It was before sunset that we slowly glided down the canal into Le Somail. The sun was just about to drop below the rolling hills, casting long shadows over the vineyards and illuminating the old stone buildings either side of the canal.
This was once a bustling 17th century port and staging post where passengers and crew from boats spent the night and hung about the taverns for a well-earned feed. These days many of the buildings remain, overgrown with ivy and wisteria and you just can’t help feeling like you’ve stepped into a living postcard.
Both sides of the canal are lined with leasure boats such as ours where the modern-day crews have stopped to seek a bit of local food and wine at the handful of restaurants on the waterfront.
Seeing a pizza van by the canal seemed strangely out of place and something that got me very excited was the Hat Museum. Just kidding, but if hats get your juices flowing this is a must see! If you prefer your books there’s Le Trouve Tout du Livre; a massive 2nd-hand and antique bookstore not too far from the canal.
It won’t take much to navigate this tiny village and for us it was really just a place to stop for dinner and spend the night. If you do spend the night be sure to seek out the colourful barge near the arched stone bridge to pick up a few supplies and place your order for fresh baguettes that will await you the following morning.
The interior of the barge is a treasure trove of regional goodies from preserves, sweets and dry goods to a few tacky souvenirs. The lady in charge is an absolute sweetheart.
It didn’t take long to decide on Le Comtoir Nature for dinner, a cute place on the canal bank with al fresco seats beneath coloured lights strung between trees, complete with geese waddling about at their own leasure.
The food took a differnt direction from the usual duck with fries or goat’s cheese salad, something I was personally getting a little tired with; and was more like grilled pork with wild rice laced with raisins and balsamic glaze. The dessert apricot and fig tarts were out of this world.
Further along the canal is the gorgeous little town of Capestang, where we stopped to plug in the boats battery & check the canal-side information centre. Worth dropping in just for the free internet! Capestang is also a great place to stop for a few hours to explore its narrow streets and central square shaded by plane trees complete with hanging baskets of flowers and old blokes playing petanque.
The soaring 14th century gothic L’eglise St Etienne dominates the old town with its gargoyle adorned tower and beneath it a cute little boucherie and boulangerie overlook the square as well as Cafe De La Grille, our lunch stop for the day.
The restaurant specialises in grilled meats cooked over flames fuelled by old grape vines and judging by the menu’s printed in English, they do a booming trade with the tourists. And rightly so. The meals are simply delicious and great value. My €11.5 menu deal of charcuterie, skewered and charred pork with chips, 1/4 caraf of vino, apple tart and coffee filled the hole sufficiently.
Arriving back at our boat we found a Le Boat mechanic replacing our battery as while we were lunching he was allerted by a lady saying smoke was billowing out from the old battery while it was charging. That explains why our battery kept running low!
Not even half an hour downstream from Capestang, a little closer to the village of Poilhes is a very distracting and inviting sign advertising free wine tasting.
The Domaine Du Guéry is a winery that has been family operated for over 400 years and welcomes canal boaters into the vineyard to taste their local drop. Monsieur Tastavy will happily show you around the barn and switch on the antique grape presses to show how it all works. The size of the wooden barrels in which he matures the wine are astounding and the red, white and rosé he produces amount to over 200 000 bottles per year. There’s a small selection of wine to be tasted and bought and I can safely vouch for the crisp rosé. Very good stuff.
As we approach the end of our canal journey we stop at a small medieval village on the outskirts of Béziers. The village of Villeneuve-lès-Béziers is another one of those picture postcard places all dolled-up with colourful flowers cascading over its arched stone bridge and brightly painted façades fronting narrow cobbled streets. From the canal the village looked deserted of people but taking a wander into the centre of town revealed a small plaza with a co-op and two restaurants side-by-side with locals lunching beneath umbrellas.
It looks like we arrived at the end of the lunch service as the €14 buffet at Le Grand Cafe was nothing more than a few fries and crusty prawns left in the bain marie. There were two more options available from the menu so we sat and had those. A goat cheese salad (€10), surprise surprise, and a duck salad (€11) done a little differently to others we had. Aside from both salads being massive and very generous with tomato, the duck salad had gorgeous thin slices of salted and air-dried breast meat over so much blue cheese that I couldn’t finish it. The cheese was so strong my tongue was burning, but I loved every moment of it.
Had the rest of the village been open, we could have had pizza or crêpes in the tiny square in the shadow of the 10th century Romanesque church or one of the canal-side restaurants.
We end our journey a stones throw from the Mediterannean at “The Port”, a small marina near Portiragnes where the Le Boat office is for drop-offs and pick-ups. The Au Rendezvous des Bateliers is the only place to grab a bite and solely caters to tourists overnighting in the area. This is where we spend our final night onboard, moored up in the marina and dining on such things as mixed grills, tarte tatin and banana splits.
Saying au revior to our boat we head to Béziers train station where Mr K and I see off the rest of our group as they train it back to London and we train it somewhere else…
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