Salin-de-Giraud is located to the south-east of the Camargue delta, 40 km from the city centre of Arles: in terms of tourism, this small town with its typical working-class architecture does not have any major attractions.
The reason for coming all the way here is the incredible spectacle of the salt mines, the largest in Europe, covering up to 140 square kilometres. Immense mountains of salt lie silent, disturbed only by the sound of the wind, and the salt pans glow in magical purple and reddish colours with the lights of sunset.
The largest salt mine in Europe, called the Southern Coron, was started at the end of the 19th century near the mouth of the Grand Rhône.
It is an incredible landscape of preserved wilderness, home to more than 200 species of birds and more than 260 species of plants.
Salt crystallisation takes place under the combined action of heat and wind, which causes the evaporation of seawater and results in an unparalleled concentration of salt. But what makes these salt pans different from all the others found in Europe is the colour: they are shocking pink. Not a pale, washed-out pink: the photos found on the web correspond to reality.
The reason for this incredible colouring? The pink pigmentation is due to the presence of the microscopic algae Dunaniella salina, which over the centuries has adapted to living in the extreme conditions of salt water, where there is a very high concentration of salt. Capable of producing carotenoids to protect itself from the salt, the algae colours the water in wonderful shades, ranging from red to pink to purple: the colours become more intense as the salt concentration increases.
The best time to visit the salt pans is from March to August, when the bulkheads dividing the various sea water basins are opened to induce the natural concentration of salinity. It is at this time that the seaweed is activated, resulting in the colouring of the water.
We recommend you start your visit at Salt pans observation point1, from where you can admire a unique and incredible panorama: endless expanses of pink, purple and red rectangles open up before you as far as the eye can see. Get your cameras ready.
You can then walk to Salin de Giraud flamand rose2 where the highest concentration of salt pans is located. You can tour the area on foot, by bicycle (highly recommended activity!) or take a guided tour that will reveal the secrets of sea salt production and introduce you to the flamingos and all the other birds that pass through here throughout the seasons.
Finally, you can continue to Plage de Piémanson3, the best kitesurfing spot in the region, where camping is free and Arlesians set up their caravans here in summer. This fine sandy beach, located in the middle of the Camargue, stretches over 7 kilometres: please note that bathing is not recommended due to its dangerous waters. It can be reached by car and along the way you will admire wild swans, flamingos and several species of protected birds moving undisturbed in the shallow waters.
In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article
The salt pans can be visited on a day trip. The best place to stay is in nearby Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, which is about 1 hour from Salin-de-Giraud.
Alternatively, you could also consider Arles as a base. This Provençal town enchants visitors and is a great starting point for exploring the Camargue.
A much more attractive way to reach Salin-de-Giraud is to use the Barcarin ferry. This ferry connects the two banks of the Rhône by shuttling between Port Saint Louis du Rhône and Salin de Giraud. Wooden boats used to cross the river at this point. It was only in 1932 that a traille ferry was established, with a chain installed between the two banks, propelled by the current and oars.
Today it runs on mechanical propulsion, largely automated, and carries light and heavy vehicles every day and provides the indispensable link between the two banks, as there are still no bridges. The passage is chargeable for motor vehicles, while it is free for pedestrians and cyclists.
What's the weather at Salin-de-Giraud? Below are the temperatures and the weather forecast at Salin-de-Giraud for the next few days.
40 km from Arles, Salin-de-Giraud is located in the heart of the Camargue.