Delta of delights: boating in the south of France
Delta of delights: boating in the south of France France holidays Delta of delights: boating in the south of France
The marshes, lagoons and salt pans of the Petite Camargue are a serene setting for a canal cruise, and the local rosÃ© means the fun doesnât stop once moored up
Her name was Rio. Well, actually, it wasnât. She was just a Vision 3 SL cruiser with three cabins and a kitchen. But as soon as we leapt aboard and ran around her top deck like excited children, we couldnât help but think of Duran Duranâs cheesy 1980s video. So Rio she became.
We were in Languedoc in France to explore the Petite Camargue; the expanse of Rhone delta wetlands which lie to the west of the Camargue, across the regional border in Provence. Itâs a landscape of marshes, lagoons, salt pans and phenomenal birdlife â" perfect for a boating holiday.
For five days, the four of us planned to pootle along the Canal du RhÃ´ne Ã SÃ¨te, mooring where and when we liked. We didnât even need any boating experience â" a quick training session at Le Boatâs boatyard in Saint Gilles and we were off.A localâs guide to Nice, France: 10 top tips Read more
Our first nightâs destination wasnât particularly ambitious â" just 15km west to tiny Gallician. The afternoon light was turning golden as we settled into life at Rioâs soothing pace â" no more than 8km an hour.
Time seemed to slow down. White Camargue horses looked at us from the towpath. Herons sauntered by, stretching their long legs. We had time to gaze at the wildlife, even spotting white flamingos at the waterâs edge. As the light faded, frogs and crickets started their dusk chorus and fish jumped from the water.
Rather than pay mooring fees at Gallician, we stopped just before, pounding stakes into the grassy bank to secure Rio for the night, and sat on deck to watch the sun go down and feast on cheeses, saucisson, pÃ¢tÃ©, tomatoes, olives and fresh bread, accompanied by vin gris, the gorgeously dry pale rosÃ© of the Camargue. No one else was around to disturb our peace.âIâm Spartacus!â: gladiators galore at NÃ®mesâ Great Roman Games Read more
After too much wine,we couldnât resist a late-night stroll along the bank, listening to the faint sounds of cowbells and frogs. Even the mosquitoes didnât entirely destroy the atmosphere.
Sleep came easily in the comfortable cabins, which were just the right side of cosy. In the morning, we chugged along to medieval Aigues-Mortes with egrets, grebes and herons for company.
After such a bucolic journey, Aigues-Mortes appeared big and busy. Itâs not really, but its 8,000-strong population was in the midst of its annual festival, and busy carousing within the townâs medieval walls. The 13th-century Tour de Constance was the starting point for a walk along the medieval ramparts, where we could peek into the townâs trim gardens, terraces and cobbled lanes, as well as the cafe-filled Place Saint-Louis.
From high up on the fortifications, we had a perfect view of the Petite Camargue. Seemingly endless pink salt marshes spread out as far as I could see as, with picturesque timing, a trio of Camargue cowboys ambled into t own on their white horses to join the festivities.
Aigues-Mortesâ Sunday food market gave us the chance to stock up on Languedoc goodies including bull saucisson, more vin gris and creamy goatâs cheeses. The market is a lively affair, with dozens of stalls under the plane trees outside the ramparts,and the smell of roasting rotisserie chickens filling the air.NÃ®mesâ stunning new Roman museum dazzles in a glass âtogaâ Read more
Back on the boat, as we continued west to our next, as yet undecided stop, we discovered why the skies were so wonderfully blue: a strong wind blowing along the canal was keeping any rain at bay. On a calmer day, we could have stopped at Carnon-Plage or Palavas-les-Flots, two summer seaside resorts. Instead, we battled on to moor at an empty spot just beyond Palavas-les-Flots, where we devoured our market produce.
Our final stop was Maguelone, about 3km west, where we crossed a pontoon bridge to a little isthmus and visited the half-ruined medieval cathedral. Walking trails snaked between the marshes and lagoons, filled with people enjoying the sunny Sunday afternoon. We headed to the sandy beach at Pilou, where kitesurfers swooped along the water in a fantastic show of acrobatics.
Back on the boat, we watched the sun dip below the horizon, while flamingos flew overhead, looking like snakes with wings. It was my birthday, and that of my oldest friend, who had travelled here from Toronto. The last time we celebrated our birthdays together was on a Camden pub crawl in 1989. Now we were knocking back rosÃ© and eating grilled goatsâ cheese salad on a boat on a Languedoc canal. Being middle-aged can be a good thing at times.
Mercifully, the wind had died down by the time we turned back east the following day, and we eased our craft back down the canal in glorious sunshine. After docking in Saint-Gilles, we flopped in the sun on Rioâs top deck. When evening fell in this sheltered spot, we had our final alfresco dinner.
My initial worries had come to nothing. We didnât fall out. We didnât fall in. But I did fall in love â" with life on the water.
â¢ Boat hire and flights to NÃ®mes were proviced by Le Boat, whi ch has a five-night Camargue short break on a Vision 3 SL, which sleeps up to 10, from Â£1,300. The luxury Horizon, which sleeps four, costs from Â£865; the Clipper, for up to six, costs Â£597
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