Provence

Camargue

Mecca of gypsy and Provençal culture, the Camargue is known for its wild nature, land of pink flamingos, bulls and horses in the wild.
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This small piece of land on the edge of the sea seems a parallel universe to classic Provence, but at the same time is infinitely complementary to it. It is a strip of land consisting of 75,000 hectares of sand, marshes, ponds and rice paddies, an immense park of unspoilt nature, a riot of colours and views, where man still seems to be a temporary guest.

This wild area is swept by the rushing wind and scorched by a fiery sun, which splits the earth and lights up the colours: you can admire pink flamingos, walking gracefully in the water in the bright red sunset, untamed bulls grazing on the moors and white horses living in the wild.

The Camargue enraptures the heart with the harsh character of its nature and its inhabitants, still deeply attached to centuries-old customs: you will see old ladies in traditional dress, guardians (the butteri) wearing black felt hats, floral shirts and scarves around their necks, and gypsies with guitars in their hands. We are a far cry from the refined elegance of the villages, the perched villages of Provence: in Camargue, life goes by the rhythms of nature, from cattle breeding to rice cultivation, from salt harvesting to fishing in the ponds.

Best places to visit in Camargue

A Mecca of Provençal culture, the Camargue is known and loved for its wide open spaces and its wild nature, which covers an immense area. Sandwiched between the two arms of the Rhone and the Mediterranean Sea, this land is home to exceptional yet fragile flora and fauna, a shared space where men, horses, bulls and birds live in harmony. Whether you visit the area for several days or are just passing through, you will find excellent reasons to visit the Camargue.

The Pont de Gau Ornithological Park

1RD 570 Lieu dit Pont de Gau, 13460 Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, France (Website)

The Pont de Gau Ornithological Park is located on the road from Arles, 4 km before Saintes-Maries de la Mer. To call it a park is an understatement: it is an entire protected area of the Camargue, which runs near the Etang du Vaccarès, a large pond inhabited by many species of birds.

You can follow several footpaths, interspersed with stations for observing not only pink flamingos, purple herons and water blackbirds, but also garganeys, beavers and horses in the wild. There are 2 main circuits of 3 km or 7 km: easy, accessible to all (even buggies and wheelchairs), with the possibility of hiring binoculars and having picnics. Playful and educational visits are also organised, to get to know the majestic pink flamingos up close and see the aviaries of injured birds, cared for by the park’s biologists.

A unique experience not to be missed: the time you dedicate to it is up to you, from a minimum of one and a half hours to an entire morning. We recommend silence and behaviour that does not disturb the life of the animals.

The Camargue Regional Nature Park

2Rte de Fielouse, 13200 Arles, France (Website)

The Camargue Regional Nature Park is located on the shores of the Mediterranean, within the Rhone delta, nestled between the two arms of the river, the Little and Great Rhone. This area forms a veritable natural labyrinth, composed of a multitude of small and large ponds that attract an incredible diversity of fauna.

It is one of the oldest and largest nature reserves in France and stands out in Europe for the biological richness of its ecosystems. Positioned at the centre of bird migration from northern Europe to Africa, the Camargue is an important meeting point and a key migratory stopover for ducks and waterfowl: more than 150,000 species pass through this area every year. It is a paradise for birdwatchers.

Visitors can discover these magnificent landscapes for themselves, thanks to three trails equipped with observatories (a map of the trails is provided at reception): there are in particular 3 trails of 1.5 km, 3 km and 7 km that allow you to discover the local flora and fauna.

Saintes Maries de la Mer

No one leaves the Camargue without visiting its capital, Saintes Maries de la Mer. This small picturesque village, located at the mouth of the Petit-Rhône, is at the heart of Camargue traditions.

Whatever the season, its cobbled streets and white houses show the warm and wild soul of the Camargue. The village is also a special place of pilgrimage for gypsies from all over the world: they gather here every year for the Feast of Saint Sara, on 24 and 25 May. An unmissable appointment to experience the most authentic atmosphere of the Camargue.

Arles

Together with Saintes Maries de la Mer, Arles is one of the unmissable towns of the Camargue. Listed as a UNESCO site for its numerous Roman monuments, Arles perfectly embodies the spirit of the Camargue: exquisitely gypsy, rich in history and art, welcoming and lively.

Don’t miss a visit to the Romanamphitheatre, where games and fights took place, the Coliseum, the ancient theatre, which can seat 10,000 spectators, Place de la République, the city’s nerve centre, and the Van Gogh Foundation, with its painting exhibitions.

Aigues-Mortes

Geographically belonging to Occitania, the medieval town of Aigues Mortes is hidden within its mighty ramparts: it harbours corners of enchanting Provençal atmosphere with restaurants, craft shops and picturesque bistros.

Almost behind the great walls, its salt marshes stretch as far as the eye can see. The sun shines on the pink water and from the ramparts you can take spectacular photographs in the warm light of sunset.

Salin-de-Giraud

6Salin-de-Giraud, 13129 Arles, France

Salt has always been harvested in the Camargue and one of the most picturesque places is the Salin-de-Giraud salt marshes, which can be reached on foot or by bicycle. If you walk through these salt lands, characterised by mountains of white gold, you will have an unforgettable experience.

The best time to photograph them is definitely at sunset: during the golden hour, pink hues emerge revealing the atypical beauty of this landscape and transforming it into something totally magical.

To admire the salt pans and contemplate the immense expanses of pink, I recommend going to the Belvedere of Salt: from here you can see the salt mountains over 10 metres high from a unique perspective.

You can also visit part of the salt pans to observe the work of the Sauniers and the salt harvest.

Le Grau-du-Roi

Le Grau-du-Roi is part of what is called the little Camargue. Situated in the Gard, this charming, touristy seaside resort perfectly embodies the life and traditions of the Camargue. During the village’s religious festival, which lasts eight days, the town comes alive to the rhythm of non-bloody bullfights and a lively background music plays in the streets.

Also not to be missed is a tour of its marina: Port Camargue. A unique spectacle awaits you: thousands of docked boats and a great liveliness. In fact, it is the largest marina in Europe. The maritime vocation of Le Grau du Roi is very old: it has the first trawling port in the Mediterranean. Every evening, the return of the fishing boats to port and the landing of the catch are a spectacle to behold.

Saint-Laurent-d'Aigouze

The atmosphere in Saint-Laurent-d’Aigouze is completely different. It is the ideal place to avoid the mass of tourists on holiday and to seek peace and tranquillity. It is still a completely authentic and sleepy village that lives in symbiosis with its natural surroundings.

In fact, it is surrounded by an area of over 8000 hectares, where rice cultivation predominates. The rice fields are guarded by the Tour Carbonnière, a former watchtower accessible to the public. A breathtaking panorama can be admired from here.

Map

In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article

What to do in Camargue

Horse riding

The Camargue is the land of horses. Amidst the flat expanses full of ponds and watercourses, the elegant silhouettes of these animals silhouetted against the sky. The best way to admire this spectacle and enjoy a unique experience at the same time is to take part in a horseback excursion. There are many ranches in the Camargue and you will be spoilt for choice.

We advise you to choose your riding centre carefully: one of the parameters to take into account is the distance between the ranch and the sea. In fact, one of the most suggestive routes to try is the horseback ride on the beach. Another factor to consider is the way the animals are cared for: prefer a riding school where the owner takes care of his horses, gives breaks and rest when necessary and assigns the horse according to the animal’s character and the rider’s level.

The average recommended duration of the excursion is half a day, to best appreciate the Camargue landscapes. This gives you the opportunity to trot among the ponds and walk on the sand, observing a variety of landscapes and wildlife. Horse riding in the Camargue is an activity suitable for young and old. We recommend booking them well in advance, especially in the summer months when they are very popular.

Visiting a herd

Deeply rooted in tradition, herds are part of the identity of the Camargue: they are the places where bulls and horses are bred in order to participate in non-bloody bullfights, Camargue races or organise horse rides.

It is possible to visit numerous herds, to discover and learn about the work of the herdsmen, the guardians of the herds of bulls and horses that are bred in the wild. Again, the choice of herd is based on several criteria. We recommend that you be directed by the tourist office. The main factor to take into account is certainly the way in which the herdsmen care for the animals and how they approach visitors: some do this for purely tourist purposes, others to convey the true passion of their work and love for the animals. Managing a herd is a skill and experienced herd keepers will know where to lead you, bringing you close to the bulls without danger and explaining their work.

Completely different, however, are the visits to the tourist herds. In addition to seeing the bulls, there will be several side activities: the ferrade, or marking of the bulls, a demonstration of the sorting of the bulls by the herdsmen on horseback, various games between cows and guardians in the arenas of the estates, and finally a lunch or dinner of local specialities with brasucade, anchoïade and Camarguese rice, all accompanied by the background music of gypsy guitarists.

Boat trip

Water is one of the most characteristic elements of the Camargue. In fact, this immense and wild area is criss-crossed by marshes, ponds, rivers, salt marshes and dykes that intertwine with the sea. A boat trip will allow you to observe the Camargue from a different perspective and admire this very special ecosystem.

You can choose between excursions that are more oriented towards the coast and the sea, or small cruises that take you into the heart of the inland areas, along the canals, to observe flamingos and bulls in the wild. Boats generally leave from Aigues-Mortes or Saintes Maries de la Mer with different circuits: you can follow the Petit Rhône, go up the Canal du Rhône in Sète, towards Saint-Laurent d’Aigouze and the Tour Carbonnière, or go towards the Grau du Roi and past the Salins du Midi.

For those with little time, we recommend a shorter but very unusual route: cross the Petit-Rhône by car on a ferry. In fact, there is the possibility of taking the Bac du Sauvage or the Bac Barcarin to cross the Petit-Rhône. These large flat boats can carry many vehicles and offer an authentic and fun experience for children.

Admiring flamingos

Despite its migratory nature, the pink flamingo lives in Provence all year round, more precisely in the Camargue Regional Natural Park . These graceful and elegant animals populate all the marshes and ponds of the Camargue, feeding on small molluscs, crustaceans, insects, larvae and algae contained in the mud. In summer, they can number up to 34,000.

Admiring them in all their beauty, especially at sunset, is one of the most rewarding and exciting activities one can experience during a visit to the Camargue. At this time of day, the colours come alive and the landscapes are tinged and cloaked in a surprising light. Take your car and follow your instincts, preferring the areas rich in water. If, on the other hand, you are short on time, we recommend the best places to photograph them:

Where to stay in the Camargue

The Camargue is loved and appreciated all over the world for its landscapes, its ponds and its exceptional fauna: flamingos, breeding bulls, horses. But it is also a place rich in history, with towns and villages of incredible beauty and cultural interest.

For this reason, the accommodation offer is significant: you can find hotels and solutions to suit all needs. You can choose from luxury hotels by the sea, charming houses in the middle of nature, gardians’ lodges, and B&Bs in every price range. Beware: during the period of the gypsy pilgrimage and ferias, the city is taken by storm. We strongly advise you to book your accommodation well in advance.

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Insights

Arles

Arles

The history of Arles, with its gypsy charm and Provençal colours, is intertwined with that of the painter Vincent Van Gogh, who spent the last years of his life here.
Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer

Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer

Thanks to its history and location, the capital of the Camargue preserves a cultural, religious and natural heritage of incomparable beauty.
Salin-de-Giraud

Salin-de-Giraud

Europe's largest salt marshes await you at Salin-de-Giraud: endless expanses of pink water, bordered by walls and dams, an unparalleled breathtaking panorama.