Paddle steamer Camargue

Today was going to be a Lazy Day but it turned into a Leisurely one instead. At first there may appear to be little difference between the two however the difference is there. As the two terms relate to holidays, here are my definitions.

The Lazy Day
You wake up naturally. This could mean with the sunrise, the dawn chorus, the postman or the woman who wants to clean your room before the afternoon gets too long in the tooth. Having dragged yourself out of bed (bearing in mind that staying in bed all day also constitutes a Lazy Day) and into some clothes you then move to another part of the premises with the idea of lying down again. This can be kept up for the entire day (or what remains of it) with only breaks for refreshments and the toilet. At some point, you go to dinner…or not as you prefer.

The Leisurely Day
The beginning is very similar to a Lazy Day and is perhaps why people can get the two confused. There is no set schedule for the Leisurely Day so rising is a matter of opening your eyes rather than using an alarm of some sort. Once awake, a loose sort of plan for the day is mapped out. This will generally include a vague indication of the direction of travel (a car is essential), a point of tourist stuff and the possibility of finding food. The day progresses through the various stages in a more holistic style than a schedule would allow. It is also not important to follow the plan too closely (if at all). By the time you return to your accommodation you should have a couple of hours to rest up before dinner which is the only part of the day with a firm plan (given reservations are nearly always necessary for a really good meal).

So, with only a vague, whirly lined plan in mind we set off for the beach-side town of the Three Marys, little knowing that it had a market today. Actually, the town is not called the Three Marys. It’s actually Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer but it is named for three Marys. Two were aunts of Jesus which would have made things very easy because he just had to say Aunt Mary without having to remember too many names. Mind you, it doesn’t say much for Ann de Palud who seemed to have named all her daughters ‘Mary.’

I’m a bit confused about that but never mind! We only stopped in the town for some money and then we continued along to the boat dock of Tiki III.

Actually, before I move on from Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, it’s important to remember that before two of the Marys turned up (the third was a Romany one and not related though conveniently her birthday was just a day in difference), this area was Egyptian and they were rather keen on worshipping Ra the sun god. Given it’s now a beach resort with lots of beach resort type activities, I reckon they’ve gone back to their roots in religious terms.

We’d read about the Tiki III boat ride up the Petit Rhone through a part of Camargue territory and, given it’s a boat (and a steam paddle boat to boot) we thought it was a definite possibility. They also have an awful lot of parking which is always an advantage. Unusually, we arrived an hour early so we sat under the shade of the group waiting area and read. And ate peanuts. And drank water.

Mirinda brings the peanuts

Soon enough it was time to board so, along with about 50 tourists and Oscar the dog, we took our seats for what was to be a gloriously relaxed and surprising cruise up the river.

It all started normal enough with many sightings of herons (both grey and white) seagulls and the occasional bull but, as we turned a bend in the river we encountered a cowgirl and her charges. Bulls and horses all kicking up the dust as they raced down to the shore beside us, tempted by fresh bales of hay. It was rather a fun thing to happen and all very exciting.

Unexpectedly we were on the correct side of the boat though it did list a bit when everyone decided to stand up and walk over to us. There was a lot of camera clicking and pleasured yips and peals of laughter. The cowgirl, completely in charge of her mount, controlled the livestock beautifully, eventually turning them back towards whatever corral they normally inhabited.

Actually, the black cattle of Camargue always roam free. Because they need three hectares per animal to feed properly, they need to be able to go wherever the food is. Interestingly the area has a form of bullfighting which does not hurt the bulls. Their horns are not designed to impale people the way the Spanish fighting bulls are so in these parts, coloured ribbons are tied to them and the raseteur (like a matador) has to try and hook them off with a big pole.

It sounds brilliant and much better than the awful version practised elsewhere. Apparently the only blood shed is by the humans. The young bulls always walk away from the arena with their lives intact. I’d love to go one of these course camarguaise as they’re called. Maybe next time.

And so we continued on our way, up as far as the car ferry which stopped us because of the cable strung across the river at this point. We then tuned around and headed back to the Tiki III dock where a few hundred people waited to board the 4:30pm sailing. I have to say I’m mighty glad we took the earlier one. There was easily three times as many passengers waiting and that wouldn’t have been very pleasant.

Tiki III – what happened to I and II?

We then directed Celine to take us home so we could rest up before going to dinner.

Dinner was to be at the mysterious Le Prieure d’Estagel situated somewhere near St Gilles. In fact it is in the middle of nowhere. In fact, it was so much in the middle of nowhere that Linda couldn’t find the street. I had to aim for a nearby street in order to get to the restaurant. However, eventually, we found it.

The car park was luxuriously large and devoid of any cars. This meant Mirinda had no problem finding and fitting into a space. We then walked around what appeared to be an empty building that seemed to have not seen another patron for around 50 years. We walked around only to be confronted with a crumbling tower complete with desperate pigeons upon its battlements. There was a doorway within the tower.

Entering the tower (not without a little trepidation it should be stated) we accidentally turned right to find…no one. The room was empty. Except for a lift. I realised that the sign which was pointing to the right actually indicated the restaurant lift rather than the stairs. We left the small room and went up the spiral staircase to the first floor where we found…the restaurant.

We were greeted by a woman who seemed to know who we were without the benefit of being introduced. She showed us to a table (Mirinda insisted we sit outside) with great enthusiasm and left us to it. We were then joined by a rather cheerful young fellow who inundated us with candles (enough to feed a family of 27) and his command of English. He also brought our drinks though that was the last we saw of him.

It was all very surreal. However, once the food started coming, it was decidedly brilliant.

From the amuse bouche to the dessert, it was all fantastic and well worth the mysterious surroundings and the seemingly never ending stream of cars entering and leaving the car park for no reason we could fathom. Actually it would seem that there was a rave next door and I can only surmise that the cars had merely turned one driveway too soon.

Anyway, the meal, as I said was superb. The chef even came out afterwards to chat to us all (there were eventually three other tables apart from ours). He was very young and a master of his art. I especially raved to him about his tomato granita which was a dessert I think I will never forget. Genius it was. He deserves more patrons.

The drive home was much quicker than the drive there. I reckon Linda delights in taking us the longest way to things only to bring us home via the shortest. Crazy satnav.

Oh, I forgot to mention. There was a third who joined us for dinner. I don’t know her name but she was very, very soft and she sat on my lap.

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2 Responses to Paddle steamer Camargue

  1. Mum Cook. says:

    That was a great day you are certainly getting around. And what a pretty cat I am surprised he didn’t small the dogs on you but I suppose you have been gone a long time from them now. love mum xxxxxx

  2. Mum Cook. says:

    PS You must have been on your cruise the same time as I was on mine, I must say I love them . xxxx

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