The horizon extends up to the Cevennes. The Mediterranean is near. There are marshes and ponds everywhere. Pink flamingos and bulls look to take the ship. It is a houseboat cruise, specially designed by its owner, CroisiEurope, to navigate the channels. Named Anne – Marie, she officiates from spring to autumn, between Languedoc and Provence. From Sète to Arles (and vice versa), the odyssey is largely on the petit Rhône canal at Sète, 68 km from Beaucaire, in the Gard, to the Mediterranean sea. However, the barge did not take verbatim. To reach Arles, it branches off to three-quarters of the route on the Petit-Rhône, one of the two open arms by the river to form its delta camargue.
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This cruise to 8 km/hour average ranks in the category of “slow tourism”. Except that the environment differs damn the image of bucolic sweet France green of the waterways created by man. It is vogue here in full wild nature, full of sun, great wind and salt. Or parade of trees sages on the banks or towpath to stretch your legs on foot or by bicycle, or passages of locks to repeating – the channel does not consider that a only and the Small-Rhone, no. At the start of Sète, from the quay of Algiers, the journey begins, in addition to a surreal out in the sea (it is necessary to exit from the port), in the middle of the tuna boats, sailing boats in the long course, cruise ships and marine ferries departing for Morocco.
The hotel barge Anne-Marie crossed the Canal du Rhône in Sète. Damien Lachas / damienlachas.com
then Comes the crossing of the vastness of the low-profile design of the ponds of the Hérault. Built on their brackish water, and the canal held between two straight lines close by and the seaside resorts of Palavas-les-Flots, Carnon and Grau-du-Roi. The gaze lingers on the pink flamingos, very close. In the distance, the pic Saint-Loup, cevennes ensures the grain. From Aigues-Mortes, the humid plains of the Petite Camargue in the gard take the relay. The black bulls camargue make their appearance. The pink flamingos are more and more present. And the graph pyramid cevennes, always faithful to the position. It will be a long time. Past Saint-Gilles and the unique lock – on had the shot almost missed, a change of scenery on the Petit-Rhône. Resolutely green, but not bucolic for a penny, this third table has false air of the Amazon thumbnail. On the wave bronze color, the barge ahead in the middle of nowhere. To starboard and to port, the surrounding landscape has disappeared, hidden by a tangle of vegetation. The enlargement of the horizon will be all the more spectacular, culminating in the grand Rhone, Arles and its famous bullring in sight.
The charm of”Anne-Marie”
Anne-Marie is a neat little houseboat in livery blue king, 38,50 m of length, 5,07 m of width and 2,70 m air draft measurement. Coached by six members of the crew, she does not receive more than twenty-two passengers. So that on board it feels like family. It shelters in its womb ten double cabins, well-designed but necessarily a bit cramped: 8 m2 living space to the bedroom with two (small) beds and the shower room. As for the portholes, drilled in tidal water, they do not open. On the main deck are located the restaurant, a cabin 11 m2, special, reduced mobility, and, at the front, the living room, fully glazed. It gives on a mini-deck outside, equipped with tables, chairs, sun loungers and even a jacuzzi.
Coached by six members of the crew, the barge Anne-Marie does not accept more than twenty-two passengers. So that on board it feels like family
above, the sun deck aligns as it should be an army of sun loungers. No awning to protect you from the heat of the sun, and for good reason, ” says the purser, the tramontane and the mistral, sweepers-in-chief of the great South, there would be a mouthful. To the rear of the sun deck throne also the cockpit. To the front of the bikes firmly secured are waiting in vain for the lovers. Lack of towpath, there is little that the wetting from the centre of Palavas-les-Flots, as the small queens will find takers for a after in the station. We appareillera otherwise without having seen it because it does not figure in the programme of visits and excursions, the town of Sète. Unforgivable zapping that one of the lovely port city of ridged channel, the birthplace of Paul Valéry, Georges Brassens and Jean Vilar. So plan, going or coming, to prolong the trip a half-day.
The guided tour included in the price of the trip and organized at each stop (Sète, Palavas, Aigues-Mortes, Gallican), on-site or in the surroundings, offer a classic but pleasant glimpse of the natural beauty, heritage, cuisine and traditions of the territories crossed. Thus, in the Hérault, the delightful village of Bouzigues, the cradle of the oyster namesake, on the lagoon of Thau, opposite Sète. And Saint-Guilhem-le – Desert, the medieval city on the road of Saint-Jacques, unfortunately, invested by the souvenir shops in key-key. How William of Orange, who had chosen this place for retirement in the basis of the romanesque abbey of Gellone, would he have imagined that it would be, centuries later, taken over by mass tourism?…
Aigues-Mortes, the stroke of the heart
In the Bouches-du-Rhône, of course, will be a tour to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, the city of Mistral and Gypsy, were dominated by the other jewel roman stone blonde Beaucaire: the monumental church of Our Lady of the Sea, dedicated to Mary Salome and Mary Jacobe. After the historic visit of Arles, the promenade will extend around the monumental roman arena, in the steep alleys and squares. Starting with the Forum, where Van Gogh immortalised in a certain yellow house, the cafe and the terrace at his feet. The coffee now goes by the name of the Dutch painter. Finally, a small incursion into the valley of les Baux-de-Provence is also provided, in order to admire the strange limestone relief of the Alpilles and learn about the manufacture of olive oil in a mill specialized.
The salins du Midi. A. Barbaccia/Le Figaro
As to the Petite Camargue in the gard, our blow of heart, it had voluntarily kept its three spots for the end. Tradition to start, with the visit of a manade, where are bred in semi-liberty these black bulls already previews of the boat – this time, we are going to approach them – and the proud white horses ridden by the gardians. And then Aigues-Mortes, the beautiful, pale stone of Beaucaire also. This city fortified, strictly rectangular, protected by 1 600 m of walls and the tower of Constance was built, rich idea, by Saint Louis, at the time of the crusades, in order to open the kingdom of France on the Mediterranean. The sea is 8 km away. Direct connection provided through a “grau”, or channel. This is why, at the end, the fishing village that became a resort called Le Grau-du-Roi.
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Finally, the other side of the city, shines the great dazzling white of the salins du Midi. It is the largest mediterranean area dedicated to the harvest of the salt, 9000 ha of total area, the equivalent of Paris intra muros, straddling the départements of Gard and Bouches-du-Rhône. A ride in a little train, with commentary by the driver, in offers of the selected pieces. Bodies of sea water, which evaporates naturally by changing color, blue, green, ochre and dark red, tinted by an algae rich in beta-carotene, which develops the approach of harvest, in the middle of summer. “Camelles”, huge mounds of salt, one-by-year, set up by “harvesters”. These powerful machines have replaced the manual work of 1 500 salters of the past. Ten times less numerous, the workers of the white gold are now the “sauniers”.
The train stops twice: at the museum dedicated at the foot of a camelle that we will be able to climb. Protected Site, the salins du Midi are also the haunt of birds, 300 species, among which the iconic flamingo which, as we will learn, are born gray and white and then turns pink in the to gorging of microscopic shrimp Artemia salina, themselves fed at the famous seaweed rich in beta-carotene. Miracle of the nature. In return, the last sun the fire of the ramparts of Aigues-Mortes gives him a false air of Marrakech. For who doesn’t know the area, this escape is sure to be the most exotic of the cruise.
GO from Paris, TGV, Valence-TGV, Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux, up to Sete or Nimes for a boarding in Arles. www.oui.sncf. By plane to Montpellier, 40 km from Sète and 70 km from Arles. www.montpellier.aeroport.fr
SHIP Friday, 18 hours on the Thursday following 9 hours (departure on the Sunday), package 7 days/ 6 nights: 1885 € per person in double cabin for cruises of 12 July at the outset of Arles, and of the 19 July at the start of Sète, latest availability, 2019 (expected otherwise April 2020). The price includes full board and drinks on board, both during and outside of meals as well as tours and excursions. Sailing in the morning in the direction Sète to Arles and the afternoon in the other direction.
BOOK CroisiEurope. Tel.: 01 44 32 06 60 and www.croisieurope.com