Camargue, the Wild West of the South of France.
The Camargue is a great place to spend your holidays. It feels less explored and lies between the Cote d’Azur and the Languedoc-Roussillon regions. The Camargue is a very interesting region to visit with kids, as there is a lot to learn. On nature, on the pink Flamingo birds that have their home here, to spot wild horses and bulls and to see the remarkable pink colored salt ponds or green rice fields. But there is more. You can combine your visit to the Camargue with fun at the beach, and by visiting the town of Arles, with its art scene and incredible remains of Roman times.
Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is the capital of the Camargue region and easiest to choose as a base to explore the surroundings. Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is also the town which hosts the pilgrimage of gypsies once a year on May 24th, when gypsies come to celebrate their culture and honor their patron Saint Sara. In summer, when tourists come to the small seaside town, you will still find a lot of the typical Flamenco guitar music of gypsies in the restaurants to animate summer dinners.
You can climb on top of the Cathedral of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, and enjoy the panoramic view over the town and the Camargue region.
Restaurant recommandations in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer:
We have been to two very good restaurants Les-Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, which we would highly recommend:
- La Maison de Jeanne, this restaurant is on the small square right in front of the Cathedral. Good regional cuisine using fresh products. Make sure you reserve before as we have seen they had to turn people away.
- Le Chante Clair, a bit more expensive, but very very good!
- Bistrot Fanneu – simple, but good and a relax and fun atmosphere. For drinks or a light lunch.
Aigues-Mortes is a medieval walled town which is very beautiful to visit. It is car-free, so there are big parking lots outside of the town. Since it was warm and crowded, we decided to go in the evening, which is very nice. You can also decide to go early and on market day. The market, which is held around the walls, is on Sundays and Wednesdays. Near Aigues-Mortes you can visit the salt ponds, but we decided to go to the ponds in Salin-de-Giraud.
Restaurant tip in Aigues-Mortes: Restaurant Piou, reserve in advance!
Camargue Salt Ponds, Salin-de-Giraud
The town itself didn’t appeal so much to us, but we stopped at the viewpoint of the pink salt ponds and were amazed by that view which seems to change into different shades of pink with the light. Our children liked walking around and looking at the salt crystals that form on the side of the water. Interesting to learn is that the water turns pink because of a micro algae bacterium which is then eaten by shrimps, and the shrimps eaten by the Flamingo birds. In the end, this is what gives the Flamingo its pink color! We never knew this! You can request for a guided tour, or visit the salt ponds by bike.
Camargue Natural Regional Park and the Camargue Flamingo bird
The Bird Park Pont de Grau is a beautiful place to observe Flamingos and other animals from close by! You can walk for as long as you want, unless you forgot your mosquito repellent, then you will be out sooner than you may have wished for 😊. The Camargue Natural Regional Park consists of protected wetlands which allows you to observe so many birds here. It is also why there are mosquitoes. Signs are there to explain why they do not treat against mosquitoes, and again, we were fine. The Flamingos, who always come back here, are totally free. A sign says that a Flamingo who leaves the Camargue at 15h00, could be spotted on the Italian island Sardinia the next day at 10h00. Our hotel advised us to go just before 19h00, in order to see the Flamingos come back. We did that but didn’t see any bird flying. They were already there. 19h00 is the last entrance time to the park, but you are free to exit whenever you would like.
Camargue Wild Horses
The White Camargue Horse are wild horses because they live in freedom. All the horses apparently do have owners though, but you will see them walking around freely in the swamps of the Camargue. At a lot of places you can book a horseback riding trip through nature or on the beach. We did not do this activity, so no particular recommendation on where to go.
We loved Arles! It is a cultural city where important times of history come together. Arles has some of the most important Roman ruins and they are very well preserved. There’s the Arena, the Roman Amphitheatre, the baths, and the crypto portico, an underground forum.
Arles through the eyes of Van Gogh
Apart from Roman sites, we also very much liked all the references to places where the famous Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh went and created his work. Van Gogh lived in Arles in 1888 for a year and created numerous paintings here. We first visited the Van Gogh Bridge, also known as Pont de Langlois, just outside of Arles. The surrounding area was less beautiful and rural than in Van Gogh’s time, but still nice to go to the approximate place where he sat to paint.
The bridge on the river is not the actual bridge, which was unfortunately destroyed but an old bridge of the same type was placed here.
In the center of Arles, we also went to the Café Van Gogh, which was the decor of Van Gogh’s painting ‘Terrace of a Café by Night’. Really cool to talk with our children about art and culture at exactly those spots where the painter has been. It makes the history come to live for them.
The Van Gogh Foundation in Arles is also worth a visit, but not to see many of Van Gogh’s paintings. There are only 5 of them to be seen here. However, the Foundation has exhibitions of contemporary artists that they compare to Van Gogh.
Center of Arles
Arles is a typical Provencal town with its beautiful color of houses with the window shutters. Near the Roman Arena there are narrow streets and we love to wander around on those. We saw a lot of posters stuck to the walls of the old town, most of them for photo exhibitions. We personally like to see the posters, or sometimes streetart, which gives you a good feeling of what’s happening in a city.
We loved Arles!!
To get to beautiful, or even lonely beaches, you would have to get a bit away from Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. We recommend the following beaches, depending on what you like.
- Farniente Plage, a beach club near Saintes-Maries, where you could rent beds and eat on site.
- Plage de Piémanson, continue the road after the salt ponds of Salin-en-Giraud you will drive on a beautiful road in the middle of nature, with water on both sides of the road. You will end up at a big parking lot, with only a first aid spot and then a very, very large beach… Walk a bit towards the right to make sure you get a bit away from crowds.
- Plage de Beauduc, if you walk even further you will get to this kitesurfing beach. No facilities, so make sure you bring all you need.
Where to stay in the Camargue:
Our hotel was a little slice of heaven! Nice family rooms, a big swimming pool, kind staff, and a jacuzzi. It was an easy stroll to the center and the restaurants.
If you prefer camping or glamping in the Camargue, we saw this campsite which was cool and had lunch there. The staff was really nice there as well!