Sand between the toes.  Waves lapping on the beach.  Swifts swooping low over the quayside. The blog is on holiday this week.  (Last weekend’s entries were posted in advance.)

This is Collioure, a small fishing port in French Catalonia, where the Pyrenees meet the Mediterranean.  After weeks of seeking out interesting patches of green in Paris, I’ve been reveling in the variety and colourful surprises of the plant life here, both wild and cultivated: ancient terraced vineyards, apricot orchards and groves of cork oaks,  wild clematis, snapdragons and euphorbias on the hillsides, streets overhung with bougainvillea, vines and plumbago.

Collioure is famous for its colours.  In 1905 Henri Matisse spent the summer here and painted a series of brilliantly coloured pictures that were to launch the Fauvist movement.  Inspired by Matisse, who wrote that ‘no sky in all France is more blue than that of Collioure’, other painters quickly followed to the town and Collioure became known as an artists’ colony.

Matisse’s paintings reflected the azure and violet shades of the sea under summer sunlight, the bright terracotta roofs, the creamy yellow stone and the vivid greens of sunlight through vine leaves, but the pinks and purples of the walls in his paintings would have been alien to the fishermen who lived in those houses. Gradually Collioure has come to reflect the art it inspired. From the balcony where I’m writing this my view includes red flowered bougainvillea growing on a white walled house with viridian green shutters.  Further down the street rose pink oleanders on one balcony reflect the pink walls of the next house, where the shutters are bright lilac blue. Some combinations are brilliantly subtle, others just startlingly bright but the overall effect is remarkably harmonious under the clear blue sky.