Camargue is the ideal destination if you want to escape from the urban lifestyle, only one hour from Marseille airport. The Camargue National Reserve is well known for birdwatching (especially pink flamingos), for its marshes, its salt-pans, its long deserted beaches, bulls, white horses and rice culture.
I was unfortunate with the weather on my last trip so I shall come back to snap all those natural landscapes. This time, I focused on the ancient Roman city of Arles and the atypical village Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer instead.
Experience the authentic charm of this village, a place like no other, offering over 30 Km of beaches.
The visit of the church is my main recommandation. The primitive church was built before the 6th century. The fortressed church was created between the 9th and 12th centuries, with the aim to protect the village from pirates’ invasions. You can see that the walls are dotted with murder holes.
It was there, at the Sanctuary Notre-Dame-de-la-Mer, that the Christian message was heard for the first time in France. The sanctuary is dedicated to Saints Mary Jacobea and Mary Salome, who followed Christ to the cross and arrived there from Palestine, and their companion, Sara, venerated by the gypsies. It is through them that the message of resurrection arrived, so It is one of the most important places of pilgrimage to commemorate the resurrection of Christ.
Every year, on May 24-25, gypsies comme from all over Europe to les Saintes-Marie to celebrate the black St Sara, probably an Egyptian. Her cult has existed since the 15th century, however, her history is not really clear, depending if you listen to the Catholic Church or the gypsies…
A place of strong tradition in Provençal culture.
Apart from pilgrimages to see the relics of the saints Marie Jacobé and Marie Salomé in May and October, many events take place at the Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, such as the Festo Vierginengo for young ladies with the Arlesian costume in July, and the Camargue races. This is about challenging a bull by trying to take off its decorations. Let’s not forget that the bull is never killed in the Camargue races.
Garlan is a bull from a herd in the Saintes-Maries, born in 2000, on 3 occasions he won the Biou d’Or price, rewarding the best bull of the year. The statue celebrates its 10 years career, its 73 races, its intelligence and capacity of anticipation.
Arles is the northern border of the land of Camargue. The river Rhône forks into two branches just upstream of Arles, forming the Camargue delta. Since Camargue is mainly a part of Arles for administrative purposes, the commune as a whole is the largest of France in terms of territory.
Founded by the Ligurians, the city soon became an important Phoenician trading port, Romans took the town in 123 BC and expanded it into an important city, with the construction of a canal link to the Mediterranean Sea.
The Roman monuments of Arles were listed as UNESCO World Heritage in 1981.
Main points of interest:
Place de la République and The Sainte Trophime church
Sainte Trophime, built in 12-15th centuries, is one of the finest examples of romanesque sculpture, the portal tells about the Last Judgment. The Church is located on the St James of Compostela pilgrimage route and contains relics.
Just in front of the church, the ancient Obelisk dates back to the 4th Century.
The Gallo Roman theatre
The Amphitheater, with its original ellipse shape, is the most emblematic monument of the city, its is 2 000 years old and still hosts events. It was originally designed to host 21 000 spectators.
The Roman Arena
Build at the end of the 1st century after JC, there is little left as the stones were used to build latter monuments in the city, however it still hosts events in the summer such as music festivals (Les Suds).
Events not to be missed:
- Easter feria: April 14-17 , which is the kickoff of the French bullfighting season.
- The photography festival Rencontres d’Arles, from July to September.
- Rice Feria: September 9-10
>>More information and guided tours: arlestourisme.com