GOING WITH THE FLOW
by Allan Rogers.
The Canal du Midi is part of France’s seventieth century “waterway of the two seas” and on it craft can travel from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic. Nowadays tourists, boat on it, cycle alongside it and visit the towns and villages that have grown up beside it.
At Vias near Beziers the canal is near of the Mediterranean and a network of little roads can take you to over 30 campsites. You can rent chalets, cabins, caravans, pitch a tent, stop with a spacious motor home, or, as in our case, just enjoy the facilities with a modest campervan. We stayed at one called Le Roucan West that opened onto a long sandy beach, which was backed by umbrella pine trees and fragrant herbs. It seemed just perfect. We parked on a generous pitch bordered by Oleander bushes, hooked up to the electricity and were welcomed by a mix of international neighbours.
The people who ran the site were friendly and the pool was warm. We swam in it twice that afternoon before finding the sea equally inviting. Wandering the beach, we became almost mesmerized by the great variety of patterns on the millions of seashells.
It was a good base from which to explore the area and in the camp shop there was a list of markets and events in the surrounding towns and villages. It also included ‘Vide Grueniers’ which is French for ‘empty loft’ our equivalent would be ‘car boot sales’. French junk can be interestingly different from British junk.
For one outing we drove through an avenue of trees to the rural town of Bessan
In the warm air there was a timeless atmosphere. It was Sunday morning and as we rounded a corner the sound of hymns being sung drifted out from the open door of the church of Saint Pierre. The chimes of its ancient bell (1388,) were to guide our return later in the day. We followed some locals through a warren of narrow little lanes where homes with wrought iron balconies were punctuated by arched passageways. Eventually we came to the centre of the town and a busy market where our senses were hit by the smell of spices and the colour of fruit and flowers. Next to a palm tree a stall selling a giant bunches of sunflowers added to the vibrancy of the scene. It was a place to ‘people watch’ and well worth the wait for our coffee at a busy pavement café.
At the far side of the town we found a boules championship in progress and a Vide Gruenier. There were not many stalls but it was pleasant with everyone friendly and ready to chat. I got set of five matching glasses for the camping car, all for pennies. In fact when I handed over the couple of euros we were given a free glass candleholder. Back at the campsite we put them to good use drinking the local rosé wine to wash down a snack of fresh bread, tomatoes, garlic sausage, yellow peppers, cherries, peaches and cheese.
Another day we sat on the grass beside the canal for a picnic lunch. Having bought some cherries I could have indulged in a favourite boyhood sport, that of sucking the cherries and spitting out the stones with a fair measure of accuracy. Hitting road signs from a moving car had been done. On this occasion dragonflies would have been the target, but I am happy to say, they were quite safe.
Having now matured I picked up the camera instead and directed my aim to boats and cyclists framed by leafy trees. We saw the occasional cruiser, and returned friendly waves. Apparently more than 10,000 pleasure craft pass up and down between March and October.
Further along the towpath sparkling white hire cruisers were moored and also a few privately owned ones. Many of the latter had a homely, ‘lived in’, quality to them. Some had enough flowerpots to make a mini garden. There even was one that had a vine growing over the rear deck. They sported flags from many different countries and most had bikes on board.
If renting a cruiser is beyond your budget or you simply want to experience the canal you can always hire a cycle or a small boat. We saw quite a number of cute looking motorboats, with rounded bows and stern, they were rather like giant bathtubs and had canopies to shade you from the sun.
One excursion that I can recommend is the evening music cruise. It is organised by the local tourist office and takes place on a large boat called Le Capitan. The song La Vie en Rose, set the mood as we moved away from the ‘port.’ It was all pleasantly tranquil sitting at the front of the boat moving slowly along a stretch of canal that had not changed for hundreds of years.
We returned as darkness was falling and were awakened from our revere by screams laughter and shrieks from the giant Euroloop roller coaster. It sat next to the canal. The rides of Europark, France’s largest fairground were in full swing. With the neon lights flashing above us we realised that a totally different experience was on offer. We decided that it could wait for another day, one when we were not too busy lazing on the beach.
On the way back home aquatic pleasures continued. As we sailed out into the Bay of Biscay on the car ferry to Porstmouth a cormorant flew alongside the ship cresting the wavetops and later a pod of dolphins arched through the water. It seemed that just like us they too were 'going with the flow.'
La Roucan West. Telephone +33 (0) 4 67 21 64 64
Brittany Ferries Portsmouth to Santandar http://brittany-ferries.co.uk
By air Ryanair have flights to Vias
Local Tourist Office