June 10, 2013

The Camargue, Delta of the Rhone

Port St. Louis, July 2012 - Situated at the mouth of the Rhone River, Port St. Louis marked the end of our river cruise through Burgundy and Provence with Avalon Waterways. We started the day with breakfast – and a mimosa – and then boarded a motor coach bound for St. Rémy de Provence for the Provence Extension to our tour.

The Quay in Port St. Louis

Our drive took us through the Camargue, a triangular shaped area bounded by two branches of the Rhone, the Grand Rhône in the east and the Petit Rhône in the west. The flat marshy delta is notable for its wildlife and is home to small white Camargue horses, black bulls raised for bullfighting by local cowboys called gardians, and flocks of pink flamingos drawn to nest here by the ponds of brine.

Camargue Horses

Camargue Bulls

Our tour guide had warned us that we may not see any flamingos, but we got lucky and our driver kindly pulled over for us to take photos.

Camargue Flamingos

Grapes grown in the unique terroir of the Camargue produce subtle wines called vin des sables (sand wine) – reds, whites and rosés, plus a grey wine "gris de gris" which is pale salmon in colour.

Vin des Sables

Camargue Vineyard

Our first stop of the morning was the medieval town of Aigues Mortes, which means 'dead waters', but the town is much more charming than its name might imply. King Louis IX used this as his base for launching the Sixth Crusade to the Holy Land.

The Canal du Rhone at Aigues Mortes

Tour de Constance

The town was once a sea port served by a canal but due to silting has become landlocked. The Mediterranean now lies four kilometres from the city walls.

Walls of Aigues Mortes

I've spotted many carousels in small towns and large cities across France, and Aigues Mortes was no exception.

Carousel, Aigues Mortes

We entered the town through the main gateway, Porte de la Gardette, which has retained its ancient doors.

Porte de la Gardette, Aigues Mortes

Once inside the city walls, the street is lined with shops selling local products and souvenirs, like these plush flamingos.

Agriculture is important in the Camargue, and shop windows are filled with local food products such as sausages, rice and salt. Fleur de sel harvested from the Camargue salt pans makes a great souvenir or gift.


Camargue Rice and Salt

La Cure Gourmande drew me in with its beautifully displayed assortment of sweets.

La Cure Gourmande


We saw many of these crosses displayed on the sides of buildings as we drove through the countryside. The three elements of the Camargue cross symbolize faith (cross), hope (anchor) and charity (heart). 

Camargue Cross

One window display reminded me of another form of local wildlife which we had been fortunate not to encounter - the mosquito.

In the centre of Saint-Louis Square stands a statue of the founder of Aigues Mortes, King Louis IX.

Statue of King Louis IX

Shortly after leaving Aigues Mortes, we drove past the salt works where sea water evaporates under the intense Mediterranean sun, leaving behind the valuable Camargue salt.

Camargue Salt Works

A road sign indicates the way to Source Perrier, a natural spring in the Languedoc-Rouissillon region of France where the popular sparkling mineral water originates. I later enjoyed a cold glass with a delicious pizza in Nîmes.

The Road to Source Perrier

Restaurant of Hôtel Brasserie des Arènes, Nîmes

The restaurant of the Hôtel Brasserie des Arènes is located across from the ancient Roman arena and offers a unique view along with cooling shade from the leafy plane trees. It was the perfect spot for lunch.

We had an opportunity to tour the Nîmes Arena, but most of the shops were closed and we were soon on our way to St. Rémy de Provence.

The Road to St. Rémy de Provence

The roadway lined with plane trees reminded me of the twisting images in a Van Gogh painting.

Large Plane Trees, Vincent Van Gogh

Our hotel in St. Rémy was Le Vallon de Valrugues & Spa, a lovely resort on the outskirts of town.

Le Vallon de Valrugues, St. Rémy de Provence

The hotel runs a complimentary shuttle service into the centre of St. Rémy. Our motor coach was also scheduled to make a trip into town for the evening and that's where we chose to have dinner. I chose a simple dish of pork and fries, but my friend was a little more adventurous.

After dinner I stocked up on cold drinks for the next day from a pizza truck parked next to (what else?) the carousel.

Carousel, St. Rémy de Provence

That night I slept well, in air conditioned comfort, and was ready for a full day of touring at Saint Paul de Mausole Monastery and the Roman ruins of Glanum.

Next:  St. Rémy de Provence

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"N" is for Nîmes

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