I say mixed month of May for a number of reasons, in this case the first is about departing Carcassonne. Everyone seems to have a view on the place, some good, some poor and some plain indifferent, but me, I like it a lot and departing it is always tinged with a little sadness for me. It’s got a good vibe and whether you love or hate the medievil old Cite the lower town has great feel to it, with a great open market in Place Carnot on Saturday filled with lively produce sellers and surrounded by bustling cafes and restaurants, fab bakeries and shops of all types to tempt the most reticent of shoppers, and best of all there’s a Jeff de Bruges ice cream shop just off the main square – need I say more!
Mixed May also because the weather this year was so varied, at least that’s how I remember it. The first week marked by high winds and sunny days followed swiftly by plunging temperatures down to 11C and rain leaving me wondering why I bothered sharing my naked legs with the world…bloody nippy if you ask me and definitely not ordered.
In Carcassonne for nearly two weeks allowed Evey to head back to the USA for a week to visit her folks and the cat and I had more quality time together while she (the cat) re-established that we were in fact great pals and that all the social snubs I get while Evey is around are just accidental, unintentional coincidences….yeah right, how fickle can felines get I ask you. Never mind, I’m a sucker for a face rub with bad breath with a fang pressed into my nose as I take whatever passes for feline affection first thing in the morning. Evey’s absence does have one other bit of upside as our old boat buddy Arthur’s cruised in for a several days and so with minimal arm twisting we find ourselves propping up the bar in an Irish pub in town on a daily basis.
Trouble in Trebes & Hire Boat Hero’s ………. The pretty run down to Trebes is a short one at only 13 kms but with 7 locks it still takes us 3 hrs however on arrival we’re lucky to find a mooring on the quayside beside the restaurants and bars and also find Arthur tied up so an opportunity for more arm twisting, tall tales and several beverages though not before we’ve had to negotiate the carelessly moored hire boat that’s now drifted into the middle of the canal oblivious to those running the adjacent Le Boat Hire boat base.
Two days into our visit we get a generator malfunction which cuts out constantly shortly after we start it up. We check everything we can think of, connections, blockages, fuel etc but to no avail. This is a worry, if we can’t get or generate electrical power to charge up our batteries they’ll fail along with the fridges, freezer and all their contents, we’ll have no 220 V mains power and worse still we’ll have replace the lot which will be very expensive. Le Boat saved the day letting us use one of their moorings opposite with a power supply and the arrangement of a mechanic to come and look at our genset, alas in true French reliability form he never bothered to turn up! Why were we not surprised! Luckily and for reasons we never discovered further testing of the genset revealed no further problems and it purred away normally as before but with no clues as to the previous malfunction. With that sorted amid enormous relief there remained only one thing for it…..bugger off to a decent lunch. Several years ago when renting a hire boat in this neck of the woods we’d had dinner at the nearby ‘Moulin de Trebes’ restaurant which as we recalled was at best average, but in the last three years new owners and chef had taken up the reins and the food was fab u lous! So much so we returned again for a second crack at the menu the next day. A delightful meal with warm and friendly service, we were delighted. www.lemoulindetrebes.com
Heading for Homps……..A short lived return to warmth and sunshine greeted the next run from Trebes to Homps, 27 kms and 14 locks with a three day stopover in La Redorte along the way and a chance to catch up with Belgian friends Joss & Bollica – I know I got the spelling wrong there but that’s what it sounds like believe me. Catching up inevitably means several bottle of beer and rose wine hence the need for a three day stopover. Sadly one of our previously favoured vineyards nearby, ‘Les Penitants Bleu’ had closed its doors as an independent producer now sending its annual grape harvest to the local wine co-operative, a sad demise for what was an excellent wine maker and one less good drop to drink.
Water water everywhere, never mind ‘and not a drop to drink’ ………Lest readers think it’s all beer and skittles or more accurately wine and skittles, swanning around the waterways of France, let me share a recent watery tale. Perhaps the title isn’t an entirely accurate picture as it occurs to me that in really there were in fact plenty of drops to drink. So there I was one morning, fossicking about in the ‘man cave’ aka the forepeak, a veritable Aladdin’s cave of tools, appliances, paints, varnishes, ropes of all shapes and sizes, cables, hoses and a bazillion other sundry boat bits and bobs. Digging around the various storage boxes I was after a rarely used electrical adapter to hook up to the mooring’s power supply, Evey meanwhile was inside the barge about to jump into the shower when the main water hose that connects our 2500 litre water tank to the circulation pump came free under some significant pressure. Next thing total bedlam, anyone who saw ‘The Poseidon Adventure’ can well imagine the scene .…..water water everywhere, I mean Jeeeeezus H Christ, (by the way does anyone know what the ‘H’ stands for?) it went everywhere of course but mostly all over me initially then onto everything else and finally into the bilge. By the time I’d raced back along the deck yelling to Evey to turn the pump fuse off we’d got a good 120 litres in the bilge and probably the same amount on me! I’ve no doubt that there’ll be a smidge of schadenfreude out there as some will find the image me emerging from the forepeak like some half drowned rat with barely a fig leaf of dignity remaining somewhat amusing, but I can live with thatJ So began the unexpected and unwanted task of clearing out the entire forepeak, drying everything off, vacuuming out the bilge and then replacing everything which took a good couple of hours and definitely not how I’d seen the afternoon panning out. Could have been a lot worse of course as had I not been there to play ‘catch’ with the water jet like the fictitious Dutch boy with his finger in the dyke (an engineering infrastructure term for those still sniggering) since if we’d been underway the water would have kept pumping out and god only knows how much water there might have been in there! A bit ‘browned off’ I think is the understated expression here!
As it turned out it was an easy fix as the jubilee clips had just worked loose and needed tightening up……I know that snippet will thrill some to no end!
Homps, despite having a port crying out for better management and facilities for visiting (read paying) pleasure boats is a likeable place with some delightful walks around the nearby reservoir, its surrounds filled with poppy’s and wild flowers. There’s a wine makers cave on the quay that sells a very good range of wines and no shortage of restaurants and bars including the excellent establishment ‘En Bon Compagnie’ with its charming canal-side shady terrace.
The port alas lacks adequate moorings with or without services on both sides making it hard to spend time and money here supporting the local business (Ok in our case that’s mainly the restaurants and bars, but not exclusively I might add, we do buy groceries here too). It’s also strangely expensive for the size and type of place it is at €34 a night for us. Even more bizarrely they offer the first nights mooring for free, presumably to encourage people to stay longer, when in reality most pleasure boats take the free night then buzz off next day, gee, who’d have seen that coming!
Next day the warmth and sun disappears once more, Patcha, ever the perfect weather barometer takes refuge in a cat cave, pulling the blanket over herself.
I know I’ve banged on about this before but each time I go to French country markets I’m transfixed by them, bewitched by the hive of activity and the hustle and bustle of it all. So while in the region we can’t resist a making a side trip to the best and biggest regional market at Lezignan Corbieres. Traffic’s bad, parking near impossible, roads in chaos but once you find a spot it’s all worth it. All manner of produce you can imagine, stands filled with a vast array of produce, great big barrels of olives of every size ,type and flavour imaginable, dried and candied fruit, and of course the usual suspects fish, poultry, meats, dried sausage, fruit & veg of course, cheeses by the score and strawberries galore, it’s just the most fabulous assault on all your senses …..few markets in the world can compete with places such as this and we never tire of them.
Ballasting the Barge……Moving right along with short stops in Ventanac where there’s more clouds, more rain and more low temperatures as the mercury drops to 10 C we’re asking ourselves if we’ll ever get some decent weather. It’s mid- May when we pull into Le Somail, catching up with our friend and restaurateur Thierry at ‘L’O a la Bouche’ greeting us like long lost relatives. Avoiding the large spaces marked out for hotel and passenger boats we moor up outside the restaurant but not before some heavy pruning of fig trees and brambles leaving me mauled and looking like a human pincushion from the bramble spikes I’d collected regardless of how carefully I tried to avoid them leaving me wondering just who was pruning who. I make a mental note to buy long handled pruning shears at first opportunity!
Like so many places along the canal du Midi Le Somail has now lost all the beautiful plane trees that once graced the canal banks on the approaches to this pretty village and while new plantings have begun, it will be a long time before the gaping wounds heal, never the less there remain attractions making this a worthwhile stopover, like the ancient chapel, the centuries old ice house and of course the well renowned book store with over 50,000 titles just waiting for you to spend a lifetime perusing! It’s even recorded that 3rd US President Thomas Jefferson spent a night here during his travels through the region back in 1787 when then a minister to France and well know Francophile. It’s reported that he travelled widely in France loving every minute of it and keeping extensive notes with observations on everything from Roman antiquities to the price of dung!
I can’t help thinking about the strange juxtaposition that exists between the then emissary and later 3rd and revered President of the United States, (Thomas Jefferson) some 231 years ago, and how times have changed with the dung now no longer residing on French soil but emanating from the other side of the Atlantic where price is no longer an object and the volume of dung from today’s Whitehouse increasingly copious……. just a thought.
Returning to Le Somail also provided the perfect opportunity to visit nearby and favourite regional vineyard ‘Chateau Fontareche’ with its ever genial host, Director and oenologue Vincent Dubernet, a wine maker of great talent and as passionate about his product as you’ll find anywhere. We’ve been buying great wines from him for five years now and the wines, red white and rose are as good as ever. We’re indebted to English travel writer and wine buff Hilary Wright who’s book ‘Water into Wine” first alerted us to the fermented delights of this 5 generations old family vineyard several years ago.
Ballasting of course, as every bargee worth his salt knows, is an essential way to help keep it level and compensate for loads carried, and while literally a moving feast in this case, all be it a rapidly diminishing one, I can’t think of a better way to ballast a barge! ( Ok, so just in case there are pedantic tech heads out there we don’t actually use wine for ballast we use iron plates!).
Fine Feasting at the Auberge de la Croisade……. It’s just not possible to go past the Auberge de la Croisade without stopping for lunch, dinner or if feeling totally piggy both! Excellent food, probably the best along the canal du Midi along with host Bruno’s bubbly warm welcome ensures as perfect an experience as you’ll find anywhere seated under the shady mulberry treed terrace. The setting right next to the canal is perfect and on this occasion we’re treated to some spectacular thunderstorms and brooding skies, luckily the restaurant is only a few metres away, barely enough time to get wet.
This trip we managed to indulge ourselves three times in less than as many weeks and each time as good as the last. Following the strategy of former barge buddies and keen noshers Graham and Linda Barley, we find a good restaurant, moor up as close as we can, remaining as long as we can while working our way through the menu before heading off again in search of the next venue!
Our first assault on the menu came courtesy of Canadian pen pal and would be barge owners Jonathan Shanks and his partner Jeannie, who kindly shouted us a delicious lunch before blasting off to Carcassonne and beyond. For some odd reason there’s no picture record of this event so I can only conclude that the camera took a back seat to the food!
Next day saw the arrival of my old infants, primary and Grammar School friend Judith Fleming and her German husband Klem, both of whom had cruised with us before in Burgundy last year, so now was a new region and new experiences, hopefully good ones! As they weren’t arriving until later in the day it seemed a bit of a waste not to have a wee lunch for just the two of us before we raced of to Beziers to collect them…..marvellous!
Flemings Afloat, The German Occupation & Acceptable Peace Offerings…….Despite months of SNCF rail strikes Judith and Klem arrived bang on time with German precision, and, whisking them away it wasn’t long before the first bubbles were headed south and the rose bottles un-corked. Judith and Klem as ever the perfect guests, ok I have to say that on account of the absolutely ginormous, humungous and vast bag of chocolate they brought with them. It seemed a pity to have to have them sign a confidentiality agreement not to disclose to Evelyn that not only had they brought the huge stash but that they had no knowledge of where I’d hidden it, and I needed to take a closer look and examine the fat bag’s contents.
Pigasse Bridge – Time for some Humility or Humilitation Revisited! ……As a semi- permanent cruising community we often rag the hire boaters out there, and I’m as guilty as the next person on occasions but the truth is they’re the life blood of many canals as the fees those hire boat companies pay to the waterways authorities are substantial and contribute to the upkeep of the waterways as well as supporting many canal -side communities and their commerces. While many of us believe that there’s not sufficient training provided and on occasions we see poor behaviour exhibited, for the most part it’s just a bunch of friends and family having a whale of a time trying their best to master in a week what takes the rest of us many months and years to get a grip of. It’s also worth noting that many of us, my wife and I included, who now enjoy this amazing lifestyle, got our first taste of it renting hire boats. Which brings me rather conveniently to the Pigasse bridge, which we’ve passed through at least five times now and I can’t help recalling that very first and totally disastrous time back in 2007.
We’d hired a steel Euroclassic barge in Capestang headed for Carcassonne and back in a week with Sydney friends Moon and Sally ..…….our first mistake, no, no, the mistake wasn’t going with Moon and Sal, it was trying to do the trip in just a week. Blame it on poor training, inexperience, not paying enough attention, whatever, but regardless of excuses there we were out on our first full day on the vessel which we’d dubbed ‘Miss Piggy’ on account of its porcine steering qualities, something akin to steering a multi tonne bar of soap on ice. We’d set off cruising on what would be the pre-cursor to a life changing experience for Evey and me. So, back to the Pigasse bridge, well as I said Miss Piggy was indeed quite porcine when it came to keeping it in a straight line and everyone of us who’d taken a stint at the helm managed to put the vessel sideways across the canal sooner or later..….lucky for the other sods on the boat it happened to them without causing grief to other boat users and without an audience of onlookers………not so for me! I still cringe when I think of the moment I decided to apply the brakes (engage reverse gear) and re-align before going through the bridge, at this point any vestiges of training instruction went soaring out of the window as the vessel slipped perfectly sideways across the canal slap dab in front of the bridge entrance and simultaneously running aground …..bloody brilliant. It was at this point that the misguided notion that, well, things could be worse proved to be just that, misguided as things were about to get progressively worse. The first of four other hire boats appeared from around the bend headed in the same direction as we were and ground to a halt, presumably to get ring side seats and watch the show as it was pretty clear none were coming to my rescue. As the heady cocktail of emotions swirled around my head oscillating somewhere between, embarrassment, anxiety, panic and frustration the first of two other vessels appeared on the other side of the bridge and also ground to a halt. Where was my trusty crew mates at this time you might well ask, and why not, it was a question I was asking myself as they’d all disappeared leaving me perched on the deck by the wheel like some clueless shag on a rock. Adding fuel to the flames of my frustration was a local French family in an adjacent cottage enjoying a pleasant Sunday lunch, but it wasn’t long before their free entertainment turned into a stream of vitriolic abuse aimed squarely in my direction as my lack of expertise was pointed out to me. It was at this point something snapped, no not on the boat but within me and as my French is pretty good I returned fire with appropriate expletives and the message that if the lunchers had some positive suggestions to assist me to extricate myself from the position I was in the I’d happily entertain them otherwise would they kindly go forth and multiply!!!
To my delight and relief the abuse changed to something more practical and after some further toing and froing I was free and on my way once more along with the rest of the crew who’d suddenly re-appeared!
All very amusing in hindsight but also a useful reminder that we all have to start somewhere and in the beginning little of this boating malarkey is intuitive or necessarily simple so maybe we should cut a bit more slack with our hire boating cousins. ( Doubtless I’ll change my mind the next time one comes flying around a bend at full tilt on the wrong side and in the hands of an unsupervised child!!!).
Needless to say this year’s passage went without incident but then it would wouldn’t it, after all there was no audience and no hire boats insight !
Capestang loses the Plot ……..It’s either a highlight or a serious challenge, probably both but the arrival or departure from Capestang inevitably means passing through what is often claimed as the lowest and trickiest bridge on the Canal du Midi, in actual fact there are other bridges that are a smidge lower but they don’t all have the slightly twisted arch that bears the many scars of those unwary boaters that have passed beneath it without sufficient care. We’ve visited Capestang many times before but sadly this time we’ve elected to vote wit out feet and moor elsewhere as the fees have escalated to the point of being well out of order. It’s not that we’re against paying for moorings, far from it, in fact we welcome it if it provides good access and services but it’s got to be at a fair and reasonable price. Sadly Capestang has lost the plot and port fees now are bordering on usurious with vessels over 23.99 metres being charged €50 a night, hang on a minute guys this is Capestang in the Languedoc not Amsterdam or Paris. We, like an increasing number of barge owners are now voting with their feet, staying away, refusing to be ripped off especially when we’re spending money in the town supporting local businesses. It’s a pity as we’ve always like Capestang but there are limits, so we move on to other smaller places like the totally charming Poilhes a mere 5 kms further on but not before Evey and Judith have a chance to climb the unfinished cathedrals tower for a look at the districts views and I have time for a serious afternoon siesta!
The Quiet Charm of Poilhes…….Having scorned Capestang the quiet backwater of Poilhes had a few surprises in store, and while moorings were less plentiful than Capestang, there was enough room for us which was fine and in keeping with previous strategies was only a few metres from what turned out to be an outstanding restaurant right next to the quay, and exactly where I like them to be I might add! With Judith and Klem in tow we booked ourselves in for an excellent dinner.
It turns out that a regional artisanal brewer has a distribution outlet here as well, so me and my (sic) German beer buddy Klem made a beeline for the shed and proceeded to a) Pretend we knew what we were talking about and b) hoover up as much of the free sampling as we could persuade them to part with before parting with hard cash! We’ve no idea what Evelyn and Judith got up to during that time but let’s face it, beer is beer and must be investigated.
The Birthday girl, 97 and Not Out…….It might seem a bit daft to some folk but pet owners are as obsessed about their fur friend’s age as the rest of us and so our visit to Poilhes coincided on 22nd May with our sole surviving brown Burmese cat, Patcha’s 20th birthdays. For those curious enough to wonder what that is in human terms the best estimate is 97, and that’s a ripe old age in anyone’s language. We’re not sure how long we’ll have her beyond this point, she’s rather wobbly in her back axle, her eyesight is pretty well shot now though somehow she manages a circuit between bathroom, cat bed, our bed and the food and water. She’s on daily drugs for ailing kidneys and high blood pressure but for all that she’s as affectionate as she ever was and likes nothing more than close human contact and a chin rub, and for some strange feline reason has taken to rubbing her face and front fangs into my nose in the morning as a token of affection or at least that’s how I interpret it. So the birthday girl got a tuna treat complete with a candle even though it’s not on her diet and we all got to wear party hats.
Features & Fonserannes ……….Well, Ok, so not all these features are at Fonserannes but en route Fonserannes or just past Fonserannes is pretty close enough in my book. We’re heading to Beziers with Judith and Klem on board with a raft of canal engineering features along the way as our journey continues from Poilhes. The first is the Malpas tunnel which at only 173 metres might not seem at first blush to be all that noteworthy, however what is noteworthy is that it was excavated in 1679 under the hill d’Ensérune in Hérault, allowing for the passage of the Canal du Midi. It was also notably Europe’s first navigable canal tunnel and thus a monument to the determination of Pierre-Paul Riquet, the chief engineer of the Canal du Midi.
Next is the 7 lock flight at Fonserannes just outside Beziers and made up of eight ovoid-shaped (typical of the Canal du Midi) lock chambers and nine gates, allowing boats to be raised or lowered a height of 21.5 m (71 ft) over a distance of just 300 m (980 ft). The flight was originally built as an 8 lock rise, however, in 1858 an aqueduct was built to replace the crossing of the Orb river. Boats now enter and leave the lower end of the flight through the side of chamber seven, which is permanently kept at its upper water level. The flight is therefore effectively made up of only six locks now. The lower gates of the seventh chamber are now permanently closed; the eighth chamber and the ninth lock, the pre-1858 route descending to the Orb, are disused.
The final feature of the day was the pont canal or aqueduct referred to earlier and which crossed the Orb river with spectacular view to the Cathedral St Nazaire perched high over the town and surrounding countryside……aren’t they all !!
Villeneuve les Beziers ……It’s the 23rd May and while the journey from Poilhes takes a full five hours and seems a long way, it’s in fact only 20 kms as the crow flies or in my case as the bike rides as I need to head back and collect the car. We’ve always liked stopping over in Villeneuve le Beziers even though mooring is often hard to find and woefully inadequate but delving a bit deeper we discover there’s little interest in attracting visiting boats from the local Mairie as the town is quite well off deriving it’s revenues from the many commercial and industrial properties within it’s bounds, so no need to for a welcome mat for the likes of us. Local shop keepers and restaurateurs may have a different view on the other hand as we patronise both regularly.
Our arrival into Villeneuve passes through pretty sections with shady plane trees but we’re slowed up close to our destination as we pass the salvage and clean up barges and the tragic sight of a totally burnt out hire boat, that caught fire just after leaving the lock, totally destroyed in about fifteen to twenty minutes, the crew were incredibly lucky to have survived.
It’s Judith and Klem’s last few days with us so it’s time for a jolly and we buzz off to Narbonne for a day trip, we’ll return here later with other visitors and again with the barge for a week but this day trip means another chance to roam the fabulous indoor market and checkout the renovated port that sits slap dab in the centre of town.
Looking Cool or Just Plain Frozen…….Sitting in the wheelhouse moored up on the quay in Villeneuve le Bezier is the perfect place for watching the hire boats come and go through the locks and later in the afternoon the antics while trying to tie up on the waiting quay. Anyway late one afternoon it was a tad on the chilly side with a cool breeze blowing which had me wondering what it was that made men of a certain age and with a physique long past it’s glory days, feel the need to strip off to the waist in anything less than perfect conditions, the picture completed with sunglasses donned on a cloudy and rather cool evening. Clearly I was missing something, but Judith, a diligent student of human behaviour had it sussed immediately and ventured that it had little to do with personal comfort and more to do with a desire to look cool. From where I sat looking at their goosebumps I’d say they’d achieved it as they looked positively frozen! People watching can be so entertaining I pondered in my toasty sweat shirt while returning to my bloody Mary.
The Round Locks of Agde………Farewells to Judith and Klem mean it’s time to head onto our final destination in this direction at Marseillan. The trip is about 27 kms but with only three locks we’ll get there in about five and a half hours passing through some pretty countryside, vineyards and of course the famed round locks at Agde. Before reaching the Agde locks there’s yet another strange engineering structure that controls passage through the River Libron. With low lying land all round it wasn’t possible to construct an aqueduct over the river so a series of flood gates were installed to hold back the river from the canal in times of flood.
Eventually we’re at the Agde locks along with a number of hire boats queuing up to pass through as well. The locks are unusual in that not only are they very large and round, but also because they have three entries or exits allowing vessels to continue passage along the Canal du Midi or drop down onto the River Herault and access the sea.
From Agde it’s a short run to the end of the Canal du Midi (or the start if coming from the east). The canal from the last locks at Bagnas is filled with brackish waters since it flows into the Etang de Thau so we’re mindful not to water the plants on board with canal water which would of course ensure a speedy end to their existence, flip side of that is that I wouldn’t have to scrub the fallen and stained petals of the decks every other day, flip side of that is I’d have to deal with an enraged gardening wife …..better stick to fresh water then! The banks are littered with all manner of craft and more than a passing number of wrecks abandoned and left to rot where they lie, not the most attractive or welcoming sight to such a world heritage listed structure as the Canal du Midi!
Magical Marseillan Catch of the day …. It’s barely a kilometer or so from the exit of the Canal du Midi across the Etang and past the start of the oyster beds, the harbour master at Marseillan directs us to a mooring just inside the breakwater, the other outside mooring’s already occupied by ‘Athos’ a 30 meter hotel barge waiting for their next passengers and as they only accept two barges at a time in the small port we’re lucky to get a berth. As it is we have a great mooring and with our stern jutting out into the entrance we have a wonderful view out across the Etang. At the end of the quay we’re a source of constant interest from curious passersby drawn like bees to a flowers nectar by Evelyn’s brilliant show of flowers, cameras click, hands wave and compliments flow, it’s hard not to feel a degree of pride in it all.
Marseillan sits on the Etang de Thau, it’s a vast shallow water lagoon over 17 kms long filled with brackish waters who’s primary activity is the cultivation of oysters and mussels that grow quickly in the warm waters. It’s reported that these waters produce over 20,000 tons of the molluscs each year.
The port setting lined on both sides by cafes and restaurants and town itself are both totally charming and we’re able to enjoy it all over the week’s visit despite some windy days and regular rain showers.
Oyster and Moules fest …..It will come as little surprise to most that one of the primary reasons for being here apart from the gorgeous location, is the drawcard of local food, namely the oysters and mussels. Evey had set herself the rather ambitious goal of eating her body weight in oysters and it seemed for while there that she was giving the challenge a red hot go, I on the other hand being the man of moderation and modesty, managed to control my mussel consumption, which was no small feat given how utterly delicious they were when prepared in the local fashion ‘brasucade’ which is a regional tradition along the borders of the Etang. Countless recipes exist but the basic principle of the brasucade is to cook the mussels in a large paella pan, on a vine stock roots or barbecue, and to sprinkle them with herb marinated olive oil, commonly rosemary, thyme, tarragon, salt, black pepper and flat leaf parsley, some suggest olive oil from Provence but there are just as good oils produced here in the Languedoc and I’ve seen recipes where red peppers (capsicum) are also added along with a splash of pastis! Whatever the preferred variants are they’re all delicious and the jus mopped up with some local crusty bread, and crispy regional Picpoul de Pinet white wine seals the deal and best of all savouring all this at the Etang side producers no frills, make shift eateries which line the shore is as cheap as chips, and as fresh as it ever gets………..such a treat.
Leaving after one such oyster and moules fest we bought a kilo of pelourdes from one producer, a sort of clam which makes the basis for a fabulous pasta dish when combined with fresh leaf parsley, garlic, olive oil and a hint of chili, grab a bottle of chilled white wine and you’d think you’d died and gone to heaven.
Talking of heavenly, and while still on the subject of matters foodie, the local bakery by the port serves up an excellent baguette but of special interest to me are the bite sized fruit tartlets, custard on the pastry base and topped with all sorts of fresh fruit…..strawberries, raspberries are among my favourites but also medleys of mixed fruit. These bite sized treats are just the right size that with a small amount of effort I can cram one into my mouth in one go and savour the explosion of taste and texture…..sublime, so much so that my stay In Marseillan is punctuated by a daily trek to the pastry counter.
All that remains now, is to await the arrival of our next visitors, John and Chrissie Randle all the way from Sydney who’ll spend a week cruising with us from one canal side restaurant to another as we start our journey slowly back westwards including a short side excursion to Narbonne and the coast, but all that is for June.