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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Portugal Wedding Venue Trip Day 2

As we woke up on another day in the beautiful Algarve we began wondering if the day ahead was going to bring us face-to-face with ‘the one’. So far we had seen some very lovely locations but none took our breath away enough. We were expecting to know straight away when we saw it.

We originally had an appointment at The Sheraton Algarve but unfortunately had to cancel. It really is a beautiful place but, to be honest, it was too formal for what we were looking for and it would have been a stretch financially. We both agreed we would stay there on a return visit as it really is beautiful.

Our first appointment of the day took us (eventually, we got pretty lost on the way) to Julias situated on the beach with a beautiful view of the sea and coastline. It is in the Almancil area of the Algarve which is gorgeous. There are lots of stunning villas nearby and we heard that Ant and Dec often pop in for dinner and drinks as they own properties close by. Sadly for us we didn’t see them. Doh!

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We could really see ourselves getting married here. The situation was perfect and the venue was clean, friendly and stylish. We met with the owner who explained the day and the services they offer and we even managed to enjoy a drink and panini whilst we chatted. It was during this chat that we discovered it isn’t that easy to get married on the beach in Portugal. There are licenses you need to buy and there are rules about music etc. This gave us something to think about as we moved on to our next venue.

Next stop on our whirlwind tour was Duna Beach in Lagos. We didn’t stay here long as although it was a nice location we knew as soon as we arrived that it wasn’t for us. The bar and restaurant I hear are funky venues to spend an afternoon or evening but we didn’t feel it was the right place for us. You might love it and I’ve seen some fab pics of weddings online there.

We were really starting to worry now…..was this going to be an unsuccessful trip? How many quick long weekend breaks would we need to take around the world before we found ‘the place’? Don’t get me wrong, we love to travel, we don’t need an excuse to discover somewhere new but when we’re limited to a certain number of days of annual leave and we want time off for the eventual wedding we had to work smart!

By now the day had become a scorcher and I was starting to feel the strains of the trip. Being hypermobile can be a real pain (yep literally) in extreme temperatures and I was starting to succumb. My neck, chest and face were all bright red and angry looking as were my legs. I had cream on, I was wearing a hat but the vasculitis I suffer from was rearing it’s ugly head. Luckily for me it doesn’t hurt. It can irritate if I catch or scratch it by mistake but more so it just looks AWFUL. I feel that everyone stares at me when I have it and that makes me feel more uncomfortable than I am already feeling. I have only had to deal with this for the past few years, since I was properly diagnosed with hypermobility. The picture below shows it at its worst on my legs. I have to take steroids when it appears which I hate as they really affect my sleep which is already pretty unreliable thanks to being hypermobile.

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Anyway, enough about that for now. Mid afternoon we arrived at our final destination – a beautiful fishing village in Western Algarve called Burgau. We were due to see our final venue but also meet with a caterer we had heard so much about afterwards. We had about 45 minutes to kill before we were due at the venue so we treated ourselves to a burger. I needed food, my energy levels were low and I was feeling pretty rubbish but food and a cold drink really helped.

We arrived at Salsalito just after 3pm. This was our wild card venue. All previous venues had been beach side and this was a 10 minute walk from the beach. It was a villa venue with no view of the sea, I literally came across it online a day or so before we left on our trip. Simon knew very little about it but he trusted my judgement! We were greeted by the owner, a lady called Sally who we immediately knew was a larger than life character. She welcomed us with open arms like we were old friends and led us through her home to the patio.

Now, you know I mentioned earlier that we still hadn’t the ‘take our breath away’ moment? Well let me tell you, we both experienced it together, at the same time as we were led out on to the patio. WOW!!!!! What a beautiful place. A hidden paradise we never expected. Beautiful, tranquil and so amazingly us it was untrue! We remained calm and collected for the meeting and tour and even met the caterer there.

Had we found THE place…..?