CroisiEurope’s Charming Provence

Sailing on a luxurious hotel barge, Michael Edwards cruises from Arles to Sète.

Sete Provence - CroisiEurope
Sete on the Mediterranean coast.

The MS Anne-Marie waits for us moored up on the wide River Rhine at Arles, deep in the South of France. She is a 22-berth hotel barge, with 11 cabins, purpose built for sedately showing guests  CroisiEurope’s Charming Provence. 

Over the next seven days and six nights, the MS Anne-Marie, named after one of the Schmitter family who own CroisiEurope, will cruise south-west to the Mediterranean port of Sète. 

The voyage will take us through the Camargue, a spectacular delta where flamingos fly and storks nest. Bring your binoculars as around two-thirds of the species of birds found in France are spotted in the Camargue. 

With the foothills of the Alps fading away to the north, this is a big skies flat terrain where eventually the land slips into the Mediterranean. White horses gallop through the salty marshes of the Camargue and marsh reeds thatch the traditional houses. Both roads and rivers are quiet in one of France’s more remote and peaceful regions.

Cowboys
Traditional cowboys of the Camargue region.

This is France’s Wild West, where French cowboys, les gardian, saddle up stocky white horses to round-up black bulls. Although the region has its gentler take on bull fighting, where the brave and foolhardy try to snatch ribbons from the bull’s forehead, these bulls are bred primarily for meat. 

Amongst the salty marshes and sandy soil lies France’s paddy fields. When the crop of rice is tallied, French rice accounts for around 5% of world rice production. So, a local favourite dish is red rice with gardianne de taureau. On board the MS Anne-Marie, Jonathan, our chef, has his own take on this Camargu classic. Accompanying the beef, doused in a full-bodied red wine, he blends bay leafs, garlic, onion, tarragon and orange peel. 

Restaurant - Anne-Marie - CroisiEurope ©Fabrice Rambert

Our Charming Provence river-cruise is all-inclusive. Before lunch and dinner, Jonathan appears to announce our meal. Lunch and dinner are accompanied by a choice of red, rosé and red wines. Though in Provence, with the sun shining, rosé is always a popular choice. From a coffee before breakfast through to a night-cap, the bar is always open.

The first excursion takes place, even before we sail. A mini-coach and our English-speaking guide take us to the Moulin de Coquille. By the entrance stand two needle-thin cypress trees, a traditional symbol of welcome, around these parts. Named after shells found in the local rock, this is an olive farm with over 10,000 trees shaken annually for the autumn harvest to fall into a net placed at the foot of every tree. 

The farm is run by pregnant Aurele, with just a little part-time help, though she is already lready the mother of a toddler. When the crop has been harvested, she runs her machine at 7,000 rpm to process 5,000 olives a day into olive oil. At the height of the harvest, the machine runs from 7am through to 3 am the next day. 

Arles - CroisiEurope
The beautiful Provence city of Arles.

After buying olive oil and fig jam from Aurelle’s shop, the mini-coach heads for Arles, known as “Little Rome”, after its surviving Roman amphitheatre and other relics. Throughout the town Arles remembers its artistic heritage. In the 1880s Van Gogh was so inspired by the town’s colour and light that the post-impressionist enjoyed his most prolific period. 

A trail around the town shows the original sites of some of Van Gogh’s paintings. But it was in Arles, in 1889, when Van Gogh began to show signs of mental illness. He clashed with fellow artist Gaugin over how best to represent the Provencal landscape and later slashed off part of his own ear. Today, the artistic spirit lives on with Arles hosting an annual international photographic competition. 

Anne-Marie - CroisiEurope ©CroisiEurope
CroisiEurope Anne-Marie moored for a day excursion.

From Arles, the MS Anne-Marie sails on, perhaps mooring-up for an early evening game of boules, before an aperitif and dinner. Life on-board is quintessentially French. The ship has its own on-board cafe / bar, with pink geraniums on the tables, helping to create the distinctive atmosphere of a French village. Yet, there is still much more of Provence to explore as the ship heads into the Petit Rhone.

CroisiEurope fact file

Departing 15th October 2022 or on various dates between March and August 2023, prices for the seven-day cruise between Arles and Sète start from £2,380 per person for the cruise with all meals and drinks, all excursions, use of onboard bicycles and port taxes. Price excludes flights.

Call CroisiEurope on 020 8328 1281 or visit croisieurope.co.uk

The itinerary for the Charming Provence river-cruise

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Tags: , , Last modified: May 9, 2022

Written by 10:14 am Europe, Travel

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