When it is beautiful sunny and warm it’s hard not to think of the beach or swimming and in France I often associate it with a meal of fresh fish or shellfish. Directly south from Uzés and taking around an hour and a half if using main roads, is the lovely seaside town of Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. We went through the area known as the Camargue which follows one arm of the River Rhône down to the Mediterranean Sea and gives shelter in its marshy wetlands to much birdlife, wild horses and long horn bulls.
We did not see any of the famed pink flamingos but we believe that you need to pay to see them these days from special viewing areas and at specific times of the day. Likewise we saw a lot of white horses but generally they were far from wild and were part of a riding school, but we did see some long horn bulls about to take part in the arena at Les Saintes. Six bulls starred individually as a number of “cowboys” or raseteurs try to unhook “attributes” or decorations slung around the bull’s neck using a hand held rake. The game is skilful and the bulls are not killed as is the case in Spain and if the bull keeps the decorations for 15 minutes he has won!
There is very much a Spanish feel to this area of France both in the different type of houses,language and appearance of the locals. The beach here is lovely with soft white sand and sparkling water and no crowding or lines of beach lounges and umbrellas as is the case further east in the Côte d’Azur. We were there out of the summer season however and imagine July and August are in fact quite crowded.
One of the main reasons people visit here is to enter the Eglise de Saintes Maries where a crypt beneath the altar is thought to contain the relics of Mary Salomé who was the mother of the two apostles, John and James, and Mary Jacobé the Virgin Mary’s sister. Their remains were supposedly washed up here after they were sent off in a boat along with Mary Magdalene and others following Jesus Christ’s crucifixion.
The other reason is that it is possible to climb on to the roof of the church and get a 360 degree view of the town and the sea and appreciate that it was once a fortress against attacks from neighbouring countries across the sea. It is quite unusual that the climb is allowed as there are definite safety issues but it was a great view all the same.
The town centre has many small streets with places to eat and quite a lot of touristy shops but it is possible to have a relaxed and inexpensive meal right on the esplanade next to the beach after a walk or swim and plenty of tapas type options as well.