Highlights of Languedoc, a bike tour – Stage 3 Aigues Mortes to Arles

We took an early breakfast so we could be well on our way before the predicted thunder storms arrived. We retrieved our bikes from the back of a large garage and inched them through parked cars. Then rode through Aigues Mortes on cobbled streets and out through a narrow gateway in the impressive town walls just by the Tour de Constance.Tour de Constance built in1242We soon rejoined the Canal Saint Louis that we used the previous day with its excellent cycle path.

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La Tour Carbonniere

After about 3km we arrived near the La Tour Carbonniere. Originally used as a defensive watch tower associated with the fortified town of Aigues Mortes it was used later as a toll gate. In the 19th century it was in such a ruinous condition it was considered for demolition but fortunately, instead, was restored. It is a striking feature, visible for miles around, in this very flat countryside. At this tower we swapped canals and continued along the Sete Rhone Canal on another splendid cycle path. We passed a notice board stating the intention, eventually, to extend this cycle track all the way along the river Rhone to Lake Geneva. The route is called Via Rhona. It will be about 450km long and will make an enticing proposition when complete (http://en.viarhona.com/).

Neither our tour book instructions nor the enclosed map appeared to correspond to what was happening on the route so we ignored both and continued on the cycle path to a town called Galician. We did not go into the town but turned more or less south along a road bordered on both sides by water. We spotted several little stints, ibis and a marsh harrier as well as a what must have been a shoal of fish creating a great deal of turbulence. This was easily the best day for wildlife crowned with the sight of a Stork nest with 3 chicks later in the day. P1060742We stopped briefly at a nature reserve (Le Centre de Découverte du Scamandre) and I saw a coypu nest. We did not stay too long because the weather forecast predicted a 60% chance of rain in early afternoon and we were headed for Arles which promised plenty of sights so we wanted to get there as promptly as we could. It was sunny and quickly became hot and by midday the clouds were gathering strongly and shading the sun now and again. The area was sparsely populated and we were very pleased to discover a camp site with a cafe for a brief stop and a bite to eat in the shade. Shortly after we joined the GR 653 walking track heading to Arles.  This section passed through rice paddies and was described as “typical Camargue”. Certainly there were rice paddies and a few white horses but I think other sections were more “typical”.

Our hotel in Arles was the Hotel du Forum

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Hotel du Forum in Arles

and was fairly easy to find in a square called Le Forum! in the centre of the old town. It was an old building but very well-equipped and comfortable. After we checked in at reception we had to go back out and round the block to take our bikes through a rusty old locked metal door and leave them in an outhouse right by the hotel’s tiny swimming pool. We arrived about 3pm having ridden about 55km that day. After we had cleaned up we left for a look around and had about 30 minutes before the storm arrived. Luckily, when it struck we were right opposite our hotel and ducked into a bar Cafe van Gogh, painted in bright yellow to match VvG’s painting at this location. We were trapped there for about an hour while the rain bucketed down filling the awnings on the patio outside the cafe.

Arles is the second oldest city in Provence (Marseilles is the oldest). It was established by the Greeks 2500 years ago on a rocky plateau about 20 mtrs above the Rhone delta. It is full of impressive buildings and narrow interesting streets. It is also famous for its association with van Gogh. He stayed in a sanitorium in the town for about a year and it is where he painted over 100 of his paintings. We visited the sanitorium early that evening and were caught there for about half an hour while another storm passed over. It remains much as VvG saw and recorded it in one of his paintings.IMG_20150616_175554429

Later during a dry spell we walked around the city, looked at the amphitheatreIMG_20150616_154430292

 

and took in the old parts of the city. We had an interesting meal in an “Italian” restaurant with around 6 staff only one of whom seemed to be doing any work at all. The others were sitting drinking wine and studiously studying their mobiles. Still, we should worry! the food and wine was pretty good.

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