We left the visitors’ pontoon at the Châteauneuf lock in the morning with the objective of reaching port de plaisance in Avignon for the night. Historic Avignon is one of the destination stops along the Rhône for boaters and other tourists. If we found a space at the quay we’d stop for several days to explore the town.
While traveling the Saône and the Rhône we try to phone ahead to the capitanerie of our target port whenever possible to reserve a mooring spot. At the very least we usually will get an idea if a place for a 20-meter barge is likely to be available. When Becky called the Avignon capitaine she was told that there was space at the quay. With the language barrier we were not confident whether we had actually reserved a place or merely that we were told there was space. Either way it sounded good; we pushed on ahead.
Roughly 9 kilometers from Avignon was the last lock of the day, l’écluse d’Avignon.
The arrangement for the Avignon lock is different than for most of the others on the Rhône. Usually the écluse sits side by side with a hydroelectric plant. Boats exiting the downstream end of the lock cross into the eddy from the output of the hydro plant. In the case of the Avignon lock and dam complex the hydroelectric plant and the navigation route are on separate arms of the river. The hydroelectric arm of the Rhône passes by Avignon’s historic center and visitors’ quay. The navigation branch of the river is guarded by Fort. St. Andre and overlooked by the Avignon cardinal’s summer retreats. Both are on the river’s right bank. In between is an island, Île de la Barthelasse.
The two river channels rejoin roughly three kilometers below the center of Avignon. When we reached the confluence we turned Wanderlust about and headed into the strong current of hydroelectric branch heading toward the historic center. With the hot weather the demand for electricity was almost certainly high and the hydroelectric dam was running. The current was strong on this branch of the river, much stronger than we had been generally seeing on the Rhône. Calculating our forward progress by the GPS against the throttle position, we figured that the flow was averaging around 6 kilometers per hour or more. We pressed Wanderlust’s throttle forward a couple of notches and pressed ahead against the stiff stream. The GPS indicated that we were able to only make about 6 kph against the current.
Before long the pope’s palace, the old town, and Avignon’s famous half bridge, Pont Saint-Bénézet, came into sight. With the visitor quay past the bridge Wanderlust’s would necessarily travel close by the historic bridge.
As tempting as it was to ignore the signs and take Wanderlust under one of the bridge’s four remaining arches we resisted. Passing on the outside of the bridge we had to wonder how close the remains of the collapsed portion of Avignon’s pont are to the surface. Certainly the old bridge bits must still be under the water. Just how far below the surface was the question.
As we neared the bridge the tourists on top collectively paused from taking selfies and focused instead on Wanderlust. For a brief moment, Wanderlust was more interesting than Avignon’s than the bridge, the old town, or the river.
Just past the bridge there is a slight bend to the channel. As we continued upstream Avignon’s visitor quay came into view. Mindful of the current we carefully guided Wanderlust to the bank and tied her up at the 40-meter wide-open spot. Only after we were set at the bank did we notice the small signs indicating that the spot we had just occupied is reserved for a hotel barge. With no other mooring places to shift Wanderlust to Becky went to check in with the capitaine.
After an extended search to find the capitainerie the news was not good. The quay was in fact reserved for a hotel barge that might actually arrive at any time. Or it might not. No matter whether it would be occupied or not, Wanderlust would have to move.
What about the places that were open when we called? The places were open, Becky was told with a Gallic shrug, but several boats had just arrived. It seemed unlikely given that the boats at the quay were well entrenched, but who knows?
It was getting late in the day. We needed to find another place for the night and quickly readied Wanderlust for departure. After lifting the ropes I pushed Wanderlust’s bow away from the bank. With the nose angled away from the shore and into the current she ferried away from the bank. Clear of the boats at the bank we turned about and shot downstream pushed by the river’s waters. Soon we went past the Pont d’Avignon in the process interrupting a new clutch of tourists’ selfies.
Our river guidebooks told us the next mooring was a new pontoon in Aramon. Aramon is about 12 kilometers downstream of Avignon. Past Aramon the options looked iffy for some distance.
Becky called ahead to Aramon’s capitaine and was assured that there was space available.
About an hour of cruising later Wanderlust arrived in Aramon. From the wide river we could see places at the pontoon where Wanderlust would most certainly fit. We turned her about into the flow and navigated through a confusing set of buoys that roughly marked a channel to the pontoon. A short time later we were tied up for the night in Aramon. The decision was made to stay for at least a few days. As usual on the Rhône we’d chose our exact departure day based on the wind forecast.
The pontoon in Aramon does not look appealing from the river. In the area the Rhône is wide and flat. High levies block the view of the surrounding countryside. From the river the view is of an expanse of water and brush covered banks with dusty hills in the distance. No hint of the village of Aramon, half kilometer from the mooring, can be seen.
After getting set at the pontoon we took the bikes off of the boat and rode into town. We found Aramon to be a quintessentially Provençal village. A typical tree filled square shades the heat of the sun and blocks the strong Mistral winds. The shutters on the buildings are the distinctive blue and lavender pastels of the region. It is dry and dusty, but it is Mediterranean dry and not high desert dry. The pace of life is insistently slower. It is a place to stop and have a pastis in the late afternoon heat, seemingly a requirement when in Provence.
In France there are tourist offices in some of the most unlikely of places. And so it is with Aramon. The office on the square opens for limited hours during the week. With few tourists visiting the town the tourist office is not busy. But like all tourist offices there is a wealth of information about the area. We were reminded that Pont du Gard was nearby.
We started our exploration with Aramon itself. The village warrants a couple hours of to thoroughly discover but after two hours there’s not much else to do other than sip beer and pastis on the square. That was fine by us.
A day or so later we attempted to ride our bikes out 16 kilometers in the teeth of a Mistral to revisit Pont du Gard. Unfortunately, Pont du Gard, under the circumstances, was a bridge too far. We turned around before we made it there and headed back for more beer and pastis. We’ll blame not making it all of the way to Pont du Gard on the strong wind, but the truth is we were out of shape. Nevertheless the bike ride is a good way to see the Côte du Rhône vineyards that line the hillsides in the area.
We ended up liking Aramon far more than we expected. The town and its surroundings was for us a discovered treasure. We hadn’t expected much when we pulled up the dock. Perhaps that was part of the appeal in the end.
In Aramon we had a fellow river traveler guest onboard for two nights. Mark Fuhrman, an American who lives now in Norway, was in the midst of a 5600-kilometer trip by kayak from Olso to Athens Greece. Along the way during his “Silent Heroes Tour” Mark, together with an international school or an organization, found and contributed to a local “Silent Hero”, a person actively engaged in strengthening their own community or city with acts of kindness and caring. It was Mark’s way of trying to make the world a better place.
Here’s a story about Mark’s adventure.
This segment of Wanderlust’s travels is from late August 2017.
Traveling from Écluse du Chateauneuf to Aramon by way of Avignon Wanderlust covered 96 kilometers with three locks. The engine ran for 9.7 hours. With the delay in Avignon, the journey took 10.5 hours.
Clicking on this link will bring up a general map of the route. It does not show the extra credit excursion up the branch of the hydroelectric branch of the Rhône to Avignon’s port.