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The Alpilles and Camargue

Our footsteps echo through the deserted cobblestones streets of the village clinging to the rocky outcrop, the castle ruins looming overhead. A natural fortress, Les Baux de Province has provided protection to its inhabitants since the Iron Age. The views from the top are stunning, stretching across the Alpilles mountain range encompassing Ventoux and the Camargue. There is a gentle breeze and the stillness is captivating. It is a far cry from a few hours ago when we arrived trying to find our Airbnb accommodation at the base. A madness of cars, tour buses, cyclists and pedestrians. Police blowing whistles threatenly. Les Baux gets 1.5 million visitors a year and although it was only June, it was packed. Thankfully they all disappear by 17:00 leaving the streets to the few locals (22) and tourists like us staying the night.

Les Baux de Province

It is listed among the ‘most beautiful villages of France’. It certainly is and is one of the reasons we chose it as our base for the region. Somehow, we never joined the dots that 1.5 million people might feel the same way.

St Remy de Provence

Wednesday is market day in St Remy de Provence, the unofficial capital of Les Alpilles. The stalls spill from the Rue de la République just on the edge of Saint Rémy down into the winding alleys and shady squares of the old town. They offer traditional and more unusual crafts as well as clothes, shoes and a huge range of fresh local produce. We stocked up on parma ham, tomatoes, cheese, olives and bread for our road trips. 

St Remy has attracted artists and intellectuals for centuries and locals will show you with pride where Nostradamus was born, or where Van Gogh confronted his emotional demons.

The Camargue

The Camargue has been on our bucket list for a while now. Sometimes known as the “Wild West of France”,  it is Western Europe’s largest river delta.  Landscapes are a charming group of rice fields, salt marshes, lakes (the Vaccarès lagoon being the biggest), reed marshes with pink flamingos, and glasswort-covered moors where white horses gallop and where herds of the Camargue bulls graze. The Camargue also is home to incredible fauna and flora. Its marshes and peaceful lakes attract numerous sorts of birds.

Somehow, the wild Camargue horses thundering across the plains, splashing through the shallows, and fierce, wild bulls itching to get even for centuries of bull fighting were in short supply . We had to be satisfied with these two quiet fellows…..

Aigues-Mortes

Aigues-Mortes was built by King Louis IX in the 13th century, to give his armies access to the sea, and was the main Mediterranean embarkation point for the 7th and 8th crusades.

It’s name comes from aquae mortuae, the “dead waters” of the surounding saline delta marshland.

The etangs (salt-water lagoons) surrounding the southern end of Aigues-Mortes are red because of the high-concentration of salt within them. Salt has been produced here for hundreds of years, and is famous throughout France for its superior flavour (look for ‘La Fleur du sel’ in any supermarket)

Saintes Maries de la Mer

This town is the capital of the Camargue and is a quiet seaside village although in-season it is inundated with tourists.

The Church of the Saintes Maries de la Mer towers over the village and is  visible from as far as 10 km inland.  It is a true fortress and held an important strategic position at the time of its construction, between the 9th and the 12th centuries, defending against pirates. The roof is encircled by a rampart walk, with battlements and machicolations, and served as a watchtower.  The church also served as a refuge for the inhabitants of the city, and there was even a fresh-water well inside.

The restaurants lining the main roads seemed very touristy and didn’t take our fancy. More appealing were the various food stalls surrounding the church.  For lunch we chose the local speciality, tellines: tiny, sweet, clam-like shellfish cooked in garlic, herbs and white wine. We ate sitting in the sun on the waters edge.

Then it was back to our Airbnb in Baux for a relaxing afternoon in the garden followed by a delicious home cooked meal. 

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