Provence offers nature, beautiful villages, Roman ruins and the footprints of Van Gogh

River cruises are a unique way to enjoy the great rivers of the world in small boats, for no more than 200 passengers, but with great detail on board, among others, haute cuisine and the best wines. The company CroisiEurope, European leader in this type of voyages with more than 55 boats and increasing every year, allows to cross rivers like the Danube, the Rhine, the Seine, the Rhone, the Loire, the Volga, the Duero, the Guadalquivir and many more in Europe and, recently, also others in different continents, such as the Chobe River, Lake Kariba and in the most beautiful meanders of Southern Africa, the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario in Canada or the Mekong Delta in Vietnam and Cambodia.

The last thing the company proposes are small tours of some of the French channels aboard “peniches”, barges of only ten cabins, but with luxury service and attention. A different luxury than usual. The cabins are small, with two beds of 70 centimeters, bathroom with shower, TV and air conditioning, the living room is also small with a small armchairs and tables, the best is the terrace that even has a jacuzzi, the deck with sunbeds and, of course , the dining room, with just six tables but with a magnificent chef in the kitchen who creates works of culinary art, in this case, nothing small, accompanied by excellent French wines and open bar throughout the cruise.

And the luxury also of feeling unique sailing inside that jacuzzi, or savoring a gin and tonic on the terrace, reading a book and sunbathing on the deck or chatting with the other few passengers, while parading the fields and villages of the interior, the lagoons that host pelicans, herons and a host of migratory birds, hills and green pastures, refreshing forests and countryside, farmhouses and small palaces that stand on the banks.

The proposals of CroisiEurope focus on the channels near Loire, Provence, Marne, Doubs, Rhine, Rhone and Burgundy. All of them are usually seven days and all excursions are free. In addition to all meals and drinks on board, dinner and gala evening, welcome cocktail, free Wi-Fi on board, insurance assistance / repatriation and port taxes are included. There are also bicycles on board in case one wants to know the places of the stopovers on their own. The six members of the crew ensure an attention to detail, which makes these cruises an exceptional option to enjoy a cruise of great cultural value with total privacy.

From the city of Paul Valery to that of Van Gogh

Although nature, wildlife, good gastronomy, charming villages and peaceful landscapes abound along the canals of Provence, culture is also possible. The route chosen in this region, will take us from Sète, the hometown of the poet Paul Valéry and singer-songwriter Georges Brassens to one of the residences for almost two years of the painter Van Gogh and where he lost his ear in Arles, where his classmates also attended Picasso and Gauguin.

After its port aspect and its streets full of life, its kilometers long beaches, more than 12 kilometers in a protected park, and its centennial canals bordered by sports boats, Sète hides a fascinating city and very different from its neighbors in the south. of France. Its origin dates back to 1666, when the ?? Sun King ?? Louis XIV of France dictated that the Canal du Midi that would unite the Atlantic with the Mediterranean, saving goods and passengers bordering the Iberian Peninsula, should die at the foot of Mount Saint-Clair, 183 meters high and symbol of the city, after crossing the calm waters of the lagoon of Thau.

Called the ?? French Venice ?? for its many channels, curiously Sète had as its first inhabitants Italian fishermen who arrived attracted by fishing and gave it a Latin touch that still permeates its narrowest and steepest streets. Sète is today a fishing port of the first order, the most important in the Mediterranean, as evidenced by its large fish market and the huge tuna boats that rest on the Royal Canal after returning every afternoon to fish. They bring blue and white fish from the sea, while oysters and mussels come from the lagoon of Thau, mainly; so both the city market and its restaurants offer an excellent selection of this fresh product, turning Sète into a true paradise for those who know how to appreciate the cuisine based on fish and seafood. Without forgetting the characteristic tielles, tasty pancakes typical of the region, stuffed with spicy octopus and other condiments that can be accompanied with any of the excellent wines of the Languedoc-Roussillon region.

After the first night on board, with welcome cocktail, presentation of the crew and dinner, and after knowing the next day the oyster culture in the lagoon of Thau, and having a tasting of oysters and mussels, in the afternoon it is done an excursion to Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, one of the most beautiful villages in France, in a wild and preserved natural environment, with beautiful and steep alleys, the so-called Puente del Diablo, the beautiful and lively central square, in the shade of a giant banana, which serves as the entrance to the beautiful Romanesque abbey church of Gellone.

Relax on board and visits on land

And the navigation begins. The plan is every day the same, succulent breakfast, quiet ride on the barge in the morning, gastronomic food with good wines and visits in the afternoon. On the third day you will reach Palavas-Les-Flots, the capital of the Camargue, a region characterized by its herds of horses, which are born brown and grow white, and above all by their bulls, blacks and the lyre-shaped horns, dating back to Roman times, with which a sort of bullfight is practiced, here called the Camargue race, in which the young raseteurs challenge the bulls to try to remove their rosettes, tassels and cords that have been hooked to their horns. It is a luck similar to the cuts that are held in some Spanish towns, but perhaps more dangerous because not only have to avoid the bull but get close to their horns, remove the ornaments and then run and jump the barrier, that the bull often jumps too. The animals, in addition, are very bad because they do these actions for 5 to 8 years. Yes, in Camargue they are never killed in the sand, although their meat has even Designation of Origin.

New navigation morning through the Rhone to Sète canal, crossing the Natural Park of the Camargue, land of marshes, wonderful natural reserve of 85,000 hectares where the richest and most picturesque fauna and flora of Europe abound. This channel is a certain prolongation of the famous Canal du Midi, declared World Heritage by UNESCO in 1996.

One of the luxuries of this cruise is, once again, the reunion with calm, with nature, with simple things. It’s time to forget the usual rush, the noise of the city, the crowds. It is time to listen to the silence, to observe the reflections of the water, to relax watching the slow passage of the banks in which some fishermen try to get lunch with small fish, while some heron digs in search of worms. In the distance you can see fields of lavender, the most genuine image of Provence, cereal plantations, vines and olive trees. Occasionally you can see gannets flying in long formations, with black brushstrokes on the yellow neck, gulls of snowy breasts and blackened cloaks, which throw noisy cries, small petrels and ducks that splash on the surface of the water with webbed feet. The slow navigation is only slightly interrupted by the crossing of other barges or the passage of the locks.

Another luxury and pleasure, without a doubt, is the gastronomy that is served on board, which is surprising given the small size of the kitchen. As in all CroisiEurope cruises, this is one of its highlights, with the company of exceptional chefs who prepare splendid meals prepared with care, patience and talent. From the starter to the dessert, always including a selection of French cheeses, they get refined menus, which perfectly combine region, freshness and novelty. Without forgetting, of course, the tasting of wines selected by Serge Dubs, the best awarded sommelier in the world in 1989.

At the end of the road, await the fortified city of Aigues Mortes with a tumultuous history and multiple excursions that remind us that its destiny was to be a war harbor directed towards the sea. Its name comes from the Latin Aquoe Mortuoe and refers to the time when the city did not exist yet and were only found in the marshes and swamps area. To protect the city a great tower was built that could house a garrison and also served as a lighthouse, the Constant Tour, the main icon of the town, and then the entire defense system that contains the old city with its 1,634 meters of walls, its fortified gates, its twenty towers and its round path. From this port the 1248 crusades with King San Luis in front and 1270 departed. Although the delicious food offered by the ship and the freedom to choose any drink makes it unnecessary, the streets and squares of Aigues Mortes, always animated, It is a good place to stop and have a snack.

But you also have to find a moment to visit the enormous salt pans that reach the foot of the walls and occupy 18 kilometers long by more than 13 wide. There you get the famous flower of Camargue salt. This is one of the favorite places of the flamingos, which abound in hundreds, because the brine shrimp, a kind of shrimp or small shrimp responsible for the pink color of the flamingo’s plumage, breeds among its waters. Also the salt lagoons turn red sometimes creating a unique show.

Already in the last days of travel, perhaps the most attractive places arrive. While the mornings are dedicated as always to slow navigation, often in parallel with the rice plantations that form extensive lagoons and produce another of the rich delicacies of this land, the Camargue rice, in the afternoons, after the succulent lunch, there is interesting visits One of them is the charming town of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, a summer fishing village and a place of pilgrimage for the gypsies who venerate the black virgin Sara, companion of the two Marías who were the first witnesses of the resurrection of Christ; In May the biggest gypsy festival in Europe is prepared. The town is full of small shops and restaurants where there is no lack of giant paellas made with rice from the area and covered with mussels, the ?? gardiane ??, stew of bull meat, or chirlas. Almost the only monument is the church of Notre-Dame-de-la-Mer, built in the 12th century and fortified in the 15th century, which looks more like a fortress than a church.

End of navigation in the magnificent Arles

After a new morning of navigation you reach Arles. Its endless beauty, its historical heritage with important Roman and Romanesque remains and the fact that its natural spaces have been included in the network of the World Biosphere Reserve, have caused this city to be declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO . Although the city has a long history that dates back to 2000 years of which it preserves important monuments, it is known above all because it enchanted Van Gogh and other painters, thanks to its magical light. Here lived the Dutch and in just 15 months of stay, he saw how his most productive period developed. In 1888 he conceived no less than 300 works in his famous Yellow House, which was destroyed after the war. Although today, none of its fabrics is in the city.

Today his presence is remembered in numerous plates that reproduce his works in the place where they were conceived. For example, in the central Place du Forum, plays coffee terrace at night ?? and you can see the yellow facade of the café that today bears his name. Another one of the works was ?? Garden of the hospital in Arles ?? that today can be visited, it is the hospice that was taken after the famous accident with his ear after a dispute with Gauguin (and perhaps due to the effect of excessive absinthe), with which he lived for a time in Arles. About 10 places are marked, in addition to those mentioned: the Rhone quay for “Nuit étoilée”, the Lamartine square for the “Maison jaune”? or the road along the channel from Arles to Bouc to ?? Las Lavanderas ?? Also the Roman amphitheater and the necropolis of Alycamps appear in several of his paintings.

Thanks to the work of archaeologists, today you can visit a large collection of buildings from the Roman period, such as its amphitheater from the end of the 1st century and which today still works for almost 12,000 spectators who attend bullfighting shows. Also the Roman theater in the heart of the city. Nor should we forget the importance of its Romanesque monuments such as the delightful cloister of the church of Saint Trophime, recently restored and featuring sculptures of exceptional quality in its galleries dating from the twelfth and fourteenth centuries.

In the near future, Arles will have another architectural milestone. This is the Luma Foundation, a center of art and research in a unique building by the architect Franck Gehry, which will house work rooms, conferences and residences for artists.

Although the city does much, you have to find time to escape to the medieval village of Les Baux-de-Provence that rises high in the hills, watching the abandoned quarries and with your eyes on the Mediterranean Sea, this medieval citadel It is one of the best-known tourist destinations at the door of Provence and one of the most beautiful villages in France. It was a medieval fortress of importance that was only dismantled in the seventeenth century by Louis XIII. From this period there are numerous monuments such as the ducal castle and the defensive walls and towers. It also stands out for the culture and artistic references that it has provoked in writers, musicians and artists. The 19th century Provencal poets and novelists invested with romanticism sang odes to their medieval past. This is how Les Baux appear in the work of Mistral, Daudet, Pagnol … Today it is galleries and art exhibitions that have taken over from the writers of the 19th century.

The cruise comes to an end. We disembarked not without weighing the 11 passengers of this crossing? Two couples of English, three charming Norwegian grannies, two French and two Spanish? The inverse tour will take 20 intrepid Canadians who have come from their distant country to discover the charms of the lands and waters of Provence.

Neither Sète nor Arlés, beginning and end, or vice versa, of this crossing, they have an airport. According to the flight search engine the airport with direct flights from Spain is Marseille and from there it can be reached by train or rental car to either of the two cities. Another possibility is to use the AVE-SNCF high-speed train in cooperation, which links Madrid and Barcelona, ​​and the intermediate cities with Narbonne, Béziers or Montpellier and then continue with the French trains that are comfortable and cheap.