Splish splash

Where there’s fresh water there is life!  The Benedictine monks knew all about the importance of water when they founded their monastery, and with it the village of Saint-Chinian, near the banks of the Vernazobres river in the 9th century!

They harnessed the power of the water to drive mills, and built a canal to irrigate the fields and gardens.  The Vernazobres river still flows through Saint-Chinian, and although the water mills are long gone, the canal which irrigates the gardens still exists!

When the summer weather has arrived and the cicadas sing their seemingly endless songs in the languid heat, there’s nothing more inviting than a refreshing dip in the water. The river is perfect for that!

Upstream, just a little outside the village, is an area called Les Platanettes where the water tumbles over the rocks and flows through a series of pools.

The area is shaded by mature plane trees  (platane is French for plane tree) and there’s usually a light breeze – heaven on a hot day!!

A few years ago, picnic tables were installed at Les Platanettes, and there’s plenty of space if those are already occupied when you get there.

There are more river pools farther upstream from Les Platanettes, just walk along between the river and the vineyards, and you’ll get there!

Saint-Chinian also has a semi-olympic swimming pool, for those who prefer to do some serious swimming!

At Cessenon, the Vernazobres river flows into the Orb, a river which ends its journey at Valras plage.  Up-river from Cessenon is the picturesque town of Roquebrun:

The Orb makes a sort of right turn at Roquebrun – you get a great view of that from the Mediterranean garden just below the ruined tower at the top of the village:

The pebble beach on the opposite side of the river is very popular and the plane trees provide welcome shade.  To the right of the bridge (in the picture above) is a canoe and kayak base – there’s great canoeing and kayaking all along the river Orb!  You can rent a canoe or kayak, and once all the formalities are dealt with and you’ve been kitted out, you’ll be driven farther up the river so you can just paddle your way down to where you started from.

There are several other locations along the river for renting canoes and kayaks.  My favourite is in Reals, where the rapids are used for competitions!

Those rapids are downriver from the boatyard in Reals.  They are not for the use of an amateur like myself – I prefer calmer water, even though that might mean more paddling!! 🙂

On the way to the base in Reals there is an exhilarating water slide!

Cessenon, which is located halfway between Saint-Chinian and Roquebrun, is also on the river Orb.  The pebble beach there is near the old suspension bridge – very picturesque!

The Golfe du Lion is famous for its sandy beaches – the nearest beaches for me are at Valras Plage and Vendres Plage. In the summer it can be quite busy, but there’s plenty of space for everyone!

My favourite time of day at the beach is late in the afternoon, when there are fewer people and the heat is less intense!

With all this glorious weather it’s time I took a little blogging vacation – but I promise I’ll be back!! And don’t forget: I’ll be here if you need any help with booking accommodation – you can always drop me a line!  Enjoy your summer!!

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A Christmas dip

No, this post is not about food!!  It’s about taking a dip in the sea at Christmas!  🙂

A tradition of winter swimming has grown along the Languedoc coast.  Several seaside towns mark the end of the year or the beginning of a new one with a swim.  Valras Plage, near Beziers, calls it the Bain de Noel, the Christmas swim.

In Valras, the tradition was started over 30 years ago by a few enthusiasts, who went swimming throughout the year.  On December 23, 2017, over 300 people came to take a dip in the sea.  The water temperature was 8 degrees Celsius, and as you’ll see from the photographs, the sun was shining!

People wore all kinds of fancy costumes to mark the occasion:

The life guards had come dressed up as Santa’s helpers:

Santa was waiting for the bathers on a barge:

After a brief warm up, the bathers made a dash for the water!!  I saw some people jump in head first, whilst others went in up to their knees.  I’m not sure that I would have been that brave!  The water must have felt freezing cold!!

The video below will give you a good idea of the fun everyone had!  After the dip, there was hot mulled wine for all the bathers!!  🙂

Would you go for a Christmas swim in the sea?  Or would you prefer a stroll along the beach?  Or….?

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Down by the bay

The Mediterranean coastline has changed a good deal over the past few thousand years. A place where this can be seen rather well is Gruissan.  In Roman times, the topography would have been very different.  The Massif de la Clape nature reserve, and the Ile Saint Martin were islands, not at all connected to the mainland, but surrounded by the estuary of the Aude River.  The limestone rock, on which today stands the ruin of Gruissan castle, was probably just a bare rocky outcrop then.  Narbonne had a harbour, and the Roman ships would have sailed into the bay behind modern-day Gruissan.

All that changed, when the harbour gradually silted up, and the lagoons formed between Gruissan and Narbonne.  The Etang de Gruissan is on average 55 cm deep – great for the flamingos, which were notably absent the day I took the picture above! 🙂

In the Middle Ages, a fortified castle was built on the limestone outcrop, to provide shelter from marauding pirates!  Houses were built at the foot of the castle, with the streets surrounding the rock in a circular pattern, which can still be seen today.

The sleepy fishing village turned into a major seaside resort during the course of the 20th century. Two marinas were constructed in the 1970’s, with space for 1650 boats!  All around the marinas, developments were built, to cater for the increasing number of visitors.

Unlike many seaside resorts, Gruissan is very much “open all year”.  Many people live there year round, and a good number of restaurants do NOT close down for the winter.  One such restaurant is called La Cranquette.  It is located in the old town, and specialises in seafood.   You can tell I went there before the trees started to leaf out!

Inside, the decor is somewhat eclectic!

Whilst the decor is somewhat important in a restaurant, the food is the star of the show!!  And the food in this restaurant was very good!!

All the food was very delicious and beautifully presented!  A feast for the eyes and the palate!

Afterwards, a walk along the beach was a must – out of season the beaches are often empty!

If you fancy a stay at Gruissan, have a look here and here! 🙂

Flying high

Last week, my nephew, Thomas, came to stay during his school holidays.  He had just turned 15, and this was his first holiday without his parents.  It was also his first time on an aeroplane, so you can imagine how excited he was!

His elder brother had come to visit two years ago, and we had had a week of outings and visits to keep him happy and amused.  I was wondering what would keep Thomas happy, and when I asked if there was anything he really wanted to do, his reply was: “I would like to go to the beach”.  He arrived on Wednesday, and as Thursday was a beautifully sunny day we went to Valras Plage in the afternoon.

Coming into Valras Plage from the eastern end, I noticed a little street, which seemed to lead right to the beach, the Chemin des Pecheurs.  There was space to park the car, so we stopped and decided to explore.  It was the perfect spot for us – the beach was beautifully sandy, and there was a boardwalk leading to a bar/restaurant right on the beach!  The restaurant had a covered dining area, as well as a bar area, and there were armchairs and coffee tables right on the sand.  Absolutely brilliant – I could watch my nephew in the water, whilst having an ice cream! 🙂

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The restaurant is called La Paillote Nomada.  Paillotte means a straw covered hut, and refers to the temporary nature of the beach restaurants, which are usually dismantled over the winter months – there are several such restaurants along the beach in Valras Plage.  Thomas quickly changed into his swimming things and after a cursory rubbing on of suntan lotion he was off into the water and the waves.

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There was a bit of a breeze, and I was glad to have brought a light jumper, sitting as I was in the shade.  The water was barely 15 degrees, but Thomas was having the time of his life, swimming, diving through the waves and paddling!  I had a job to persuade him to take a break, but he did come out of the water and I treated him to a nutella filled crepe.  No sooner had he finished it, than he was off into the water again.  The beach was fairly empty, so he had it pretty much all to himself.

On the Sunday we went to the beach again – this time to Narbonne Plage.  I had seen an advert for a kite festival there, and I wanted to see what it was all about.

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We could see the kites as we drove down the hill into Narbonne Plage.  It looked very exciting!  Where Valras Plage had been almost deserted on Thursday, Narbonne Plage was positively heaving with people on that Sunday .

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A huge area had been cordoned off on the beach, and within that area a large number of kites were anchored.

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A lot of the kites were carrying other inflatables – there were all kinds of fun shapes floating around.  Can you see the black witches in the picture above?

On the other side of this area, an arena had been set up.  This arena was used for demonstrations of kite flying, and they were doing some amazing stuff there!!  I tried to take a video, but could not catch the kites, they were just too fast!  A number of stalls had been set up next to the arena, selling all kinds of merchandise related to the festival.

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I was very taken with the windmills on sale at this stall!  At another stall, I overheard in passing that a competition kite can cost anything between 2,000 and 5,000 Euros!!  I was totally floored!

Back at our “base camp” on the beach, I watched someone flying one of these expensive kites close-up.  The precision and skill were totally impressive!

Somehow, the kites left Thomas pretty cold – he was far more interested in the water and the waves!  😀

We were back at Valras Plage Monday afternoon – Thomas wanted to take us out to a restaurant in the centre of Valras Plage, L’Auberge Provencale, where he had eaten some wonderful mussels on his last visit with his parents.  We went early enough, so that he could have another swim, and went to La Nomada again.  This time it was a little warmer, but the waves were not as big as during our previous visit – much to Thomas’s disappointment.  Once again, there were very few people on the beach, so it would appear that weekdays are best for going to the beach during the off-season!

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I promise that I’ll write about my restaurant visits with Thomas in a soon to be published blog!

 

 

On the beach again

During the late fall and winter there are often days when the sky is a bright blue colour, and when there isn’t a breeze stirring. Those days are perfect for a visit to the seaside!  In my case the closest seaside means Valras Plage, which is only 30 minutes by car from Saint Chinian, and that’s precisely where I went recently for a spot of lunch.

In the off-season, many restaurants and shops are closed in the towns along the coast.  But there are still enough cafes and restaurants open to choose from, and on my visit to Valras Plage I went to the aptly named Le Phare (the lighthouse), very close to the port, and to the beacon which marks the entrance to the harbour.

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Le Phare is under new ownership, but the restaurant and its menu haven’t changed very much since my last visit.

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The starter of the day was a tartar of salmon, which was very tasty: chopped raw salmon fillet, mixed with finely chopped cucumber and onion, and seasoned with olive oil and a little lemon and lime juice.

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There were mussels on the menu, with French fries, of course!!  And of course I chose that dish for my main course!  I can never resist eating moules frites by the seaside!!  There were some very large, yummy mussels in this pot.

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Dessert, anyone??  Of course — who could resist!! 🙂  Profiteroles or ice cream??  Ice cream for me, please!

After that lovely lunch, a walk around the town was de rigueur.  There were a fair few people on the beach; it was warm enough to lie in the sunshine after all!

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Valras used to be a small village mainly inhabited by fishermen.  All that changed with the arrival of a railway line in 1846.  People from and around Beziers could afford to travel to the seaside, and when the electric tram arrived in 1901, the village became ever more popular with seaside tourists.  Hotels and chalets, and bars and restaurants were built to accommodate the visitors, and the village started to expand along the beach and grew into a town.  The yacht harbour was constructed in the early seventies, and today there are moorings for 350 boats, in the harbour and along the Orb river, which flows into the sea at Valras.  A walk around the town will allow you to discover many buildings from some of the different epochs of the town.  The balcony railings look very art nouveau, and the bazaar could be from the 1930s.  Many of the older houses, especially along the seafront, have been replaced by bigger apartment buildings, but none of them are more than five stories tall.

The emblem of Valras Plage is the seahorse, and you can find it in many places around the town.  Here are just two:

So if the seaside is not for you in summer, maybe I can tempt you with a visit out of season??