The Camargue is a region in the departments of Bouches-du-Rhône and Gard in the southeast of France which encompasses the delta of the river Rhône. It is a wetland area of considerable natural value, and is best known for the presence of flamingoes, the breeding of semi-wild horses and black bulls, the cultivation of rice and the production of salt. It also has long, unspoilt beaches and offers great opportunities for biking. However, when driving through it, you may be excused for not finding it very spectacular: the area is very flat with few landmarks and buildings and it takes some time to explore and appreciate it.
There are only two larger towns in the area:
- Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, on the southern tip of the Camargue;
- Aigues-Mortes, on the edge of the so-called Petit Camargue, in the west of the region. Close by you will also find the beach resort of Le Grau-du-Roi.
The eastern side of the Camargue is part of the municipality of Arles, and has no agglomerations to speak of; the largest village here is Salin-de-Giraud.
Parc Ornithologique du Pont de Gau - a series of lakes/scrapes which are home to many of the birds of the Camargue. The parc provides a good introduction to the native species.
To walk around the two sections takes about three hours, but the bird life on view will keep your attention and lengthen this time. Enthusiastic photographers could spend most of the day here.
The Camargue is the region in one of the largest river deltas in Europe. From Arles the river Rhône splits into the Grand Rhône and Petit Rhône. The area in and around here is the Camargue. Largely a protected area, it is flat, with almost as much water as land. Wildlife is abundant, paticularly birds and wild white horses. Salt is produced in great quantity from the vast number of saltflats and highly regarded locally. There are only two small towns, Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer and Aigues-Mortes. The terrain only allows for a few minor roads. Travel by boat might be more interesting, but the opportunity seems limited except for a trip from St Maries up the Petit Rhône for an hour or two.
- By bike:
- By foot:
- By boat: The Canal crosses with ease the Gard part of the Camargue along a thirty km stretch that links the Rhône to the Mediterranean at Le Grau-du-Roi. It is a natural waterway in a landscape where specific flora and fauna dwell together in harmony.
No need to be a good sailor, it's enough to climb aboard one of the comfortable river boats and let oneself be carried for an afternoon. Or you might like to rent a small barge with family or friends, and spend an adventurous few days in the reeds. Or perhaps board a hotel-barge for a day or two and take a guided water tour of the Gard.
You can contact a local travel agency, like www.durand-tourisme-gard.com.
This agency organize trip around Cevennes (classified on the world heritage of UNESCO) and Camargue.
There are numerous hotels on way from Arles to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. Some of them worth considering include:
- Les Arnelles, (450m outside of the St-M-dl-M, on the left side of the road just after Le Pont Des Bannes hotel). Bar 8am to 11pm
Local specialty foods
Specialty foods of the Camargue include:
- Anguilles au four
- Gardiane de Taureau
- Salade Camarguaise
- Aubergines aux anchois et aux capres
- Barbouillade d'artichauts
- Brandade de Morue
- Canard aux figues
- Moules en Brasucado
- Hachis camarguais
- Fougasse d'Aigues Mortes
- La Broufado
Finding a good dinner
When staying in a touristy city like Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, it can be difficult to find a place for a good dinner with anything beyond fried chips and over-grilled meat.
However, if you have a car, here are some tips for finding a good place serving local cuisine. Internet connection can help in your research. You should look for:
- Restaurants out of town, even in remote locations. Minus the convenience factor of an in-town location, many countryside restaurants rely on local customers and fidelity to regional cuisine which attracts enough clientele despite remote location.
- Menu that lists mostly or exclusively local specialties (see the list above)
- Ferme Auberge (farm inn), an official government program. Members usually show good fidelity to local cuisine, though limited menu selection.
- Membership in Conservatoire des Cuisines de Camargue, society for the preservation of true Camargue cuisine
- Table d'hote (guest table), a kind of intimate restaurant. Often a bed and breakfast which prepares dinner with advance reservation. Don't confuse it with table d'hotes in a regular restaurant in a big city where it is more for solo diners to share a communal table--and more common at lunch.
- Ask at the local tourist information office. They are not allowed to give opinions, but you can ask what restaurants serve local dishes in the list above or if there are any table d'hote or ferme auberge in the region.
Here are some restaurants that look promising per above recommendations as of Sept 2010 (although not tried hands-on by Wikitravelers yet):
- close to Saintes Maries de la Mer:
- Le Flamant Rose, ☎ 04 90 97 10 18 ([email protected], fax: 04 90 97 12 47), . Member of a society for the preservation of true Camargue cuisine. Local specialties, plus a remote location.
- Le Pont des Bannes, . Very elegant. Hits every major local specialty and has almost nothing from outside the region on the menu. Dinner menus: starter+main+dessert: €43; starter+main: €36; main+dessert: 31; starter+dessert: 17.
- Mas de Peint, . Table d’hote, by reservation only. Breakfast: €22; lunch: €42; dinner: €55.
- La Tour du Cazeau, Arles The Sambuc, ☎ 04 90 97 21 6 ([email protected], fax: 04 90 97 20 70), . Ferme-auberge, by reservation only. Dinner menu: €25.
- away from Saintes Maries de la Mer:
- Le Tamaris, 13 rue Victor Hugo, Le Cailar, ☎ +33 (0)4 66 88 07 91 ([email protected]), . The most rustic – most likely to prepare food you absolutely cannot get outside of the Camargue. The display of their dishes, remote location, and menu selection suggests it is probably a worthwhile experience. Set menu: €13..16.