Port-Vendres is a small Mediterranean fishing port located on the Cote Vermeille, close to the Spanish border, in South West France. The surrounding area, the eastern fringe of the Pyrenees, is known as Roussillon or French Catalonia. Locals often say that this laid-back little town today, is what Cannes and Saint Tropez used to be like, back in the day. While it may not be the most popular port on a cruise to France, travelers will find this change-of-pace refereshing as they explore the region.
Port-Vendres is far from an up-and-coming town, as it dates back to the Iron Age when it was connected with an Iberian settlement. It was later developed by the Romans who named it Port Veneris, after the goddess Venus. The Kingdom of Mallorca played a hand, but it was really Louis XIV who had grand plans and put a lot into the expansion and the modernization of this port, in the last quarter of the 18th century.
One of the main attractions in town is the 30-meter obelisk, which was commissioned by Louis XIV. The neoclassical buildings that surround the central Place de l'Obelisque reflect that once golden era. Things have not been as busy, nor has the port been as important since the 19th century, but it still does a great deal of commercial trade with Northern Africa and South America.
Aside from the obelisk, attractions include the Dome and Gardens dedicated to Scottish Art Nouveau architect, interior and textile designer and watercolor artist Charles Rennie Mackintosh. It houses an art exhibition and it's where the artist last lived. Adventure enthusiasts can kayak, paddleboat or scuba dive in the nearby marine reserve of Banyuls where there are several wrecks to explore. Hiking in and above the port town provides grand views of the port and the bay below.
Terraced vineyards flank the hills above and beyond the port. In town you'll find wine cellars, wine bars and wine shops stocked only with wines from the surrounding four regions, which includes Port-Vendres. The Roussillon region is 9th among French producers, making up 2 percent of the national volume production and 80 percent of the natural sweet wines of France. Local sweet and dry wines are served in the seafood restaurants in town, like La Cote Vermeille, where you get a lovely view of the harbor and the best catch of the day.