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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Refreshed…

… is how I feel after my little blogging break!!  We’ve been having some great summer weather – hot days and long hours of sunshine, and it’s been important to keep cool.  The old stone-built houses in the village, with their thick walls and traditional shutters, are easy to keep at a comfortable temperature, and the rivers in the area provide plenty of opportunities for a splash or a swim!  The river Orb in Roquebrun and Cessenon has great river beaches, and they are only 20 and 10 minutes away respectively, but there are some wonderful river pools right here in Saint-Chinian, if you don’t want to get in the car.

Walk to the end of Rue de la Digue, and keep to the right where the road forks – you soon get to the ford, where the road crosses the river.  Here you get your first glimpse of Les Platanettes, where we are heading today.

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Walk on a little and we arrive at Les Platanettes, a wonderful public space right by the river.  The municipal workers have been hard at work earlier in the year to give Les Platanettes a face lift.  Picnic tables and rubbish bins were installed, and the soil was filled in where it had been washed away over the years.

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In the 1970s, Les Platanettes looked like this:

in former times

This was before Saint-Chinian had a swimming pool, when everyone went swimming here. It was also before environmentalists decreed that rivers had to stay “natural” and untouched.

In the intervening years, the vegetation has grown and the pools are beautifully shaded by mature trees.

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The water still splashes endlessly over the waterfalls, and the sound creates a very restful noise, especially when there’s a bird singing along to it! Note: e-mail subscribers, please go to the website to view the following video.

The waterfalls are great for sitting under if you want a back massage!

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Fancy a dip?  Just come along, I’m sure you’ll feel just as refreshed as I do! 🙂

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!