Still in France, our empty-nesters discover the wonders of Arles and the Camargue region.
Our final day in the Provence region was spent in Arles, about a half hour drive from Boulbon, where we were staying.
Arles is, like Lyon, a small, ancient city with a strong Roman influence. You can see this from the Colosseum (now used as a bullring), to the many antiquities displayed at the Museum.
It was a warm and sunny day; people had emerged from their homes and were sitting in the sun, enjoying coffee and companionship. We found a little French cafe in the back streets, ordered what we thought would be a sandwich – but turned out to be totally different – that we thoroughly enjoyed in the company of the cafe’s owner, well known to every man, woman, child, and dog in Arles.
I was blown away by the Van Gogh haunts, and visiting scenes of some of his famous paintings. We enjoyed a coffee in the Cafe Van Gogh on the Place du Forum, depicted in his famous painting “Arles, at Night”. We then climbed around the Langlois Bridge, from Van Gogh’s painting of this name.
The Museum of Antiquity contains more than 600 objects of the past, including the oldest known bust of Julius Caesar, which was discovered on the banks of the Rhone in Arles. The museum is a bit of a walk from town but for the small entry fee, it was really worth it. Its displays are well set out in a modern building.
We were a week too early for the start of bullfighting season, for which I was grateful, but not so were our two men – probably some macho influences here. We learned that in France, rarely are people injured, or bulls killed. The bulls have ribbons and rosettes placed on their horns and the razeteurs cut these free with special barbed gloves. However there still is torture, with barbs stuck on the bulls’ backs and lancing of the bulls, justifying my non-participation stance.
We sadly left our accommodation in Boulbon. It had been a unique stay in an ancient home recently rebuilt with love and attention by an English couple. With 3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, and large living areas it was excellent value. Over the four days we stayed there, we made little forays into the small town – much to the interest of locals not used to tourists. We found people to be reserved but friendly, and the local general store owner had an amazing assortment of goods at very reasonable prices.
We set off in the car early the next morning for the drive to the Camargue region, an area I was very excited to visit. The Camargue is a large expanse of marshy plain where the Rhone reaches the Mediterranean Sea. The area is home to thousands of small white horses, called Camargue horses, many of which roam wild.
We saw many riding stables with these horses saddled up for horseriding, and kilometres of land to ride around. We stopped and fed a group of these horses some bread we had in the car, and they flocked around the fence eagerly.
Flamingos have made the Camargue their home, and nest there annually. We were delighted to see scores of these beautiful birds, and we ate our picnic lunch on the banks of a lagoon, watching them. Also in the Camargue are the black bulls used for bullfighting, and for local games. We found this area to be unique and exotic.
Other highlights of our day include visiting St Marie’s de la Mere, a small, quaint town set right on the Mediterranean. We did the board walk alongside the sea, enjoying our first experience of the Mediterranean on this trip. We also spent some time in the market area, and found it a good place to purchase Camargue salt, a product of this region which is said, and we agree, has a marvellous flavour. We also found this town to be an excellent place to view the flamingos.
We continued on to Aigues Mortes, another medieval city. The old city walls are well preserved and we were able to walk all around these, looking down on the ancient houses below.
The modern holiday resorts we then passed through were such a strong contrast to these ancient towns. La Grande-Motte is a popular seaside resort and port on the Mediterranean, with pyramid shaped buildings, thousands of luxury boats, and lots of bling.
See Part II of this journey to Languedoc Roussillon next week