explosives factory. Whenever you are ready to return, you'll hop on the local bus for the short ride back to Collioure. You may want to go back to your base town early enough to do some gallery hopping or to follow the "Path of Fauvism" to see the spots where famous artists like Matisse painted.
DINNER: You are free to choose your own restaurant.
Spanish Coast Roadtrip
The white washed historic buildings of Cadaqués, sandwiched between the deep blue Mediterranean Sea and a contrasting backdrop of arid mountains, have inspired many famous artists, including: Ramón Pichot, Pablo Picasso, Eliseu Meifren, Marcel Duchamp and Salvador Dalí. Dalí even owned a vacation home in a picturesque fisherman’s cove here, which is now a house museum.
MORNING: You’ll ride along the Mediterranean coast to the splendid coastal town of Cadaqués in Spain. On the way, you'll make a brief stop at Banyuls (French side) where you'll taste the region's famous sweet dessert (or aperitif) wine.
LUNCH OPTIONS: You'll eat family-style in Cadaqués in a surprisingly unpretentious Spanish gastronomic restaurant set in a rustic Mediterranean peasant house. The chefs trained at the restaurant once considered the best in the world, "El Bulli", which is now closed. Alternatively, you may opt out of the group meal to pick your own dining option or to enjoy a more private experience.
EARLY AFTERNOON: After lunch, you'll have free time in Cadaqués to do some gallery hopping, shopping, visit the church or simply relax at a beachside café. Later in the afternoon you can choose:
- OPTION: A 20-minute hilly walk along the coast to Port Lligat for a guided visit of the Dalí House Museum. Time permitting, you may opt to take a spin in Dalí's boat.
- OPTION: Ride by van to join the group at the Dalí House Museum.
- OPTION: Continue to explore Cadaqués at your own pace.
The van will take you back to Collioure along the coastal route, with its stunning views of Spain’s Costa Brava.
DINNER: You will stop on the way back to Collioure to have a light tapas-style farewell dinner at a splendid restaurant on a beautiful beach in a secluded cove (Spanish side). Perhaps you'll even take a last quick dip in the Mediterranean.
End of the tour.
Breakfast at the hotel.