Today I really feel like talking about France and why you shouldn’t miss Camargue, the region between Arles and the Mediterranean sea. It may not be a mainstream international destination, as far as France is concerned, but it’s still very popular among the locals, so if you choose to go during the summer keep in mind that some places can be very crowded.
According to yours truly, the fact that the region isn’t extremely popular is a major plus, but if you need more reasons to visit it, here is my personal top 5.
1- Horses. Indeed. Sometimes advertising posters don’t lie. You can really drive along a paved road and see wonderful, white horses in the fields left and right. I knew that the area was actually famous for this, among other things, but I dind’t realize that I’d be able see so many of them just passing by. Just remember, don’t stare at the horses while driving! You’ll have plenty of chances to interact with them in one of the many riding schools all around the region.
2- Aigues Mortes. The dead waters. I know how this sounds, and we’re talking about a swamp, after all, but believe me, this is a truly amazing place! The city itself is small and pretty, but the real point is the salt pans that are just a few kilometers away, west of the National Park of Camargue. This place is definitely not your average swamp, it’s made of xpanses of sparkling white salt and high dunes that look like snowy hills. They dazzle the view in the sunlight and have something… otherwordly. All around there are large pools of water, pink due to a particular seaweed. The salt pans can be visited aboard a small train with a guide, or you can explore the area by car. If you choose the second option mind the calendar. In some periods of the year there are people at work, and some places are forbidden to tourists. Try the official site.
3- Birds. Let me be brutally honest, here. I never really cared much for ornithology, yet I enjoyed Camargue’s local fauna quite a lot. There are some large protected areas in the region, where numerous bird species live free. I was able to visit only one, La Palissade, a wonderful park where you can observe storks, herons, swans, flamingos and many other species that I can’t even name. Don’t worry though, the park is provided with plenty informative material so even the less experienced can enjoy the visit in full. There are two routes, a short one of a couple of hours, and a long one which takes almost five hour of trekking. The paths are easy, very well marked, but the summer sun is unforgiving and the only bar is at the beginning. Don’t do like me, then, and bring plenty of water! Keep in mind there are also many nutrias strolling around. They mind their own business but I must admit that I’m not a nutias enthusiast.
4- Sea. Forget the Côte d’Azur… well no, don’t. Just know that Camargue’s beaches really have nothing to envy of their much more famous “sisters”. Personally, I’m not too fond of luxury tourist destinations, that’s why I loved those wide expanses of soft sand, with no big resorts in sight, or other forms of entertainment, apart from simple bars or small restaurants. Here the sea is just as blue as the sky, and there’s a gust of wind that makes the climate almost perfect. Again, unfortunately, the road can get pretty crowded. Try to avoid the small towns like Saintes Maries. It’s actually a pretty place, but the traffic is crazy, better drive directly to the more isolated beaches.
5- Van Gogh. Right north of the National Park there is Arles, one of the few places in Europe that get the honor to be considered the city of Van Gogh. The most important thing to know is that the house where the artist lived is immediately outside the walls, not inside, and nowadays it’s a bit of a disappointment. I don’t know exactly what I expected to find, but that small building squeezed between two bigger ones made me a bit sad. It looks just like a trivial little concrete house with no particular charm. However, albeit one doesn’t usually visit Camargue for its towns, Arles is nice and lively, and worth a stop. The bar that inspired “Cafè de Nuite” is quite famous and distinctive. There’s also a pedestrian path, called of course the Van Gogh Path, along which you’ll come across other places where the artist left his mark.