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By Allen Dale Olson

If you could create the Mediterranean village of your choice, you’d create Ceret. Ancient stone houses along cobblestone streets. Roman arches. Plane trees shading the village square and the cafe tables that spill out into it. Only 7,600 inhabitants. Backed up by the eastern slope of the Pyrenees, including the snow-capped Mount Canigou. Fronted seven miles away by the Gulf of Lion, home to France’s sandiest beaches. A ten-minute drive from the border with Spain. A half-hour ride to the nearest airport.

Ceret already exists. And there’s even more to it than those fantasies already identified. Consider the Pablo Bar and its walls lined with sketches Picasso used to pay his bar bills in 1913. The village is filled with mementos of the great artists of the early 20th century who hung out here from time to time — Braque, Gris, Matisse, and Miro, to name a few. Artists like Dufy and Dubuffet fled to Ceret to escape Nazism in World War II, and Salvadore Dali even popped over for visits from his home just across the border.

By the 1970s, the Ceret Friends of Art Association had gathered a sufficient collection of art left behind by their famous visitors to start a small museum. In 1993 they proudly dedicated a new building they named the Musee d’Art Moderne. After the d’Orsay in Paris, it would be hard to identify a more significant collection of contemporary and 20th-century art. Today it is supported primarily by the private Friends of the Museum Association with backing from corporate sponsors and grants from regional and national arts agencies.

For an admission fee of five euros (free for children), you can wander through the intimate but brightly-lit salons to see original work by Picasso, Dali, Gris, Chagall, Miro, and the locally-born Aristide Maillol along with splendid collections of Catalan painting, pottery, and sculpture.

The museum is closed Tuesdays and opens at 10 a.m. on other days, staying open till 7 p.m. from May 1 to September 30 and till 6 p.m. the rest of the year. It is also closed in November and on January 1, May 1, and December 25.

This fantasy village has six comfortable hotels. Our favorite is Les Arcades, home to the Pablo Bar and delicious snacks. For upscale dining, though still boasting a Catalan flair, we like Les Feuillantes. No matter where you stay in Ceret, you can walk to any place in town. The cordial Tourism Office staff can suggest other accommodations in the mountains or bed and breakfast country lodgings.

Tourism Office

1, avenue Georges Clemenceau

F-66400 Ceret, France

Tel: 04 68 87 00 53

Museum of Modern Art

8, boulevard Marechal Joffre

F-66400 Ceret, France

Hotel Les Arcades 

1, place Picasso

F-66400 Ceret, France

Tel: 04 68 87 12 30

Restaurant Les Feuillantes

1, Boulevard La Fayette

F-66400 Ceret, France

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