Camargue and Saintes Maries de la Mer

I visited the Camargue and Saintes Maries de la Mer during one of my trips to Provence with Ornella. A land to love: wild, rich in traditions. Where nature seems to have taken over.

Of beautiful places, I can say I have seen them: from the tropics to alpine landscapes but I confess that the Camargue has a special place in my heart.
It was an almost accidental discovery since I had not planned any visits, but as I was in Provence, everyone I heard from during our trip recommended a visit. So it was that Ornella and I set off from Arles, where we were staying, to discover the magnificent Camargue.

Camargue monument knights
Camargue knights monument – Sainte Marie del la mer

Camargue where it is located

From Arles the Camargue is only a few kilometres away but I assure you that the spectacle is truly unique: arriving along the road that passes in the middle of the coastal dunes until you reach Saintes Maries de la Mer reserves numerous surprises such as herds of galloping horses, pink flamingos that stop in the numerous ponds and a nature that seems untouched.

where the Camargue is located
Camargue map

We arrived in Saintes Maries de la Mer, a small fishing village with no destination, ignoring the fact that it is an important pilgrimage destination for the gypsy people.
Intrigued by the town’s strange name, I began to investigate its origins.

Saintes Maries de la Mer

I don’t know how many people know that the origin of Saintes Maries de la Mer dates back to the 4th century and housed a temple erected in honour of Ra, the famous Egyptian god.

saintes maries de la mer camargue
saintes maries de la mer camargue

Before telling about the peculiarities of this almost fairy-tale village, it is good to say that it is in an ideal position to visit in depth this territory adjacent to the Rhone delta which is the Camargue, a protected area to safeguard the important ecosystem present here.

A church dedicated to the three Marys

Saintes Maries de la Mer, owes its name to the plural (Sante Marie del mare) because legend has it that after the resurrection of Jesus, Maria Maddalena accompanied by Maria Jacobè and Maria Salomè arrived at this very place together with Sara the blacktheir servant; and it is the latter figure that is honoured by the Roma, Sinti and Gypsies on 24 May through a veritable pilgrimage from all over Europe that has the Camargue as its final destination.

Church Saintes maries de la mer
Church Saintes maries de la mer

The same legend tells us that Sarah was the handmaiden of Mary Salome, while another tells us that she was a woman of Egyptian origin who had a vision: a boat with three women and a man on board was shipwrecked and she saw the spot and went to the rescue of the castaways.
Thus began the evangelisation of France with Sarah asking for baptism for herself and her people.

Visit Saintes Maries de la Mer

We began our visit to this village of white houses from what is its centrepiece: the Romanesque church dedicated to Sainte Marie de la mer
The building dates back to the 12th century and is in pure Romanesque style. It was reinforced and fortified during the 15th century, taking on the severe tone of a fortress.
If you climb to its rooftop, you can enjoy a panoramic view of the entire surrounding area and realise the intricate urban fabric that is articulated right from the church.

The crypt of Santa Sara

Santa Sara Camargue
Santa Sara Camargue

Although Sara the Black is not really a church-recognised saint, she is one of the most venerated figures among the Gypsy people. It is exciting to descend into the crypt where the remains of St Sara rest.
The festival dedicated to her, also called ‘le Pèlegrinage des Gitans‘, takes place on 24 May and continues the following day. The event attracts thousands of pilgrims from all over Europe to take part in one of the many processions that see the remains of the saint, pass through the town and arrive at the sea for the blessing.
The festivities include horse races, non-bloody bullfights, traditional games, gypsy music and dancing, and thousands of people animating the Provençal town.

Non bloody bullfighting in Camargue

Bullfighting in Camargue takes place both during the Saintes Maries de la Mer festival and on feast days in Saintes Maries de la Mer and their particularity is that they are not bloody: the bull at the end of the game only returns a little tired and angry to its pen, but still on its feet.

Saintes maries de la mer sand race
Corrida in the arena of Saintes Maries de la Mer

At first I wasn’t so much inclined to participate, but after seeing it I must say that we really enjoyed the way these bullfighting shows take place where the skill of young people dressed in white with a red waistband challenges the bull by trying to rip off a cockade that he holds right between his horns.

Visit the Camargue

I can assure you that it is a truly rich discovery that continues with a visit to the Camargue, a land that has truly remained in the wild and that makes all birdwatchers and nature lovers happy.
The first thing I recommend is to go to the tourist office, as we did, and take all the maps that are made available to visitors for the convenience of viewing the various destinations on your itinerary.

Etang du vaccares

About four kilometres from Saintes Maries de la Mer, at Pont de Gau, you will find the Ornithological Park, which covers a vast area of the Camargue adjacent to the Etang du Vaccarès, a marshland where many species of birds find an ideal habitat.

Camargue Flamingos
Camargue Flamingos

Taking one of the many paths (all well signposted) we found some specially made stations to admire the resident fauna such as purple herons, pink flamingos, water blackbirds, beavers and wild horses.

Bulls in Camargue
Bulls in Camargue

Needless to underline the fact that respect for all animals and the environment that you will have the opportunity to visit, must be a constant of your excursion remembering that, in this case, the guest is you.

Excursion in Camargue

It is a wonderful land that you can get around on a rented bike or on a horseback excursion to the lighthouse about ten kilometres from the city.
We reached the Gacholle lighthouse by car, following the D36B road and, once there, you can visit the permanent exhibition that will introduce you to the fauna present on this stretch of coastline.
If you prefer adventure, you can leave your bike and your car behind and go for a horseback ride, going to one of the stables in the area and with the company of an expert guide, discover unique places.

Camargue on horseback
Camargue by horse – Photo credit: T. Zumbiehl on / CC BY-NC-SA

Alternatively, choose a boat trip on one of those tours that go up to the mouth of the river to admire the wild nature in all its beauty from an unusual vantage point.

Aigues Mortes

After enjoying the unspoilt nature, we got back in the car and drove towards the fortified town of Agues Mortes.

Aigues Mortes - Camargue
Aigues Mortes – Camargue

The spectacle is unbelievable: the walls burnt by the sun welcomed us on our arrival.

Aigues deaths - Camargue - enters
Aigues deaths – Camargue – enters
Aigues Mortes Camargue wall
Aigues Mortes Camargue wall

The charm of the Camargue

If you allow yourself to be captivated by the charm of the Camargue, it will be inevitable to wander around to savour its atmosphere. the only problem we have faced is that, since these are still in the natural state, you cannot rely on fast food or bars ‘around the corner’, so you have to organize yourself if necessary: water, snacks to satisfy your appetite but also trekking shoes, comfortable and practical clothing, sunglasses and protective creams must be part of a sober but complete luggage where binoculars and a camera should not be missing.

Animals in Camargue - Horses
Animals in Camargue – Horses on the beach

Unlike what we discovered on site and completely by chance, my advice is to draw up a sort of day-by-day itinerary, because the Camargue is so varied and beautiful that you can dedicate three or four days to ‘savour’ it a little bit.

Provence to see

If you want to learn more about one of the most romantic lands I have ever visited, read all our Provence itineraries

Camargue e Saintes Maries de la Mer
(Visitato 469 volte. Solo oggi ci sono state 1 visite a questo articolo)

Alcuni tour che potrebbero interessarti

Articoli di viaggio correlati

Leggendo il post di viaggio sopra, potresti essere interessato a leggere altre cose
sulla destinazione, guarda i nostri suggerimenti in merito.

Iscriviti alla newsletter

Ti è piaciuto questo articolo?

Condividi su Facebook
Condividi su Twitter
Condividi su WhatsApp
Condividi su Telegram
Condividi su Linkdin
Condividi su Pinterest
Salva su Pocket
condividi via email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.