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112. Sailing Southwest France

And just like that, you sail into France from Spain! On water there is no mark that you have sailed into another country. On land you see signs next to the road, but on your boat it’s only your cellphone that gives away the fact that you entered a new country by pinging: ‘Welcome to France, you can use your Dutch abonnement here as well, but you are limited to 25 GB per month abroad’. So one of the first things we do, when we arrive in a new country, is besides switching the guest flag in the mast from, in this case Spain to France, is finding a local simcard provider and get a favorable deal to use the French internet!

Our first city of arrival in the Southwest of France was Banyuls-sur-Mer and I loved seeing the shops again with ‘Glaces’ and ‘Crêperie’. Yes! We are back in the country of baguettes and cheeses, I love it! And you also notice in this area, 20 km from the border, that you are still a bit in a transition between Spain and France, for instance the restaurants offer mussels (moules), but also Paëlla 😊.

Gruissan

We stayed a few days in the lovely town of Gruissan, which is close to Narbonne. It’s a very authentic French small city, still an active fishertown, so you don’t see the silver bling bling restaurants with white plastered walls that you can see everywhere. No, on the houses here, are wooden shutters where the paint has peeled off which should have been repainted 10 years ago.

A few highlights that we visited in and around Gruissan. Just outside the town, surrounded by shallow lakes and ponds, we saw ‘Salin de Gruissan’, which are the salt lakes where salt is being extracted and is glittering in white piramides besides the lakes. The salty water gives a nice pink glow. There was a restaurant with a balcony where you had a wonderful look view over the lake with your matching pink glass of Kir Royal (a French variety of the well known Kir cocktail which normally contains white wine, but this is based on crème de cassis with champagne).

Cycling a bit further, you’ll end up on a long beach which has small wooden houses on piles, looking over the water. This Plage des Chalets is very charming.

Lots of places to sit at the beaches and I like the bright colors of the shops and restaurants as well.

We visited the market downtown with the typical French barrels filled with olives in all kinds of flavors (garlic, pepper, etc).

We got a tip from the harbormaster that at the postoffice we could buy a cheap simcards from the national telecomcompany. Normally we buy simcards of local commercial providers like Vodafone, Orange or T-mobile, but we had never bought a simcard of the national provider of a country. And it was a good deal: for 15 euros we now get 120 Gigabite per month in France. We bought 2 cards, because we use more like 300 GB a month (think online trainings in MS Teams, using navigation for the ship, watching Neflix, having guests on board, etc).

The weather was beautiful in Gruissan and sometimes the Tramontana wind made itself heard and the wind picked up from the Northwest . At one moment, we saw it brought dark clouds over the eastern Pyrenean mountain range towards the sea and over the harbor. We had the boat open, so quickly closed the hatchers, but had no time to install the canvas to protect the rear deck from the rain. So in this movie you see this fierce hailstorm came over us in the harbor, leaving big hailstones on the deck. That was a first for us! The sound was so loud, watch this video below that we made. And just as quickly as it came, in 1 hour the air cleared again and the sun reappeared. It’s a well known phenomena in this part of Mediterranean, called the Golfe du Lion.

We were not familiar with this part of the South of France, the province or region is called Occitanie which also consists of Languedoc-Roussilion. When I think of the south coast of France, I think of Provence and the Cote d’Azur. But that starts from Marseille. This part up to Marseille, I did not know at all. It more like the countryside and is very charming. Not as rich and comfortable as the Riviera, but therefore more jovial, cozy and authentic.

The harbor master of Gruissan made time for us and gave us extra tips. We had to go to the chapel which was dedicated to seamen. On our way to the chapel up the hill, we passed the cemetery that the harbor master mentioned as well. But when I think of a cemetery, I see a field of graves. And that is the interesting thing of travelling to other countries: we are daily challenged to keep an open mind and think broader than our Dutch experiences. Because this cemetery was a long small path uphill and on the sides there were every 5 meters the graves of young men who died on ships during the worldwars overseas and often on submarines. Impressive to see for 2 kilometers walking uphill. And there was the small chapel, with many paintings of ships and symbols that reminded of the sea.

Cap d’Agde

We left Gruissan and sailed further, visiting Cap d’Agde. The harbor is in the middle of the town, so you get all the sounds of a citycenter: restaurants, music, people laughing, young people on mopeds and honking cars. Lots of honking cars. So much that we thought: this is a lot of honking cars on a Saturday morning! Then we saw what was going on: there was a parade of old 2CVs! Great to see and especially for Gilles. Because he mentions that he doesn’t really miss anything from his ‘previous landlife’ now on the boat, but he really appreciates driving every now and then. So when we were in the USA, we rented a Ford Mustang and that was Gilles’ best friend that 11 days (he pulled up at the traffic lights like there is no police in America….;) !). He really appreciated this parade with 2CVs!

The black beach of Cap d’Agde is also impressive to see. Especially with the turquoise Mediterranean water. Although I have to say that I prefer white or yellow sand, that gives me more of a joyfull holidayfeeling then the dark sand.

We enjoyed cycling through the old town of Agde and also seeing the famous Canal du Midi, a 250 kilometer long channel from Toulouse to the Mediterranean.

It was wonderful sailing weather, also helped a bit by the Tramontana, so we continued sailing east on the sea to the town of Frontignan. We noticed that in this area of the Mediterranean the wind picks up in the afternoon and in the evening it changes from a sea breeze to land breeze and usually disappears completely at night.

Frontignan

Frontignan is also a pleasant town. If you go to France for holidays, as I have done in my teens, you surely recognize this scene: a square with Hotel de Ville and in front a nice terrace.

Frontignan is surrounded by water with again lots of shallow lakes, lagoons and swamps. And in the citycenter, there is this lift bridge which moves up vertically to give motorboats the opportunity to go in or out the city.

And in Frontignan, trainer Bob Berkman visited us on the catamaran. A few weeks before, I had met Bob again at the Trainers conference in the USA, we have known each other for 7 years now and see each other usually every year during the 4 days conference in the USA. I know Bob has a secondhome in France, in Occitanie and he send me a Whatsapp that he was again in France and could come to our catamaran. So it was great meeting him again and Josefien, his wife! Especially since Bob is very enthusiastic about travelling and our worldtip by boat, so he had read a lot of the blogs and mentioned that he found it great to now be on the ship himself. Josefien brought local wine, made by the family of her brother in law. His family and the sister of Josefien, own vineyards in this region (Domaine Maurerie). Josefien lived her from age 2 to 20 and her family still lives here.

After 1 hour of being on the boat, Bob said: ‘I know this is a bit quick, but I am having such a great time and I know you are leaving tomorrow to sail again, so I was enthusiastically thinking: how about you drive with us back to our house, we have dinner and more wines, you stay in our house and I bring you back tomorrowmorning!’. What a great spontaneous idea! So we did. We drove 1 hour in the car to the great Parc naturel régional du Haut-Languedoc, close to Béziers, and were amazed by the beautiful house looking out over the mountains. Bob and Josefien rent our their house in the summertime and use the house themselves on other occasions.

Sitting on the veranda, we watched the sun go down over the mountains, ate delicious salmon from the grill and were very happy!

Our guestroom had a balcony looking out over the swimmingpool and in the morning we had breakfast together.

We hope Bob and Josefien are able to visit us again on the catamaran when we sail the Cote d’Azur. I feel so blessed knowing these lovely hospitable people!

And the party of meeting nice people wasn’t over yet! Because sailingfriends Marco and Bianca, who own a Lagoon42, as well called us. We had visited their boat in Northern Spain in April, when they were not there yet. They had sailed a nice stretch in May and had caught up quite a bit when we were in the USA for 11 days. ‘We saw that you were in Frontignan and we will also come to your port as a surprise, so we can sail together a bit along the Cote d’Azur!’. That is so great! Here you see Marco, Bianca and puppy Skye and the ‘twin’ catamarans in the port of Frontignan.

Off we will go together, on to Marseilles!

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