We had a late start out of Capestang due to being out late the night before. Jill and Dizela went into town to purchase provisions before we cast off. We really enjoyed Capestang and would not pass up another opportunity to revisit it.
Continuing eastward, we shortly passed hand painted signs on the south side of the canal advertising local wine tasting. Like flies to honey, this sounded interesting to us, so once again we drove our stakes into the embankment and set off following the signs. Or so we thought. The trail petered out and we were shortly bushwhacking through the underbrush. Deciding this didn’t look right, we reversed course and eventually found our way to a delightful little winery where the server invited us to sample their production. We finished our tasting, purchased a few bottles, then trudged back up the hill to our boat. We concluded that someone had either moved the signs pointing to the winery or they had been grossly misplaced, as we only found the winery by going in the direction opposite to where the arrows pointed. None-the-less, it all worked out!
The day was exceedingly hot – certainly near 90 degrees F (or 32 degrees C for those tracking in European units). We were traveling through a very ancient historical area, as there had been a settlements nearby dating from 800 BC now called the Oppidium of Ensérune. The area had been occupied by Greek, Celtic and Romans as evidenced by archaeological excavations. Just west of Columbiers, the canal passes through the one-way tunnel of Malpas. This is a roughly 500 feet long tunnel carved through a hill that offered respite from the heat, but not for long. We also learned that the Malpas tunnel, built in 1679, was the first tunnel ever constructed for a canal.
Emerging from the tunnel, we arrived after about one kilometer at the Canalous base in Columbiers around 2:30 PM. The entire port of Columbiers is modern and in top shape, as opposed to many of the canal-side ports typically found along the Midi. We had to back the boat into a slip in the Mediterranean mooring style, as we had boats on either side of us in tight quarters. In short order we were plugged into shore power and had the A/C running, but it was only marginally effective in the heat.
Jill and I decided to do a little exploring of the area on our bicycles, while Roger and Dizela elected to stay in town near the boat. We back-tracked to visit the site of the Oppidium of Ensérune, which was only about a 5 km bike ride. However, portions of the ride were up quite a steep hill. Steep enough, in fact, that Jill elected to walk her bike up the final section to the peak. From the summit there was a magnificent view of the ancient and unusually shaped agricultural field. During the 13 century, local monks drained the swampy area and irrigation ditches radiate out from the center of the field to give it a distinctive spoke-and-wheel effect that is quite visible from the top of the lookout.
Riding down from the Oppidium was much easier than riding up, not to mention more refreshing, as the worst of the day’s heat had passed. Heading back into town we took a little break to walk through a recently harvested vineyard on the outskirts of Columbiers.
Following showers and a little refreshment, we all headed out to dinner at Le Bistrot de Colombiers, which was a delightful little restaurant right near the port. It had been recommended to us by an English couple that we met at the morning wine tasting outside of Capestang. We all agreed that this was one of the best meals we had had so far on the trip. the food was delicious, the presentation excellent and the pricing quite reasonable.