This quietly beautiful French region, where cowboys round-up black bulls and where flamingos fly, is far from Paris and France’s bustling cities. Under vast blue skies they do things differently way down south in the Camargue.
The seaside town of Saintes-Maries-del-Mar is unique in that it celebrates the life of three Marys. Sadly, there was not a happy ending for one Mary. Arriving in the town in pursuit of her love, she died of heat stroke.
Though it is not a Mary but the rather shady figure of Saint Sarah who draws the crowds. For most of the year a statue of Sarah lives in a basement beyond the altar, suggesting that the the church is reluctant to fully recognise her.
Then every May, Romany folk arrive on pilgrimages from afar to carry the statue of Sarah to the sea to celebrate her arrival in France. As they carry her, they whisper in her ear as it is believed that she has special powers to fulfil wishes.
After the visit to the coast, with the coach taking a scenic route through the Camargue’s wetlands, the cruisers return to the MS Anne-Marie for a pre-lunch aperitif. Though a couple of energetic passengers take out two of the ship’s bikes for a half hour spin along the towpath.
A lingering typically French lunch is taken very seriously. Our chef, Jonathan, announces the menu in both English and French. In authentic French style, cheese is served before dessert. Over the course of the cruise, with two cheeses served every lunchtime, passengers are taken on a tour of great French cheeses. The purser provides enthusiastic histories of each of the honoured cheeses.
Early afternoon is a time for a sun-lounger on the top-deck or a dip in the jacuzzi as the MS Anne-Marie serenely cruises on towards the next port.
Late afternoon she moors-up close to the entrance gate of Aigues-Mortes. Since medieval times, when the town was threatened by Barbarians approaching from both land and sea, 1.6 kilometres of thick walled ramparts have provided protection. A rampart walk looks down on the largely pedestrianised cobbled streets of a charming town of cafes and restaurants.
In medieval times, the town was a port on the Mediterranean and Crusaders sailed to the Holyland. In a central square, a statue celebrates the exceptionally pious King Louis lX who led two Crusades to Jerusalem. Over the following centuries, the river silted-up and the town became known as “waters dead”, but today a canal reconnects the town with the sea.
Taking the tourist train around the salt flats provides plenty of opportunities for otherworldly photos of Aigue-Mortes from across the shimmering lakes tinged pink from algae. It is feeding on these algae which give flamingos the pink tinge to their feathers.
The train stops to give visitors a chance to scramble up a 20 metres high salt hill for views across the flats. It stops again at the Salt Museum which includes a photographic exhibition showing the many moods of the salt flats as the light and the seasons change.
As the MS Anne-Marie cruises south-west towards the coast, another excursion calls in at Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, listed as one of the most beautiful villages in France. This is a voyage which shows the astounding diversity of the region from the visit to the “manades” where bulls are bred through to the oysters farms of Étang de Thau on the lagoons of the Mediterranean coast.
Oyster-tasting, by the shimmering blues of the Mediterranean coast, sums up CroisiEurope’s Charming Provence cruise. This is not just relaxing slow travel through one of France’s lesser-known regions but also a journey of tastes through a foodie heaven.
Charming Provence CriosiEurope fact file
Departing 15th October 2022 or on various dates between March and August 2023, prices for the seven-day cruise between Arles and Sète start from £2,380 per person for the cruise with all meals and drinks, all excursions, use of onboard bicycles and port taxes. Price excludes flights.
Call CroisiEurope on 020 8328 1281 or visit CroisiEurope.co.uk.
The itinerary for the Charming Provence river-cruise.
Catch-up on the first part of the cruise here CroisiEurope’s Charming Provence | 50connect.Tags: Aigues-Mortes, Camargue, CroisiEurope, Étang De Thau, France, Provence, Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, Saintes-Maries-del-Mar Last modified: May 16, 2022