Sunday, January 13, 2019

Canal Rhone a Sete


We were reluctant to leave Avignon but as we are only meant to stay a month and we had lots of places to see, we decided to "hit the road" and continue our journey down the Rhone and onto the Petit Rhone. While we had been sitting in Avignon there had been thunderstorms and torrential rain on many days. This meant that the river was flowing a lot faster than when we arrived. As we came out of the side arm onto the main river we were swept along at a cracking pace. Heading towards the lock at Beaucaire, with the engine in neutral, we were reaching speeds of 16kph. Fortunately as we steered towards the lock itself the current slowed down and we were able to moor on the Plaisanciers pontoon while the lock was being prepared. The next hurdle was the railway bridge at Tarascon - not such a problem if you're going downstream but the water does swirl and eddy a lot and can cause a few problems for boats heading upstream. As the river was flowing so fast there were no boats going upstream - many were biding their time in Aigues Mortes or Bellegarde.
I think we'll let him go first
Tarascon Chateau
Colourful "lock rash" on the walls of the lock
Shortly after passing under the railway bridge we turned into the Petit Rhone, a sidearm of the Rhone, and almost came to a standstill. Not long after, we entered the Canal Rhone a Sete and headed for our next destination of Aigues Mortes. This section parallels the Mediterranean coast and myriad salt lakes and is home to many flamingoes (and mosquitoes). Over the years, the banks of the canal have been eroded by boats moving faster than the recommended 8 kph, so it has become more difficult to discern where the canal ends and the salt lakes start.
Where does the canal end and the salt lake start?
Some of the flamingoes in the Camargue region 
Aigues Mortes was our next destination, an evocative templar knight's walled town. We managed to secure a berth here in the commercial port for 5 nights, having to leave due to the arrival of a hotel barge. We had been here a few times before by car but it is still a great place to stay and sample the fresh seafood and walk along the canal towards the Mediterranean.
moored at the commercial port in Agues Mortes
main plaza and restaurant precinct
Inside the town walls in Aigues Mortes

After leaving Aigues Mortes we headed west again towards Frontignan and, ultimately, Sete, at the entrance to the Etang du Thau. We stayed at Frontignan for 4 nights firstly on one side of the lifting bridge for 1 night then on the west side for 3 nights. Due to the age and fragility of the bridge it is only lifted twice a day to allow passage for all boats in either direction. It is a bit like a bun fight with boats jostling for position to get under the bridge and secure a mooring on the other side.
Canal at Frontignan
Traditional fishing boats in Sete
Seafood platter for lunch in Sete
While in Frontignan we caught the bus (there was a train strike so it was easier to catch the bus) to Sete to take in the sights and taste the delicious tielles that the town is famous for. These pastries are a tomato and squid concoction that will have you coming back for more.
Market Sete
Lovely fresh seafood
Our final cruise before we headed to the Canal du Midi was across the Etang du Thau to Marseillan. It's important to make sure the weather and winds are favourable as the Etang can become quite rough and if you break down it's a €450 tow back to a harbour. We departed Frontignan on a still Friday morning before 7am and had a pleasant and uneventful cruise across the Etang to Marseillan.
The end of the canal Rhone a Sete and the start of the Etang
There are many mussel and oyster farms on the etang
Entrance to the port at Marseillan
We had planned on staying here for several days but unfortunately places are limited for barges our size and a hotel barge was due in. We did have some friends staying in Marseillan harbour so we decided to cruise across to Marseillan and say hello to them from outside. When the harbour master saw us hovering on the outside he invited us in provided we departed by lunchtime. This gave us the opportunity to catch up with David and Evie on l'Escapade for coffee in town and then a very quick visit to the Noilly Prat factory to purchase a bottle of their famous vermouth.
Marseillan harbour is surrounded by many restaurants and cafes
Stills at Noilly Prat
Purchase of Vermouth
our last view of l'Escapade for the time being
While I was doing this Kevin had received permission from the harbour master to fly his drone over the port. He managed to take a great movie showing the size of the lake highlighting the beautiful surrounds. It was then time to head off to the UNESCO world heritage listed Canal du Midi.

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