Close to the Mediterranean border of France and Spain are two towns which provided inspiration for many artists.
On the Spanish side is Cadaques, and to get there I have to take a narrow winding road through the mountains which rise at the point of the coast. They are the start of the Pyrenees, but here they are just rolling hillsides of pine trees and olive groves. As the road descends to the sea, I get glimpses of Cadaques, with its port and the whitewashed church of Santa Maria perched high above the red-tiled medieval town.
I’m lucky to find the church open as it is late in the afternoon. There is a cluttered wooden gothic altarpiece hidden in semi-darkness and, in a side apse, a black Madonna, similar to the one found in the monastery church of Montserrat.
Down on the beachfront is a lively Tapas bar, glowing with golden light and the fiery hues of the sunset. Close by is a bronze statue of Salvador Dali who bought a house in the neighbouring fishing village of Portligat. The next morning I walk down to the village but find everything closed up, including his house which is now a museum. He was not the only artist to paint Cadaques. Pablo Picasso and many other surrealist artists found inspiration for their art here.
On the French side of the border is the town of Collioure. Once a busy fishing port producing barrels of anchovies, its colourful atmosphere attracted many artists including Matisse and Derain who experimented with Fauvist art. Now the town attracts tourists but they will find no Matisse or Derain originals here. Only copies at the spots where they painted.
Even on a grey, dull day, it is easy to see how Collioure inspired these artists with its seafront castle and the fortified church of Notre-Dame-des-Anges which uses the old lighthouse for its bell tower. But the best way to see Collioure is from a seat at one of the pavement restaurants and cafes which line the northern side of the Douy, the dry stream bed which runs to the sea. Here you can enjoy some wonderful local seafood and a glass of local Banyuls wine while watching the world pass by.