Cruising the Camargue on a Yacht Charter Vacation
The black pearl of the Med
Aug. 12, 2006 10:00 AM
arrived in Aigues-Mortes, a medieval walled Crusader town whose
ramparts today are as robust as ever they were. The town sits stranded
nearly four miles from the sea. It was built by Louis IX as a port and
remains a symbol of human obstinacy because it was clearly silted up
before it was ever completed and, despite it being the salt capital of
the Camargue, became a virtual backwater almost as soon as it was
completed. It is perhaps because of this that the town is so perfectly
intact today. Henry James writing 100 years ago said the town was
hardly alive but was neatly embalmed. I doubt he would say that today
as 130,000 tourists flock there each year. They come to do as we did,
walk the near mile of solid stone ramparts that surround the town that
is dominated by the Tour Constance, which was the original ports
lighthouse and subsequently served as a prison, which is not surprising
given that its walls are up to 20 feet thick. That evening we ate
under the stars, taking dinner at one of the many restaurants that fill
the town square. Next morning, Sunday, it was market day and we took
full advantage of the edible goodies on sale, walking back to the boat
with our newly purchased baskets bursting at the seams.
scenery changed again and the canal passed through stonewall banks with
water either side of the walls. It was here that the waterway runs
parallel with the sea and at one point, close to the Abbey de
Maguelonne we stopped for lunch, mooring alongside the towpath and
taking our bicycles to the beach and abbey. That evening with what can
only be described by the skipper as immaculate planning and by his crew
as a sheer fluke, we arrived in Frontignan just as the bridge made the
last of its three daily openings, and passed into the town made famous
by producing 2 million bottles of Muscat, the sweet wine, every year.
after leaving town the next day we left the Canal du Rhône à Sète and
entered the Etang. This shallow sea lake is heavily farmed by
oystermen, producing tons of the shelled aphrodisiac in numbers to
equal the production of northern France. We visited the ports of Mèze
and Marseillan, choosing to spend the night in the latter. It is here
that Noilly Prat, the vermouth, is made and the factory offers a
fascinating tour of inspection where guides explain the complex,
time-consuming process behind the mixing and blending that goes on to
produce the quintessential aperitif. We feasted on local oysters that
night and I have an observation to make to would-be oyster openers:
potato peelers are poor substitutes for a proper oyster knife! We also
enjoyed La Tielle, or squid pie, a local specialty made with bread
dough filled with baby octopus in a spicy tomato sauce, which was quite
It did not take very long the next day for us to
cross the final stretch of lake and enter the Canal du Midi or Riquets
Ditch, as the less reverend tend to call it. Our trip would take us
along the canal through the vineyards of Langudoc towards Homps, but
that is another story for another issue.
our crew, the highpoints of the trip included our visit to
Aigues-Mortes, the historic sights, and the Sunday open market. The
wildlife of the Camargue was outstanding with the horses, cattle, and
pretty flamingos. Because we are foodies, we adored the markets
selling local produce and particularly enjoyed our tour of the Noilly
Pratt factory in Marseillan. Will we be back? Most certainly, I can
think of no better way of combining the love of boating with the sheer
joy of walking in the countryside and eating and drinking its produce.
It is the perfect family holiday and I would recommend it and
Connoisseur, the company that runs the boats so well, to everyone.
More Information: The Camargue
bases are conviently located within a reasonable distance from an
airport. Nimes Montepellier and Perpignan are all served by budget
airlines operating out of the UK. Marseilles is served by Air France
and British Airways. There are smaller airports at Béziers and
- Charter Costs
trip took place in May when the cost of this boat was priced at €2365
for a week. It rises to €3700 per week at the height of the season.
The only boat based extras is the cost of the fuel and this is charged
at €6 per hour of engine time used and deducted from the fuel deposit
paid at time of taking the boat. In ten days we clocked up 42 hours of
use. A one way supplement of €100 is charged and both base car parking
and hire of bicycles must be allowed for if required. Marinas charge
very little, seldom more than €25 per night and generally include water
and electricity, but truthfully many ports are free as is the towpath.
Why pay if you do not need to?
- Charts, Pilots & Guides
is a guidebook on board each boat, which truthfully is a little out of
date, still quoting, for example, marina fees in Francs long after the
euro became the currency of France. We used the much lauded multi
lingual Midi Camargue Waterway Guide published in France by Éditions du
Breil available on the internet, in better nautical bookshops or direct
from Connosisseur at time of booking. My advice is to buy it as early
it is a perfect planning tool and invaluable if you want to get the
most out of the holiday trip.
little is needed and what there can will be handled by the base staff
who know all the ropes and hand it all over at the time of the boat
briefing. If using credit cards in France it is sometimes useful to
carry a photo ID.
was very pleasant in early May and whilst we confess we did not utilise
the air conditioning we own up to firing up the webasto central heating
on a couple of damp evenings. With the heat of the summer time will
come crowds, more boats and longer passage times!