Picture wooded slopes in the foothills of the French Alps, mostly old-growth hazel with roe deer roaming free, and a long, long way from the sea. A patched-up road leads to a lake and an eighteenth-century hunting lodge. Believe it or not, many a sailor — from Mississippi pilots to Russian captains of ice-breaking LNG carriers — has fond memories of this bucolic setting. Not far from here is the Palais idéal, or Ideal palace, a curious masterpiece built by French postman Ferdinand Cheval between 1879 and 1912. Such is the backdrop to Port Revel, a training centre known to seafarers the world over as one of the best places to learn — thanks to a fleet of 1:25 scale models — how to berth, unberth, set two anchors, enter Panama and Suez locks, or deal with the currents off Port Arthur, Texas, to name just a few of the many options.
For over 50 years, Port Revel has welcomed pilots and captains to its renowned training facility amid the hills and the trees and far from the sea and the smell of fuel oil. “There’s no signal for mobile phones, but that only adds to the experience. We pick our clients up at the train station or in Lyon, put them up in a nearby hotel a…
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