The Guargian-Like St Tropez before Bardot

…. Spend any timThe-coastal-town-of-Marse-001e in Marseillan and you’re constantly pulled back to the Bassin de Thau. All life swirls around, on or underneath it.

It’s why I headed east along the shore to Medi Thau. It sounds like a center for genetic engineering. And in a sense it is – only for oysters, not humans. The family firm has revolutionised the farming of the acclaimed crustaceans that thrive on the lagoon’s phytoplankton.

Instead of submerging them on ropes for 12-18 months’ growth, Medi Thau’s solar-powered lifts regularly pull them out of the briny for hours, sometimes days, at a time. The result is that, rather than endlessly gorging, the critters are forced to keep their mouths closed to retain water – a mini workout.

« We make them suffer a little, » says fisherman and directeur général Florent Tarbouriech, as we cruise around the sun-dappled oyster beds. « It makes them stronger, more muscular, more fleshy. »

The tubby, plump beauties are up to 17% bigger than normal, fit to grace dining tables in Venice, Hong Kong and Shanghai. They also have a suntan : exposure to ultra-violet rays gives the shells a delicate rose blush and the name Pink Diamond.

But in Marseillan you don’t need to splash a second mortgage at a flash restaurant. Medi Thau serves the super-sized aphrodisiacs in its straw-roofed shack, dripping with geraniums and surrounded by old fishing nets. The Pink Diamonds are extraordinary, more like steaks than oysters, with an addictive sweet aftertaste.

« All this just by lifting them out of the water, » says Florent, as he prizes open another fleshy specimen. « C’est trés jolie. C’est incroyable. » Which, worryingly, is exactly what director Roger Vadim and many others said about Brigitte Bardot in her 1950s St Tropez heyday.

But while Pink Diamonds are another recent development guaranteed to put Marseillan on the food and travel map, the small port seems more than capable of retaining its unhurried, sunny, bling-free charm.

 

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