When I informed my grandmother I would be moving to the South of France, she told me about her one of her summers spent in Provence with her artist friends. One of the towns she visited was Arles, a town where many famous painters lived including Vincent Van Gogh. She also showed me on a map where the Camargue was located, a marshy natural reserve famed for it’s flamingos and white wild horses. After hearing her stories about this dreamy destination, I knew I needed to visit someday.
This summer I finally made it to Arles after visiting Avignon and the Lavender fields of the Sault Plateau. Although I only visited for two days, I was still able to do and see a lot. My boyfriend and I arrived in Arles in the afternoon after spending the morning on a lavender tour. Following a scenic walk to our AirBnB along the Rhône river, we headed to the Tourist Office to plan our itinerary.
Museums and Monuments
Luckily many of the museums in Arles are open until 7 PM in the Summer so despite arriving after lunch, we had plenty of time to explore. If you plan on visiting multiple monuments and museums, I would recommend getting one of the passes you can buy at the tourist office or on their website. We ended up going with the Liberty Pass which allowed us to visit 4 different monuments and a museum of our choice.
Arles was occupied by the Romans in 123 B.C. because of its strategic placement along the Mediterranean. Once used for spectacles like chariot races and combat, today the Amphitheater is used for concerts, plays, and even a bullfighting festival (where unfortunately, the matadors are allowed to kill the bulls).
Despite the bloody history of the arena, it is a beautiful monument and is in excellent condition.
Along with the arènes, there are many other Roman monuments in Arles that are classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. One of those is the Théâtre Antique. This theatre was probably my favorite of the ancient sites we visited. Perhaps I loved it because it was an open air theatre or maybe because it reminded my of high school days acting in plays.
There was actually a little performance going on when we visited, but I can’t exactly tell you what it was about, but it seemed to me like the two performers (one French and one Anglophone) were just measuring the different columns around the theatre.
Thermes de Constantin
Unlike the Thermes in the Pyrenees which I bathed in, these Roman baths are no longer in use. However, it was still relaxing to stroll around the monument and imagine the daily rituals of yesteryear.
The last monument we saw is actually located beneath the town hall in the center of Arles. Like the horreum in Narbonne, the cryptoporticus was likely used for storage. Although it was a bit dark and creepy, the shade and cool temperature was a nice respite from the Provençal summer heat!
For dinner we ended up at a L’Entrevue, a French North African restaurant, where I probably had the best couscous of my life! After walking around the city all afternoon, a comforting meal on a charming terrace was the perfect way to end the day.
In addition to the flamingos, horses, and bulls, this wetland area is also known for its rice and and salt production. To get to Carmargue, we were able to take a bus from Arles, but if you have a car it’s a lot easier to explore the area.
Since we were only visiting for the day, we chose to visit the Parc Ornithologique Pont de Gau to see the pink flamingos! Actually, the flamingos of the Camargue are greater flamingos, but they are still pink!
When we arrived at the park, one of the first things I noticed, even before entering the park, was the sound of the birds. Herons, seabirds, and other wildlife also inhabit the park. Before we saw the flamingos we happened upon a funny, but cute little creature called a ragondin.
Watching all the birds in their natural habitat was quite spectacular. It was also nice to just walk around the park. While we were exploring some of the back paths, we even saw some of the famous white horses!
Before heading home, we decided to visit Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, which we were also able to take the bus to. Although a cute seaside town, it seemed a little bit crowded and touristy for my taste. To escape the crowd, we did had a nice drink with tapas followed by a nap by the sea.
Although I preferred Avignon on this Provence trip, I’m glad I finally was able to see the Camargue! If you’d like to see some more flamingo footage, be sure to check out my YouTube channel.
À la prochaine,