A Day in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer

When asked what the highlight of my recent wedding road trip was I had to think carefully. There were so many highlights, obviously my wedding day was the top choice but in addition to that it was our unexpected day at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.

I’d never heard of it but I am so glad we stumbled across it. Where else can you climb a church roof for a start? I guess there are 2 things slightly shocking about that statement, the first being that I was actually on the roof of a church which is ever-so-slightly dangerous (especially based on my recent track record). The second being that I suffer with Hypermobility – sometimes just getting out of bed and spending a day at home is all I can manage.

During our recent Minimoon we spent 4 days in Provence in Southern France. It is such a beautiful region and we only got to explore a very small area but what we did see we loved.

On our second day we decided to head out to Avignon but once we arrived we realised it wasn’t really for us. It was too congested and busy, after a busy two weeks of travelling we were after tranquility and calm. We found ourselves heading South East from our base to Camargue, we knew nothing other than what it looked like on a map.

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Once in the area we headed for Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer which is situated in the Rhône River delta on the Mediterranean coast. I was expecting a cafe, tourist information point and a car park with walking trails but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is in fact a beautiful sea side town with dozens of bars and restaurants and quaint shopping streets. The beach is small but perfect and there is a paved walkway all the way along the coastal side of the town. It had an old town America vibe about it with a French twist. We fell in love with the place straight away.

We spent about 6 hours here in total, we had a great time, if you have a similar amount of time then this could inspire your trip:

Enjoy lunch at one of the many restaurants and cafes. There are all types of cuisine, we visited the funky Fanneu where I enjoyed a tomato pasta dish and Simon tucked in to a blue cheese and chicken salad. Sadly we have no photos (we too hungry to even consider it)  but the food was great, the vibe was chilled and there was lots to choose from including tapas.

After lunch we took a stroll along the beach and enjoyed an ice cream. There are so many places serving so many flavours!

We then happened on a Bull ‘Fighting’ Show. I put it in inverted commas as it wasn’t actually fighting. There is a large open air theatre area on the beach in the centre of town where a group of local men show their acrobatic skills dodging the bull. We watched 2 separate shows which was enough, we aren’t sure how long the show went on for but it was free of charge to watch. I understand that this show isn’t for everyone but we were intrigued at what was going on so gave it half an hour of our time.

Just outside the arena is a small fairground, there are a couple of rides for kids and the traditional UK sea side amusements so we had a play on the ‘2p machines’, you know the ones, like on Tipping Point where you nudge the coins over the ledge. Of course these weren’t 2p’s but Euro’s exchanged for tokens. After a few minutes of childlike entertainment we came away winners!

Feeling like lottery winners we decided on a stroll around the town which is where we happened upon the church roof experience. In the centre of the shopping and eating area is a large church which seemed extremely popular with visitors. Sadly I can’t tell you anything about the interior as we were intrigued to find out how to get on the roof as we could see others peering over the sides at us. To the side of the church is an entrance with an admission fee of 2.50 Euro’s per person to head up on to the roof. As little as a year ago I would never have entertained climbing stairs. My hypermobility goes hand in hand with Vasodepressor Syncope which makes me feel faint and can result in me passing out without too much warning. I was also heavier, I have lost over 3 stone over the past year, I would have been too unfit to even consider climbing stairs before but feeling healthy and thinner I jumped at the chance. It turns out there are only 38 steps but they are narrow and they are windy so it isn’t for everyone. On reaching the top I was so pleased with myself, I wasn’t out of breath nor was I dizzy and whats more I got to enjoy the amazing panoramic views of the town. The walkways on the roof lead to the proper roof itself, where you can carefully climb further using the tile rows as steps. They are slightly slippy depending on your footwear but they are secure and it is totally worth doing! To many it would be a health and safety nightmare, not an option in the UK but we went for it, heck, we were on holiday!

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I reached the top – had to sit as way too slippy!
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View from the top – you can see everyone at the Bull show
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I’ve just come down from the very top, I am very pleased with myself
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Little me at the bottom, you can just see someone at the very top!

What better way to celebrate climbing a church roof in France than sitting down with a cold drink and a crepe. They are so yummy, we shared a lemon and sugar one which we thoroughly enjoyed. We didn’t have time to relax for long though, we had Flamingos to see.

Yep, Flamingos, did you know the Camargue is the only place in Europe where they nest? Who’d have thought these beautiful birds could be seen so close to home. We took the 10 minute drive north to the Ornithological Centre. I was disappointed that the centre didn’t promote the fact, anywhere on the roadside that this was the place to see the Flamingos. If it had we would have seen it on the way in to town earlier in the day, we would have stopped then which would have been much better than going at sunset when the mozzies are out.

When we arrived at the centre we parked up and followed another couple who Simon was convinced knew the way. We followed them along grassy, overgrown walkways for at least 20 minutes. We knew we were close as we could hear the Flamingos, they are so noisy! It turns out that they had no idea where they were going, we discovered this when we all reached the end of the trail with zero view of the beautiful pink birds I was so excited to see.

Fast forward another 20 minutes and we are back at the car park, where I insist we take a stroll over to the Ornithological Centre. I’m glad we did as it was the right place. Here we paid the 7.50 euro each to gain access to the lagoons where the majority of the Flamingos were nesting. Painfully for us, it was at this exact point that we discovered the millions of mosquitos, they found us tasty and were all over us instantly. It was awful. We weren’t armed with bug spray nor could we buy any there. We wanted to follow the map we were given to view all the sites of the centre but we just couldn’t bear it. We were being eaten alive – no other visitors seemed to be bothered by them, they must like our English blood.

We ran to the lagoon where the Flamingos were, took a load of photos and ran back to the car. We were so disappointed but we had seen them and that was the reason we were there. I cannot tell you anything else about the Ornithological Centre as we didn’t see any of it. Here are some photos.

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I would recommend anyone to visit the Camargue region of Southern France, it is wild, an area of lagoons and reed covered marshes and nature at its absolute best. We could easily have spent longer here. If you do visit make sure you go in the Spring or Autumn. We visited towards the end of September, the weather was hot and fine and the Flamingos were still there. Just make sure you take bug spray as we were itching our bites for days.

Have you been to Camargue? Have you seen the Flamingos? Let me know, or if you want any tips for a future visit let me know.

 

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