Saturday, January 18, 2014

Endless beach and fishing fleet of Grau-du-Roi

Our day started with a bracing walk along a beautiful long beach that stretched as far as the eye could see. Behind us, protected by fencing, were sand dunes inhabited by many kinds of plants. We walked as far as three small vans with open rear doors. It was a little odd since no one was around except for a golden retriever asleep in the back of one of the vans. It did manage to wake up and lift it's head to give us the once over but that was it. It didn't even bother to bark.

From a distance we could see the huge mountains of Camargue salt that had been gathered from the salt plains. We wanted to go on a tour of the salt plains but we will have to come back in June for that. Not discouraged, we drove nearer the salt pans on country roads seeing a number of ponds where the salt was drying. One was a beautiful rose colour. These salt plains are a feature of the lower Camargue. In fact, their salt content is so high that only a few plant species can survive; however invertebrates thrive making this an important source of food for the flamingoes.

We drove along the coast to the little town Le Grau-du-Roi amid the water and earth tangle of lagoons, salt pans and marshes. In recent years Le Grau has become one of Europe's biggest pleasure ports.

Should you need cultural justification, well, Ernest Hemingway was here in 1927, and again in 1948. “This is,” he wrote to a friend, “a fine place… with a long beach and fine fishing port.” The fishing port remains, the second most important on the French Mediterranean. We wandered up one side of the channel, while an assortment of trawlers chugged up and down the main channel which splits the town in two. Although most shops were closed, the quayside was a scrum of tackle, nets, ropes and restaurant terraces.

Le Grau has evolved since Hemingway’s time. We were happy to stroll around the pedestrian streets with their shops selling ices, pizzas and waffles because it was so quiet. I can only imagine what it is like in the summer with the smell of cooking, diesel and fish all being helped along by the heat and masses of humanity.

We had lunch in the terrace of a restaurant overlooking the channel. It was a lovely spot, where we could see the fishing boats arriving and unloading their catch of the day. As we waited for our food we were entertained by a gull trying to move a fish that was as large as it was out of the water. It did get it out eventually. There were lots of mallards cruising around bobbing their heads trolling for lunch.

Our lunch was perfect. We started with a salad topped with goat cheese toasties followed by a fish brochette with mixed vegetables and frites and accompanied by some local pale rose. All this was topped off with a ristretto, which is a very short espresso. Simple but delicious food.

Once again we drove through the ponds and lagoons that communicate with the sea via sluice gates. The cultivated land is used to grow rice with water from the Rhone that desalinates the soil to a certain depth. The fields are flooded in April and allowed to dry out in September for the harvest.

Back in Aigues-Mort we visited a shop that sold tablecloths. So far we hadn't had luck finding a tablecloth the size we wanted. We were in luck! The shop owner had us pick out a fabric we liked and told us to come back in half an hour to pick up our tablecloth, which we did. Now that's service.

Our day ended in an Indian restaurant. This does sound a little odd to be eating Indian in France but for us it was a treat as we never see Indian food. In fact the owner had lived in Seattle for a number of years. The raita, naam bread, veggie samosas, chicken masala and chai tea were very much appreciated by us. A good ending to another birthday.

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