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THE LAND OF
A Family Trip to the Lake District
No matter what kind of scenery you like to be surrounded by on your travels, water will generally feature heavily in enhancing it. Mountains look better with a lake straddling the foreground, rivers are the focal point of almost every city, and we all love a day by the sea. Even when choosing a hotel, we are often swayed by an impressive pool.
So imagine how glorious it is to have the warm, blue Mediterranean not only as the backdrop to your holiday, but also the foreground, and the base for most of your activities!
That was the delight that presented itself when I landed on the idyllic Languedoc-
A lunchtime easyJet flight to Montpellier, and a comfortable half hour transfer to the retro-
In the 1960’s, with an enormous boom in the popularity of Mediterranean holidays, President De Gaulle’s government announced plans to build a series of new resorts along the previously wild and barren coastline of Languedoc-
The result, La Grande Motte, has stood the test of time, despite approaching its 50th birthday. The unique, stylish architecture and the stepped designs give the buildings a common theme, whilst still allowing each its individuality. The strict ban on limiting the extent of the town means it’s not overrun with traffic, despite its popularity amongst well-
In truth, away from the harbour and beachfront, it’s not a place I would consider overly attractive, but it does have a calm, spacious ambience, and a genuinely unhurried feel. As a resort, of course it’s all about the seafront, and there is no mistaking the status of La Grande Motte -
The Nautical Centre adjacent to the Port offers a mouth watering selection of aqua based activities, from the more sedate windsurfing , kayaking, or sailing, to some which will satisfy the most determined adrenalin hunter. Try the awesome Hydrojet 7 for some ultra high-
On the outskirts of the town is Étang du Ponant, a large lagoon that is yet another haven for water based activities. Amongst the choices was one I’d only vaguely heard of – Paddleboarding. Essentially this is attempting to stand up on a flat surfboard, and paddle along whilst keeping your balance. Surprisingly, it’s not that hard, and after a few minutes I was confident enough to be paddling away, and around the small island. Trying to do it gracefully, though, would probably take longer than the time I had!
Being on the water quickly becomes addictive, and if you fancy lunch and a bit of time chilling out, hop aboard the huge fifty-
If you prefer your food on terra firma, then the Yacht Club Beach at sunset is a memory waiting to be made. Sit looking out at the Mediterranean, listening to the waves lapping on the restaurant’s own private beach, and take your time choosing from the excellent menu. The cuisine was first rate, and the setting made it the perfect end to the perfect day.
A few miles along the coast is a resort with a very different feel. Quaint, picturesque and bursting with energy, Le Grau du Roi manages to combine the intimate feel of a rural French village with the excitement of a perfect seaside setting.
The word ‘Grau’ is an ancient term for a waterway linking a lagoon to the sea – and there are lots of grau’s in this region. This is the heartland of the famous Camargue, close to the Rhone delta, and has built up with successive sandbanks and river deposits over centuries. It’s a haven for wildlife, and has some of the most immaculate beaches in Europe.
Indeed, to the south of the town is a glorious stretch of unbroken sand that continues for 18 km. It was here that we headed to for probably our most challenging conflict with wind and water – kite surfing. As with all the water sports, kite surfing takes practice, and time to master. In my case I have to admit it took most of the afternoon just to master steering the kite. Getting airborne would have to wait for another day. It was an amazing buzz, however, and for the true adventurous spirit I can only imagine how wonderful the feeling must be when you really get airborne for the first time.
Jet skiing, on the other hand, is far simpler to get to grips with, and also has the benefit of being completely controllable by you. So you can potter around slowly admiring the fresh air and scenery, or you can open it up and get the kind of adrenalin fix I haven’t had since I last raced at Brands Hatch! At full throttle you crash through the crests of the waves, bouncing along at an unbelievable pace. The only disappointment is knowing that eventually you need to slow down and head back in to the channel that divides the town.
As you do, take a look at the high jetty walls. They form part of the original ‘grau’, which was first planned in the late 1500’s to allow ships to reach the port of Aigues Mortes. It took over a century to actually build them, and another hundred years to refine them into something resembling what you see today. The town of Le Grau du Roi, the heart of which still lines the channel today, began with the lighthouse and a few simple buildings in the early 1800’s.
Today the cobbled quaysides throng with tourists, enjoying the floating restaurants, exploring the gift shops, and taking photos of the fishermen as they mend their nets. The old lighthouse is still a focal point, and long sandy beaches stretch in both directions from the quays.
Kick your shoes off and wander the broad soft sand of the Plage Rive Droite, where the coastline curves away northwards into the heat-
Pretty much all the water sports we tried – and a lot more besides – are available at both Le Grau du Roi and La Grande Motte, so really it comes down to what kind of resort you prefer. Large, modern and stylish – choose La Grande Motte. If, like me, you prefer that smaller, cosy and attractive feel, then opt for Le Grau du Roi. One thing’s for sure, however, getting wet will never be more fun!
Strictly speaking, the jet boat – or the Hydrojet 7 to give it the correct name – is not a water sport. Think of it more as the most extreme way to get absolutely soaked, whilst twisting, turning, bumping and spinning your way across the waves. As you leave the comfort and safety of the harbour, the jet engine roars to life like a jet plane starting its take off. Within seconds you are speeding across the sea, skimming the crests of the waves, in an ultra-
Like every good thrill ride, just when you think you have survived the worst there is one more surprise. Our driver turns to look at us, with an evil grin on his face, and makes a circle in the air with his finger... a signal to hold on even tighter, as he throws the boat into a high speed spin. Just as your stomach catches up with the rest of your body, and you start to breathe a sigh of relief, down rains a Mediterranean waterfall that has been kicked up by the spinning craft!
At the moment, this is the only such boat in France, so it really is a unique, as well as an unforgettable thrill ride.
In a similar way to the Jet Boat, parasailing is more of an adventure than a sport. You are unceremoniously strapped to a framework hanging under a large parachute, and towed along at high speed by a powerful speedboat. In fact, once you are in the air, it’s surprisingly relaxing, and totally breathtaking! To get there, you are first given a pile of straps and buckles, and shown how they attach around every limb of your body. They are then checked carefully by the boats crew, as you are given instruction on what’s about to happen.
When your turn comes, you are sat on the flat rear deck of the boat, and the parachute attached. As soon as the restraints are released, you glide smoothly and effortlessly backwards into the sky, gaining height and distance from the boat quite quickly. Once you are at full height, you are high enough to see the magnificent panorama of the Languedoc-
Boarding the large, red catamaran, the Lucile 2, in the marina of La Grande Motte, there is a cheerful sense of anticipation as we find a seat under the fluttering canopy. The craft glides silently out of the harbour, and raises the huge main sail as we begin to skim the gentle waves.
Drinks are served, champagne for those who desire it, and soon after there is a sumptuous seafood buffet laid out to entice the eager seafarers. Prawns, mussels, and melon were the perfect accompaniment to the hot sunny weather, and the various mysterious but tasty treats in shot glasses were tantalising. Relax and sunbathe on the foredeck, and you’ll be kept cool with regular sprinklings of seawater splashing up from the bows. The catamaran can take up to 28 passengers, and has various different durations and packages available.
Looks easy. Sounds easy. In fact, after a few minutes it is fairly easy – at least on the calm inland waterway where we were learning. Paddleboarding is basically standing up on a flat surfboard, and paddling along. Essentially it’s a test of your balancing skills, and as long as you can do that you’re soon be heading off around the lake, and along the channel towards the sea. You do have a Velcro strap holding you to the board in case you lose it, but this is a nice, gentle water sport that all the family can enjoy. We did see some far more experienced paddleboarders who were braving the waves just off of the harbour walls... and that didn’t seem quite so effortless. However, you are welcome to use my pre-
Probably the best known and most popular of the various water based activities that we tried, jet skiing can be as calm or as hair-
Before you know it you’re flying along, cresting the waves, and throwing a plume of water in the air in your wake. It’s fast, frantic, and a tremendous buzz, and something you will certainly want to do again and again.
Kite surfing is not something you are going to master in an hour. Indeed, after a whole afternoon of instruction and favourable winds, you’ll do well to get airborne for more than a few seconds at a time. But if you have the time to stick with it, are lucky with the weather, and are fortunate to have top quality instructors such as we had, then it is one of the most satisfying and rewarding of all the water sports.
You’ll learn in two parts. First you need to learn how to control the kite – which in effect is really a small semi-
It might seem a strange place to go for an excursion, but the vast marina of Port Camargue – the largest in Europe – is the ultimate chic melting pot. With a staggering five thousand berths, the seemingly unending arrays of yachts, cruisers, and assorted other craft put any boat show to shame. Huge multi-
Article and Photos: Trevor Claringbold
Tourist Information www.sunfrance.com
Kite Surfing www.surf-
Flights to Montpellier www.easyjet.com
Novotel Golf Hotel
Surrounded by pleasant gardens at the end of a leafy avenue on the edge of La Grande Motte, the Novotel Golf Hotel combines a warm, stylish ambience with modern functionality.
The rooms are spacious and very comfortable, set in a horseshoe shape around the gardens and small pool. It’s less than ten minutes to drive into the centre of the town, and the Étang du Ponant – a large inland lagoon – is just a few minute’s walk along the road.
The hotel restaurant was also a pleasant surprise, with high quality menus at sensible prices.
Relais de l’Oustau Camarguen
A short distance to the south of Le Grau du Roi, backing onto the wilderness of the Camargue, is a delightful converted farmhouse that is so full of character that it’s hard to know where to begin. The worn stone floors, some of which are original from the old stables and milking sheds, now bear glorious period furniture, unique to each of the 39 spacious rooms. All of the rooms open out onto their own small gardens, and despite the historic feel, the facilities are very much 21st Century.
Outside, there is a pleasant pool, with an adjacent terrace where you can enjoy your breakfast or evening meal. There is air conditioning for the balmy Mediterranean days, and you can relax with a Hammam or Jacuzzi.
Staying at the Relais de l’Oustau is more like staying with family friends, than visiting a hotel; warm, inviting, and one of those places where you immediately feel comfortable. It’s perfectly located for the beaches of Le Grau du Roi, the sailing boats of Port Camargue, or the pink flamingos and famous horses of the Camargue itself.
Yacht Club Beach
It’s one of those magical scenarios we all dream of for the perfect holiday. Relaxing on a private beach, the waiter brings your drinks as the sun sets, and the Mediterranean waves gently lap the soft sand. Behind you, a glorious fusion of aromas tease your taste buds, as you await your dinner. That is the reality at the Yacht Club Beach, which can round off your day in the most perfect way.
There is plenty of choice, from just a drink and nibbles, to lunchtime snacks, or the full evening meal. The quality of food would happily grace the plates of any top restaurant, with an interesting and varied menu all prepared to perfection. Definitely one to try, if you are in the region.
Plage des Artistes
Looking out over a long sweeping sandy bay at Le Grau du Roi, judging by the number of guests enjoying their lunchtime here it’s a very popular haunt for the locals. And of course the French know a thing or two about the best places to eat.
It was pleasing to see that the Plage des Artistes were happy to cater for all ages, and there were a number of beach toys and pedalos on the sand in front of the beach club to cater for the children.
The styling is more reminiscent of Caribbean beach restaurants, but the cuisine is exquisitely local. This is the region for Pelaou de Seiche, (cuttlefish with onions and tomatoes), and the famous Gardiane de Taureau, (or bull stew to you and I). With the hot sun glinting off the Mediterranean, and a cool local rosé wine to quench the thirst, this was without doubt the perfect place to enjoy a long relaxing lunch.
On first impression, Gepetto appeared to be a popular, stylish Italian restaurant, just behind the quayside of Le Grau du Roi. Step inside and take a seat, and you’ll quickly discover it is more than a cut above your average pizza parlour. Great food, beautifully presented, and one of the few truly Italian restaurants capable of turning out that most authentic of local Camargue dishes – bull. If you truly have a big appetite, just ask for the bull steak!
His passion for travel has seen him travel extensively, and he has over 30 years experience in the media, including 15 years as a presenter and producer with the BBC.