During our travel in south of France last year, we decided to visit the Camargue and the Rhone Delta region, packed with natural wonders and beautiful birds. We often heard about this destination on our trips, and we thought it was the perfect moment to catch the opportunity.
Saintes Maries de la Mer
Our first stop was in the popular village of Saintes Maries de la Mer, the Capital of the Camargue. It owns its name to the believe that the three Maries landed there after being persecuted in Palestine. It's a small town, that gets very busy in summer with local and foreign visitors. If you are lucky enough it's possible to catch one of the popular Gypsy festivities, with many Roma people coming here in pilgrimage to celebrate the local patroness Sarah, whom relation to this land and the three Maries is still unknown. Apart from a few isolated spots, the village of Saintes Maries de la Mer doesn't give the feeling of a traditional place, but it rather looks like a touristic resort with its own yacht harbour, promenade, beaches and restaurants. We didn't find the village very appealing, but that's not the reason why we were there. In fact Saintes Maries de la Mer is a good place to be used as a base camp to explore the natural surroundings of the Rhone Delta. Even famous personalities of the past took inspiration here for their masterpieces: among them Ernest Hemingway, Picasso and Vincent van Gogh.
Environment in the Camargue
The river Rhone splitting into two arms and entering into the Mediterranean sea, is creating in between a land of swamps, marshes and lagoons, known as the Rhone Delta. This wetland is today the National Park of Camargue inhabited by a vast fauna: the most known "attraction" is the pink flamingo, symbol of the area and quite easy to spot. They are everywhere, so rest assured you'll be able to see plenty of them and other birds. But the Camargue is also famous for its unique breeds of bulls and white horses, despite they are not living wild, but rather raised by farmers in open air.
Hiking to the Gacholle lighthouse and exploring the Rhone Delta
From Saintes Maries de la Mer there are several routes to explore the area on foot, by bicycle, by boat or on a horseback.
We chose to explore it by foot, trying to reach the Gacholle lighthouse going along the dyke for 12 km, starting from Saintes Maries de la Mer. The hike is very easy to follow and completely flat, but there is one drawback: there are no water sources on the way. And when you are hiking in summer under heavy sun and 40°C (104 F) temperature, it's not the best option to remain without liquids. Knowing this from the beginning, we decided to go as far as we would have half of our water left, and then coming back even not reaching the lighthouse. And that's what eventually happened: after hiking for almost two hours we decided to head back not to risk to be dehydrated. Not only water, but also fighting the sun was very difficult, since there are almost no shaded areas, and when we were back our legs and lips were completely burned. So don't forget your sunscreen if you're planning to hike in Camargue! To have some refreshment on the way back we were randomly diving on the sea to be able to bear the harsh summer conditions. Despite all the difficulties we enjoyed our time there and we saw plenty of animals, but our suggestion after our experience is to rather rent a bicycle in Saintes Maries de la Mer, and bring plenty of water with you! Check our next stop in the Camargue, visiting the fortified city of Aigues Mortes.