Collioure is a charming coastal town renowned for the artisanal salt-curing of anchovies since Medieval times. Collioure has always been a coveted place due to its opening to the Mediterranean Sea and its two bays which are easily defended. The town has has been fought over for centuries and has swung between Spanish and French ownership. By the mid 1600’s the Treaty of the Pyrenees bought it under French control and at around the same time Collioure, already famous for its salted anchovies, was granted a special royal decree to continue producing them.
The town is full of history including the ancient church which was once a lighthouse at the entrance to the bay. In the early 1900s the artists Matisse and Derain (founders of the Fauvist movement discovered Collioure. Fauvists were a short-lived and loose grouping of early 20th century Modern artists whose works emphasized painterly qualities and strong colour over the representational or realistic values retained by Impressionism.
Collioure specialized in the salting of tuna, sardines and anchovies and this activity became so significant that in 1466, the King Louis XI exempted the "anchoïeurs" from paying the gabelle (salt tax). By the beginning of the 20th century hundreds were employed in around 40 anchovy salt houses and fresh catches were bought in every morning in the traditional brightly painted fishing boats called Catalans. Nowadays only two salting houses still remain in Collioure, Ets Roques and Anchois Declaux but they continue to prepare the fragile fish in the time honoured fashion – by hand. The women who fillet the tiny fishes are known for their dexterity and light touch.
The anchovies are used to make Anchoïade - a sauce that combines anchovies, garlic, onion, basil and olive oil which is spread on lightly toasted bread. Another anchovy dish is Pissaladière – a famous onion tart from Nice which is basically a pizza dough with a topping of onions, anchovies and olives.