A Mediterranean Medley

Hello and welcome to the latest blog from The Olivia Rose Diaries on February 25th 2023.

I have a Mediterranean medley for you this week, a collection of photos of the landscapes that surround us.

Since we arrived the weather has also been a mixed medley, ranging from minus four with thick frosts, to rainy days followed by a summer-like interlude. We drove down to the coast on one of those days when the sky feels so low you can almost touch it, great banks of grey clouds swathed like curtains, hanging heavy in the sky. The River Herault flows into the Mediterranean at La Tamarissière, where the mouth of the river is guarded by a pair of light beacons that mark the entrance.

Standing guard.

We saw a lone fishing boat, a one-man affair circling around close to shore, and the fisherman had his arm hanging out over the water, trailing a hand-line over the side. I don’t know what type of fish he was hoping to catch,  but today obviously wasn’t going to be his lucky day. Before long he gave up and headed back up the river while we sat on a bench by the sandy beach, alone apart from the odd person walking their dog, enjoying our morning coffee and biscuits and watching nothing happening.

Grey skies and no fish.
Driftwood on the beach.
I spotted this carving in a pile of driftwood.

We have visited this part of France on several occasions and I have mixed feelings about this stretch of the Mediterranean. At times I find it charming, especially in the small ports around the Étang de Thau, Marseillan and Mèze being two of the best. The étang itself can be stunningly beautiful, and watching the sun rise and set over its still waters is an experience to be savoured. I have a photo album stored in my head of some of the best places we have visited, and memories such as these are included. However, many of the man-made developments which are centred around the huge tourist industry here are ugly and ramshackle. In parts there is a overwhelming sense of neglect, and it’s not just because we are here in the low season. We cruised through here five years ago on Olivia Rose in high summer and it was the same even then.

We drove back by a different route, noting that the verges along the roadside were full of litter, not something we usually see in France. We couldn’t resist stopping in Villeneuve-les-Beziers and re-visiting one of our favourite mooring spots on the Canal du Midi.

Cast your mind back to 2018 and this is where we were moored up. We had to squeeze ourselves under that bridge to get into the lock

From here it was a short hop into Beziers itself, and a visit to the flower market. This market takes place every Friday morning. We had seen pictures of a kaleidoscope of colour along a tree-lined avenue and had been told it was one of the best flower markets in the region, filled ‘with thousands of locally gardened flowers, plants and herbs’. However, on an out-of-season Friday in late February there were no more than six or seven stalls. It was still a colourful affair but not on the scale that we had hoped for.

I wanted to buy a bunch of flowers to take back to the house, but when I saw the prices I quickly changed my mind. Some things can be surprisingly cheap in France but sadly not flowers, even on a market stall.

It lifted the spirits to see all these bright colours. I miss flowers in winter.
Beziers is an attractive town. We found this clever ‘trompe l’oeil’ in the backstreets.

A few days later the weather became so warm and sunny that we felt we had shifted magically into summer. We drove north into the hills, away from the busy conurbations, for a walk up to the Cirque de Mourèze. This wasn’t so much a walk as a rock climb, but the effort was worth it when we reached the top and looked down on Lac de Salagou.

The view from the top.

We weren’t alone as it was half-term weekend and so we ended up sharing our precipitous and rocky picnic spot with easily a hundred other people. It seemed that this might be a regular day out for some of them as they headed straight to the best places, bagging a rare flat rock to sit on or a patch of greenery amongst the scrub. Typically British, we devoured our egg sandwiches, water and a bar of chocolate in less than half-an-hour. Typically French, they produced elaborate salads and wine from their rucksacks, no mean feat after the scramble on all fours to get up here, and settled down for a long lunch and non-stop conversation. I wonder how long I will have to live here for before I can shed my British habits and become more French.

The village of Mourèze
An example of the distinctive rocky formations of the cirque.
Hidden gems.

February 21st is a special day in France. It’s Mardi Gras, a festive day celebrated on Shrove Tuesday and the term actually means ‘Fat Tuesday’, so named because of the custom of using all the fats in the home before Lent. I have always associated Mardi Gras with the more famous celebrations in New Orleans and in Rio de Janeiro, but our little town of Pézenas was not going to be outdone. At midday the shops closed their doors and shuttered up, the roads were blocked to traffic and a long procession of people of all ages in fancy dress marched around the town, following a giant puppet horse, presumably with a person hidden away at each end, accompanied by a small band and much banging of drums. Small children looked sweet, dressed as chickens and fairies, whilst the teenagers of the town had seen a chance to express themselves artistically through their costumes, some of their creations so strange that if I had been their parent I would have been a little concerned at what went on in the head of my offspring. Fewer adults had taken to fancy dress, and those that had chose a white sheet fashioned into a smock. This was a sensible choice as children of all ages were taking great delight in throwing confetti, flour and ‘silly string’, a spray that sends out foamy streamers that stick to everything but is at least easy to remove. In the earliest carnivals, people threw less harmless things at each other, including rotten eggs, fruit or vegetables. We did see a few eggs strewn about the pavements but I got the impression that silly string was now the weapon of choice. It wasn’t exactly on the scale of Rio or New Orleans, but at least they gave it their best shot.

In the next few days the temperature is forecast to plummet yet again and they are threatening snow, even here in this normally mild corner of France. It feels like we are on a climate rollercoaster.

That’s it for this week. Hope your weather is a little less erratic than ours!


13 thoughts on “A Mediterranean Medley

  1. Always fun to see where you end up, MJ. I liked the view of the lake from the ridge top and the blue-flowered succulent. I went to Carnival in Trinidad in my early twenties, and found it exhausting. My host made me stay up all night dancing through the streets! I was dead on my feet. 😀


  2. I am at present in the Etang de Thau, in Belaruc les bains refurbishing my yacht. I like this area but it seems dead in winter. Hope to do the midi in spring and cruise up to morbihan then home by autumn. Come from north Scotland so want to do it before the rainy seasons starts, or at least before the deluge season as we have no dry season.

    Sent from my iPhone


  3. Maybe you can help with a query I have. I want to take the midi. Reids gives the max draft 1.6m, the canal guide gives 1.5m, my draft is 1.55!!! Which is it? Any info welcome. If not I take the Rhône and central canals. If I do the midi I may need to leave the boat near Toulouse for a few weeks. Is there a secure mooring there?

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    1. Hi Peter. Nice to hear from you. I agree it all seems very quiet around here in winter. Although it’s like that in most of France I think! We did the Midi five years ago, our draft is 1.1 so no problems. Unfortunately all our charts are back on the boat so I can’t compare what draft they state. It sounds like you will be pushing it to be honest. The other thing to bare in mind is that with the drought and water shortages I imagine the canal will struggle to give what it is supposed to. Normally they hope to get some rainfall over winter but as you know it has been incredibly dry down here so they are starting the season lower than they should be. The Rhone and central canals might be a safer bet, but I think all you can do is monitor the weather for the next few weeks and make a final decision in spring. The port at Toulouse itself is quite good from memory but I will look in our log book, which is with us, and see if any others spring to mind – come back to you later. Cheers.MJ


      1. Thanks for that. Midi a bit of a gamble I guess, but Rhône runs strong. First get gel shield on hull this week and see how time goes.

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      2. It’s snowing in sete today. Brrrr. Maybe ice not water depth is the issue!! Hull scraping in the snow, too much like home!

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      3. Hi Peter
        We had snow here too, didn’t settle,but freezing wind now. Definitely too much like the UK! Had a look through our notes re moorings. Toulouse port is good but you might need to book ahead. Another option is Castelnaudary. Water, elec and mooring for 12 euros when we were there and a helpful capitainerie. On the other side Moissac is a good place. Or was then, different capitain now and don’t know if that has changed things. Just seen they’re bringing in drought restrictions already in parts. Prepare yourself for a challenging year! Cheers. MJ


  4. Lovely photos, as usual. I love the fish skeleton carving on the driftwood. We spent the occasional holiday down there before moving to France, but I daresay it’s changed a bit since then.

    Mardi Gras doesn’t seem to be celebrated much here. I think it’s more of a Mediterranean thing, although we are only a couple of hours from there. Arctic temperatures coming again. I thought we had left that behind for this year!


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