There is a lot to do right on the doorstep of Aix en Provence, whether you stay in la Maison Saint Jérome holiday house or not. However, if you are not afraid of travelling a little bit more than 30 minutes, one area well worth visiting is La Camargue. Camargue is well known for its wilderness. There is a lot to say about it. For instance, Aix en Provence is in the administrative region known as “Bouche du Rhones” which literally stands for “mouth of the Rhones”. And, as Camargues is located between the two arms of the delta of Le Rhones, it is essentially where the name of this administrative part of France comes from. Due to its location by the delta of the Rhones river, Camargues is a very vast wetland and provide to the visitor many natural beauties that can be found in wetland. And some of these beauties can only be found here in this part of the world.
There are no shortage of places to visit in Camargues though my advice is to head for “Digue at Saintes Marie de la Mer”. Saintes marie de la Mer is the capital of the Camargues and has a rich history. To give you an idea, its population is normally around 2,500 people. But then goes to 500,000 in the summer (more details about it here). So I advise to avoid visiting during the peak season! But off peak, if you travel or take some holiday in Aix en Provence and fancy going beyond the Aix surroundings and discovery a bit of wilderness, then it is a lovely place to visit.
There is especially a lovely walk that can be done and is a great opportunity for a one day trip coming from Aix. It has two possible starting points. Either from the heart of the village where you can also rent a bike and discover the lovely church. And very historical as it’s been build between the 9th and 12th century (some details here). Or you can start from the lighthouse of Gacholle. The latter is my favourite admittedly.
The walk is “Digues at Saintes Maries de la Mer”. But as “digue” means small dam in French, why this “digues”?
In the 19th century, there has been repeated instances of flooding in the Camargues region. This created sustantial damages. So a “digue” has been built between 1857 and 1859 to protect agricultural land from the sea getting in. This “digue” is more than 40 km long between Saintes Maries de la Mer and Salin de Giraud (Salin are the places were sea water is dried out to farm sea salt). And, ultimately, this digue separate the lagoons to the numerous ponds which are so characteristic of Camargues.
With some very few exceptions, this itinerary is easy and will take you round in the centre of the national park. There, you will discover the wild sansouires. Sorry, this is a very French and even local word which means the area of the lagoons that are regularly covered with water and then re-exposed. You can find some details here . There, all year round, you can admire sea birds and birds that enjoy the rich waters where sea and non salty waters do mix.: seagulls, sterns, gulls, pink flamingos, ducks, herons, avocets, curlews and crested larks.
This track should last between 2.5 hours and 4 hours. You can also find a specially dedicated plan with plenty of details here. I have recently redone it and it was pure pleasure. A mix of silence, natural beauties, wilderness and the odd encounter with horse riders enjoy riding through it all. Pure bliss!