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 delta of the river Rhône is one of the largest in Europe. Just south of Arles, the river splits into the Grand Rhône and Petit Rhône. In between, we find the so-called Grand Camargue. The area to the west of the Petit Rhône is known as Petit Camargue. The Grand Camargue is a protected nature reserve.
The area consists of extensive wetlands, that progressively become more brackish the closer to the Mediterranean Sea you go. In the north of the region, most of the area is grassland, where cattle and horses are raised, with some vineyards on the higher elevations. The lower and wetter areas are used for rice cultivation. In the south, there are many lagoons (étangs) with an abundance of bird wildlife. The lagoons are traditionally also used for the production of salt.
- 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.
The area is very flat with little traffic, so it is ideal for cycling. However, it can be quite windy, so be prepared for that. Some dedicated cycling paths run through the area, in particular along the coast.
The area is well-known for its abundant bird wildlife, in particular the flamingoes that are concentrated in the Étang du Fangassier.
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
For non-French people, the huge importance attached to local food and cuisine can sometimes seem a bit exaggerated. However, you can be sure that the best food is not to be found in the touristic zones, and French people (and websites) will know the better places to go.
Some general suggestions for finding good places:
- Restaurants out of town, even in remote locations. These usually rely on local customers and stick with regional cuisine.
- Restaurants with menus listing mostly or exclusively local specialties (see the list above)
- Ferme Auberge (farm inn), an official government program. Members usually serve local cuisine, though the menu selection may be limited.
- Restaurants that are members of the Conservatoire des Cuisines de Camargue, (society for the preservation of Camargue cuisine)
- Table d'hôte (guest table), a kind of intimate restaurant. Often a bed and breakfast which prepares dinner with advance reservation. Not to be confused with table d'hôtes in regular restaurants that offer communal tables for solo diners.
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.
It's not a real risk, but be aware that the Camargue is home to an enormous number of mosquitoes, which may make staying there quite unpleasant in Summer.