Breakfast in Montpellier was a magnificent help-your-self spread. We wanted to be on our way earlyish to do some cycling before it got too hot. So we were in breakfast just after 7 but we could have been earlier because they started serving at 6. There were piles of food available despite a small number of eaters. Judging by the numbers we saw there was likely to be masses left over. I wonder what happens to it all?
We left just before 9am and took the riverside cycle way towards Palavas. It was a lovely, sunny day with just a gentle breeze, not enough to disturb the surface of the river so the reflections were almost perfect. We more or less stayed by the river on a cycle track for about 6 kms. Just after passing a multi-storey boat park (I wonder if they have to wait for exceptionally high tides to move them?)we had our first sighting of flamingos. We saw many more later.
Palavas is a pretty harbourside town. It is really “the beach” for Montpellier and was busy. We were rapidly through Palavas and on our way to La Grand Motte. The road between the two passed parallel to the beach behind a row of houses and flats. However, in one gap we found a beach side cafe at about the right time for a coffee stop. I could not resist a swim, despite being somewhat under-prepared kit-wise. I used a flannel as a towel so was a bit “exposed” while changing. Not to worry, it was an extremely pleasant dip.
Back on the bikes we passed through La Grande Motte a purpose built holiday resort designed and built in the 1960s to attract French and European visitors (but mostly French) away from Spanish resorts. It is a place of extraordinary architecture and great wealth, as judged by the quite massive luxury yachts moored in the harbour. Clearly in mid June we were not seeing it at high season but it was still pretty lively and one imagines that later it would be throbbing and packed.
Later we entered Le Grau-du-Roi, longer established than La Grande Motte and built around a fishing village and the end of a canal linking with the River Rhone. Between the two we stopped for a rest in a bar and had a drink and an ice cream. The temperature must have been shoving 30 but fortunately there was a gentle breeze which helped with the cycling.
Beyond Le Grau-du-Roi we followed the Canal Saint Louis through the Camargue with more flamingos and in one place giant pyramids of salt produced in the salt pans. This was a perfect cycle path, smooth and straight with lots to see. I spied a coypu along with butterflies and flowers. All the while our destination Aigues-Mortes was in the distance. It looked like a Disney creation of a medieval town, massive square walls. When we arrived it was just that;a most amazing place where the skies were chock-a-block with swifts screaming overhead continuously. We arrived around 15.30 having ridden about 45km that day, but almost entirely on the flat. We put our cycles in a garage and checked into our room for a bath before going out to look round the town. The town of Aigues Mortes was built in the 13th century as a departing point for crusaders, although Roman remains have been found under the Abbey. There is a record from the 10th century of the town called Ayga Mortas or dead water, referring to the lagoon around the town. There are 10,000 hectares of salt marsh around the town and it is claimed, not unreasonably, that salt production has been underway here for more than 2000 years. The current production is around 300,000 tonnes per year. Aigues Mortes is definitely a tourist hotspot. It was heaving when we arrived but later when we had dinner in the town square it was much quieter. While we ate we watched a guitarist and an accordion player serenading the diners while young children played round the statue of Saint Louis (called for our hotel and the canal). Our hotel was in an old building, nice to look at but less comfortable to use than the one the previous night. Our bed was half the size of the previous one!