Yes, we've been on holiday. We decided to make the most of the fantastic weather (not to mention the fact that it was the last week before Les Grandes Vacances), packed the tent, and drove the 150km to our 'local' seaside village, Gruissan, for a few days of R&R.
Gruissan is a pretty good mix of fishing village, huge nature reserves, modern port/marina/resort and wine-lovers' paradise.
Apart from having five huge beaches (and I mean huge. I mean driveable-along. I mean ones where you get your car stuck in the sand and have to be towed out, after half an hour of hot but fruitless digging, by a fortuitously passing 4x4. But that's another story), Gruissan has several étangs, or salt water lagoons. In the winter, masses of pink flamingos, egrets, avocets and other waders take up residence (the bird list runs to over 200 species); in the summer you have to be content with countless species of butterflies and a richness of plant life that puts even Blakeney Point into the shade. Apparently it's one of the only areas in France where garrigue meets saltmarsh head-on, hence lots of rare plants and every ecological protection label going. One plant is so rare that it's almost on the edge of extinction: centaurea corymbosa only (and that's as in nowhere else in the world) grows in a 3 square kilometre area here, and less than 500 individual plants reproduce each year. Isn't that extraordinary? And scary? Here it is:
Wine lovers will need no introduction to La Clape, the 15000 hectare massif between Gruissan and Narbonne, where we spent a couple of days wandering in the garrigue - some of Languedoc's best wines are produced from around 30 small and passionately run wineries here. La Clape was an island until the eleventh century, when the rivers silted up. It's been inhabited since Neolithic times (several dolmens, but they're not easy to find!); later on Roman centurions from the 10th legion, who were given land to build villas on the massif, planted the first vineyards. The herby smells of the garrigue, shimmering light of the water and the ubiquitous chirping of the cicadas combine to make it a very sensuous, as well as strangely beautiful, place in high summer.
Parts of Gruissan give me a sense of déja vu; walking by the saltmarshes, with the sea in the distance and the avocets calling, I can almost feel myself to be back in north Norfolk, on the coast path from Cley to Blakeney:
Except of course that Cley doesn't have these: