For eight years we’ve been spending a month or so every summer in Collioure, our favorite village on earth. That’s not hyperbole. (Full disclosure: it’s not as if I’m an expert on magical French villages; Collioure is pretty much my first and only French village love.)

Fifteen miles north of Spain, where the Pyrenees meets the Mediterranean, Collioure is one of those places that encourages dreaming. The open sky, the glinting sea, the various ancient structures: a fort, a church, a windmill. Matisse spent the summer of 1905 in Collioure, where he discovered color. My first dream was to be able to share all this with other writers, and Come to Your Senses (originally called Return to the Tactile) was born.

Last year, in 2018, we made two trips to Collioure. One day, after a long swim we stopped at the St. Elme for a late afternoon glass of rosé. We were salty and a little sunburned. We started talking politics with a young Danish couple sitting at the table next to us. They were impressively well-versed in both the nuances of Brexit and the clown car-without-brakes-careening- down-a-mountain-road happening in the US. Then we moved on to another cafe, on the other side of town, where we were meeting a new French friend and her American husband for another glass of wine, undoubtedly accompanied by another politcal conversation. (The French love to talk politics.) On the walk along the sea, from one cafe to the next, we said, “why don’t we LIVE here?”

We couldn’t think of a reason, and so, we’re going. Selling our house, furniture, and car and submitting ourselves to the brain-melting experience that is applying for a long-term visa. In mid-May, we will arrive and begin our lives as Colliourencs — residents of Collioure. And at the end of May, we’ll welcome our first guests of the Come to Your Senses Writing Retreat (which you could register for today). 

Eleven Reasons Why We are Moving to France:

  1. If not now, when? I mean, seriously. There comes a day when you say with a chuckle, “I’m not getting any younger” and it sinks in and then you get a little nauseated.
  2. Collioure is inexpensive compared to what we’re used to. Wine is cheaper than bottled water. A fresh baguette sets you back about a euro. There are taxes, but unlike in the United States, you actually get something. (See: Excellent health insurance, garbage service, pothole-free roads, public transportation that doesn’t make you feel like a citizen of the village of the damned.)
  3. The butter. The tiny, jewel-like raspberries.
  4. The light. It’s apricot-colored in the morning. When the sun sets, the sea is the color of a garnet. In between, the sky is break-your-heart blue.
  5. Collioure is multi-culti. The joke goes that it’s as far away as you can get from France while still being in France. It’s French Catalonia, and Catalan is spoken here as well as French. The cuisine is French, Catalan, and Spanish. They have great tapas and jamón ibérico (literally “Iberian ham”) and tomato bread, which is nasty, but life isn’t perfect.
  6. They speak slow, or slower French, and are happy to give you an impromptu language lesson.
  7. The sea. It’s shallow and warm and the hardy swim all year long. Whether I’m as hardy as I imagine myself to be is TBD. Everyone swims, in often unfortunate swimming suits, and no one cares.
  8. It has everything a child would include in a drawing of a village: a castle, a fort, a church, a windmill, steep green hills, a sparkling blue sea, the sun with thick yellow rays, shining down.
  9. France has its own political problems, but their president speaks better English than ours.
  10. Everyone says bonjour, but women are not expected to smile. You smile if you feel like smiling.
  11. The lavender and roses. The smell of hot stone and ancient vineyards. Fig trees. Olive trees. Rosemary.
  12. The mourning doves, which remind me of my childhood.

Join the discussion 8 Comments

  • Marcella says:

    Awesome! So exciting! Enjoy!

  • Christy says:

    I’m so happy for you both…a new magical experience awaits you! =o)

  • You guys are an inspiration to reach for your dreams. Indeed, if not now when?! I will definitely plan a visit to your beloved Collioure. I’m predicting Come to Your Senses will be incredibly successful. Bonne chance!

  • Ginny Hopkirk says:

    Karen, I am so stinkin’ happy for you! You are doing what I have had in my mind for a long time. Who knows. You might have a fellow Francophile in-country at some point. Wishing you the very best for a wonderful continued life. Ginny

  • Kari Moran says:

    Tres bien, Karen….you’ll be living and loving in the land of Julia and Coco!!

  • Connie McDowell says:

    Your description is killing me. You had me at the raspberries. Our village of Sneem in Ireland is a little less sunny than your village. We have 400 people, 6 bars and one pharmacy for both humans and animals. There are 382 Catholics and 18 Protestants but everyone smiles at each other. It rains but the sea food is superb. The Irish love to suffer and praise Jesus but there’s a soft serenity about them. All they can say about our president is, “Sure and I’ll be prayin for you.” (They need to pray harder) But there’s no where else on earth where I feel a stronger sense of well being. Happy for you both!

  • Karen, I think this is wonderful—it’s really brought up the conversation in my house—what can we do to travel more? Can we sell our place and get something small in Portland? What could be possible in the next ten years? Of course, I still have a 14 year old so we’re here for a while—but what an invigorating set of questions! Bon voyage!

  • gabi says:

    Saw you at the Lake Oswego library last night – a great girls night out, and “shot-in-the-arm” for the three of us ‘Certified Difficult”s (with scars to prove it!) – it reminded me of a refeigerator magnet I have of 2 parrots sitting on a branch, and one saying to the other “I know I shouldn’t say this, but I don’t really like crackers” – I’m making copies for my other two friends as a reminder of a great evening. Thank you!

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