There’s a lot to be said for sitting in a flat bottomed boat as a Frenchman punts you along the canals of the Venise Verte. It’s particularly pleasant when the sun is shining, dappling through the trees and bouncing off the water as it filters through your lingering fingers. I can assert this with some authority because this is exactly what we did this afternoon.
Given it is named after the stinky Venice in Italy, you could understand my reticence when Mirinda first told me about it. However, the French version is perfectly delightful and odourly pleasant.
The canals of the area known as the Marais Poitevin, have been around for a very long time. The area itself is naturally marshy as it starts at the sea and extends inland; salt turning into freshwater. Once the entire place was traversed by water. Even the cows went by boat. These days, however, it’s nearly all tourism but it’s still beautiful and serene.
Mind you, our guide, Gerard, told us it was not as quiet in the height of summer. While there’s a limit to the number of boats allowed to roam the waterways, each of them is full of noisy tourists each with half a dozen screaming children all squeezing squeaky toys. It sounded horrendous – both literally and figuratively.
Coulon is the self professed capitol of the region and, therefore, a good place to begin our day’s touring. It took a while to actually find the bit of Coulon that’s on the water but once we had, it was as if we’d walked into one of those delightful French films of a perfect rural world that never really existed outside of the film.
Even the museum was laid back. It also provided Mirinda with an excellent opportunity to practice and improve her app taught French.
The day was getting warmer as we left Coulon for the almost car-free village of La Garette. I thought it was going to be gloriously car-free but, it seems, if you live in La Garette you can drive in La Garette. Even so, I think we only saw one moving car in the whole time we were there so, hardly enough to complain about.
The village only has a single road that runs alongside the river with houses n either side. Most of them have shutters (as most French houses do) and some of them met with disapproval when Bob inspected them carefully. Being a door and window manufacturer can sometimes mean you’re not able to turn off the crappy work detector.
We followed the road until we came to the bridge at the end where we sat and enjoyed a cold beer and watched the river flow by to the accompaniment of a moany dog. The odd thing was the fact that the moany dog was with it’s owners but still chose to moan. Maybe the dog didn’t like them very much.
It was then on to the creperie at Arcais, recommended to us by Madame Charraud at breakfast. We each ordered pizza and gorged ourselves. Also at breakfast, our hostess told us we should hire a boat from the people on the right and not the left (she pulled a face when saying this) which is exactly what we did. Now, I’ve no idea what was wrong with the people on the left, but the one on the right had the only English speaking guide on the boats…or so our guide told us.
To be honest, the ‘cruise’ was so brilliant that it wouldn’t have mattered if the guide spoke Swahili or was a deaf mute. It was one of those days and one of those experiences that is quite simply, perfect, and not easily forgotten.
Mind you, having a guide came in very handy when it came time to set fire to the water. Demonstrating the fact that under the sludge at the bottom of the canals there are vast quantities of methane, Gerard swooshed some up and set it alight. He told us that he always did it near the picnic area in case he accidentally cooked a fish.
He told us a lot of useful things abut the Venise Verte. For instance, the fact that there are two types of snake in the area. One is an excellent swimmer and will sometimes jump into the boats as they glide by. The other type prefers lying about in trees and dropping into boats as they glide by. He said both kinds can make for great fun with the tourists though, he conceded, not with Australians who had no fear when it came to large reptiles in boats. He thinks all Australians are like Crocodile Dundee. I told him it was true.
He also told us about the French equivalent to the cane toad: the South American Coypu. This oversized rat is a menace, digging and undermining the banks, out competing local animals and generally destroying everything. In the past, the local people tried to poison them but end up poisoning everything else as well. These days they have a far more effective solution. They trap them in cages over night, return in the morning, throttle them and turn them into pate. Mirinda is a big fan of pate, normally, but she reckons she’d draw the line at rat flavour.