Airs from the end of the world, between lagoon, marshes and canals, venerable cities marked by history, the immensity of the sky and the blue of the Mediterranean bordered by endless sandy beaches… Head to the South of France, in a land of character, which can be discovered happily all year round, and even more so in the off-season. From Grau-du-Roi to Aigues-Mortes, the Gard Camargue, nicknamed the “Petite Camargue”, has nothing to envy to that which is on the other side of the Petit Rhône. It is even a superb destination for a getaway of a few days, as intense as it is exotic.
In the Gard, the other Camargue
La Little Camargue extends to the west of the Petit Rhône and borders on the pond of Mauguio. Gard side, Aigues-Mortes et Saint-Gilles are its two poles. On the spot, a good advice: do not use the adjective "small", just talk about Camargue gardoise. Marshy and dotted with ponds, this Camargue devotes a particular cult to the bull ... and to the boat.
If you are looking to share the life of the manadiers, if you dream of horseback riding or sea trips, take a look at the websites of the Grau-du-Roi, Aigues-Mortes and Saint- tourist offices. Gilles in particular, or come and see them as soon as you arrive. Rental of boats, of residences at the edge of the water or near ponds, outings with fishermen or discovery of producers of sand wines, all that, they have it in reserve. The rest, it's up to you to find out, rather out of season, we won't blame you, on the contrary.
The Camargue gardoise obtained the Grand Site de France label, a reception center is located at the pond of Marette, route du Môle, in Aigues-Mortes.
Stroll in the heart of the Camargue bullfighting
Au Cailar beats the heart of the Camargue gardoise. The one who only lives and talks about bulls, ferias ... The other, whom we love just as much, if not more, with its ponds, birds, rice fields, awaits you a little further, between Aigues -Mortes and Saint-Gilles.
The roundabout at the entrance to the village of Cailar sets the tone. Three bulls are found there: one in sculpture, the other in painting, the third in burial. Here rests forever, upright and under the tridents of the gardian, the “Boar” of the Fernand Granon herd. A way of honoring the qualities of exceptional bravery of this bull during its participation in the Camargue races of the 20s and 30s. More discreet, another “cockade” bull's tomb is found in the surrounding mythical meadows, occupied by local herds.
Floodable pastures that can be discovered on the Pont-des-Tourradons road where there is an orientation table that allows you to dominate the situation. Needless to say, the votive feast, at the beginning of August, brings together all the amateurs sharing the fe di bioù ("passion of the bull"). The ideal moment to discover this typical village with its shaded square, its circular streets, its classified arenas, its church where Saint Louis came to meditate before his crusade departures ...
From Saint-Laurent-d'Aigouze to Aigues-Mortes
Take a walk through the village square Saint-Laurent-d'Aigouze, very lively with its arena attached to the church and its café terraces all around. The only round square where the toril is in the old sacristy of the church!
Here, bullfighting games are played all year round: Printemps des Royales, Feast of Bullfighting Clubs ... the peak is reached in August, the weekend following the 15th (up to 10 nights and 10 days more late). It is better to book your accommodation well in advance, especially at the Saint-Laurent mill, a somewhat barge address along the canal, where you can dine in a guinguette atmosphere.
Do not hesitate to take the D46 to reach Aigues-Mortes. You will come across what used to be a toll gate. The Carbonnière tower, imposing, square, visible from afar in this desert of marshes, was built according to the wishes of Louis IX.
Aigues-Mortes being the access lock to the sea, a small garrison detached in this fortified tower was tasked with collecting the right of passage for boats on the canal. A tax that made the city extremely rich. As part of the Grand Site Camargue gardoise operation, a wooden path has been set up to visit the marshes all around, take the opportunity to stretch your legs before facing the crowd in Aigues-Mortes.
Aigues-Mortes: a journey through time
It emerges like a mirage between lagoons, marshes and canals ... "Free zone" intended to attract merchants from the Mediterranean, Aigues-Mortes quickly became the only Mediterranean port in the kingdom of France. It is from here, in a landscape of marshes, sand and water, that King Louis IX set out for the Crusades to return to them as a saint. On his return, he had time, before dying, to have the Constance tower. The 20 years that followed saw the construction of an enclosure flanked by 6 towers and pierced by 10 doors.
This model of medieval military architecture intended to defend the gate to the east of the kingdom was quickly stormed by all types of visitors, over time, its perpendicular streets facilitating movement. Let us pass on the dark years, the climatic disasters (already), the epidemics of plague, cholera and the wars of religion.
In the 17th century, the port was definitively condemned and the Tour de Constance was transformed into a prison. In the 19C, Aigues-Mortes fell into oblivion. Two centuries later, her relatives complain that she is too well known!
For those who would like to treat themselves to a dream holiday, there is no shortage of beautiful addresses, starting with the Hôtel des Remparts. The good restaurants either, we fell in love with Aromatik, after having tested a lot. And for those quick hunger pangs, there is always the fougasse from Olmeda.
Salt flats and men
It would take time to visit the saltworks of Aigues-Mortes as a whole: the farm covers a total area of 9 ha. We board a small train for a journey of over an hour. In the past, first. Back to the 800th century, when 17 small saltworks were exploited. The "salt workers" did not live very long, so women could hope to get married three times.
Fortunately, living conditions have changed. Those you will see working continue to manage the movements of the water according to the wind, storms, like the old ones. The low humidity of the air and the strong sunshine do the rest.
For a century and a half, it has been Compagnie des Salins du Midi who owns it, and the figures put forward leave you wondering (more than 15 t per day during the harvest). The stored salt (between 000 and 400 t) forms an impressive hill that can be seen for miles around and that can be climbed to an observation deck.
For nature lovers, the salt harvest for hundreds of years has favored a specific flora: more than 200 plant species, of which twenty are protected, and a few 157 protected bird species. To extend the moment, you can choose: 4x4 ride or wild beach just for you, by reservation.
Walk to Saint-Gilles by the pond road
What a joy to travel the country by taking small roads where speed is not recommended, especially if you want to enjoy the landscapes. First the Sagne, the largest reed bed in Western Europe where in winter, the reeds collect the reeds that will serve as roofs for the roofs of Scandinavian houses. And then the ponds, sansouïres (wetlands where the samphire grows) ...
From Gallician to Montcalm, the peaceful D 779 and D 179 cross typical landscapes, such as the Charnier pond. Best done by bike, following the green lane. The center Scamander gives access to the heart of a regional nature reserve dedicated to the protection and enhancement of heritage. In spring and summer, swarms of winged inhabitants, among which ibis falcinelles, welcome you! In winter, place for ducks and passerines in the reed beds.
By taking the D202, near the hamlet of Sylvereal, you can also enjoy the 70 ha of the Petit Rhône reserve. A private site where, at the bend of marked trails, you can observe flora and fauna (ponds, observation huts), but also picnic, relax. For those who would like to end the evening in style, watch the holiday programs.
And then there is always the Manade Saint-Louis, where the Groul family organizes the summer, every Wednesday, Camargue evenings in the great tradition (visits if not on Fridays in July-August saint.louis.camargue.fr).
The treasure of Saint-Gilles
In the heart of the Rhône delta, 20 km south of Nîmes and 16 km from Arles, Saint-Gilles-du-Gard is located in the center of a vast plain crisscrossed with canals and orchards, rice fields (the only ones in France) and vineyards (in full AOC costières-de-nîmes). The Via Rhôna allows you to reach Saint-Gilles by bike.
The town has only one gem, but it is sizeable: an abbey, a masterpiece of Romanesque art in Languedoc. The Roman crypt date of the end of the 9th century. It contains the sarcophagus of Gilles, the gentle saint with the doe, which was rediscovered in 1865. The tomb of Pierre de Castelnau recalls the crusade against the Albigensians.
Saint-Gilles-du-Gard was, in the 11C and 12C, a rallying point for the pilgrims who arrived here exhausted, after having crossed the Auvergne and the Cévennes by the Régordane route, via Alès and Nîmes. They met, so to speak, around the tombs, those who were going to Santiago de Compostela (from Arles) and the Crusaders, of course, on their way to Jerusalem.
Hence the need to build a large basilica which brought prosperity and glory. Until the creation of Aigues-Mortes by Saint Louis destroyed this medieval prosperity. Not to mention the Wars of Religion that will weaken the city again and again ...
Le Grau-du-Roi and Port-Camargue
Nowadays, Le Grau-du-Roi is THE seaside resort which welcomes 120 people in summer. Out of season, when the village drops to less than 000 inhabitants, it is easy to imagine the small fishing port that was once created along the natural passage between the lake and the sea, the grau in Occitan .
Le port has managed to keep the first place, in front of Sète, and a good part of its charm with its lighthouse, its swing bridge and its quay lined with trawlers and palm trees, which some only glimpse, by going around the shops and bars , in front.
The village celebrated its 140 years in 2019, at the same time as the 50 years of Port-Camargue, also entered the history of the Languedoc coast, and for good reason. The architect Jean Balladur (the brother, yes!) Was inspired by what he had seen in Florida. He designed a port of call and created a place, even a lifestyle on the water, which continues to make people envious: since the creation of the coastal law, no other marina of this type has been built in France.
The marinas, villas on the water, face the sea and the garages are replaced by pontoons: you moor your boat in front of your terrace, you receive each other among neighbors. And here, what are we talking about? By boat, of course.
Port-Camargue and the Europe's leading marina and the 2nd in the world after San Diego (California). The walk, in this universe of buildings and canals, will appeal to urban trekkers, the others will escape to find 18 km of beaches all the same to protect from mosquitoes!
By a path through the dunes, you reach the plage de l'Espiguette, a superb natural site classified Grand Site of France with the Camargue gardoise. A huge beach of some 11 km bordered by dunes planted with umbrella pines. And umbrellas painted on the first half, all public, with private beaches that rent them with mattresses. Further on, it is rather a naturist area that is not sad, even very cheerful depending on the hour.
Dunes, the sea, miles of untouched nature. Loneliness? Do not push! We don't come here to reread Proust, anyway. And as the site is vast, we quickly sow the shenanigans. To the east, you can go as far as the water intake of the Aigues-Mortes saltworks, approximately 8 km. To the west, to Port-Camargue, via the campsites.
Horseback rides in the marshes and by the sea are offered, from the hour to the half-day, depending on the level. In the evening, if your butt does not hurt too much, you can dream of Equestrian cabaret des sables, an institution, route de l'Espiguette. The whole family is helping to make the evening a success. Shows with or without meals, by reservation.
Between May and September, you can end the day waiting to see the sun go down, in a cabin in the wind, musically speaking, while sipping a cocktail accompanied by tapas. In all, between Espiguette and Le Grau, there are about fifteen bars and ephemeral huts that offer deckchairs, happy hours, after beach or summer evening. One of our favorites, at Grau, remains the Playa Miramar. Each beach has its own style: bohemian, family, nature chic ...
Find all the practical information, tips and addresses in Routard Languedoc, Roussillon in bookstores.
Consult our Languedoc-Roussillon online guide
Grau-du-Roi tourist office
Aigues-Mortes tourist office
Saint-Gilles Tourist Office
How to get there ?
TGV to Nîmes, car rental to travel around the region.
Or sleep ? Where to eat ?
- The Moulin de Saint-Laurent: route de Marsillargues, Saint-Laurent d'Aigouze. Harbor. : 06-52-14-52-28. Offbeat and greedy
- Hotel Café Miramar: 25, av. Frédéric Mistral, Le Grau du Roi. There is the beach in front, the sun and the sea, the marine and refined decor, and a real fish restaurant like you find in the islands, usually relaxed, tasty.
- The Aromatik: 9, rue Alsace-Lorraine, Aigues-Mortes. Bistronomique and Aromatik, it rhymes. A beautiful address with a small terrace just waiting to stretch out in the sun.
Find your hotel
Sites and activities
- House of the Great Site of France of the Camargue gardoise: la Marette, route du Môle.
- Salin d'Aigues-Mortes: route du Grau-du-Roi, Open daily from mid-March to mid-November. Allow 1 hour 15 minutes for a guided tour by small train.
- Safari in an all-terrain vehicle accompanied by real Camarguais, sometimes herdsmen. With Camargue Discovery: 6, rue des Alliés, 30240 Le Grau-du-Roi. Camargue Otherwise: 1745, route de l'Espiguette, 30240 Le Grau-du-Roi.
- lLs Providence and Picardy catamarans offer trips departing from Grau that still have their followers. Reservations and departure at the end of Quai Colbert.
- Seaquarium: in Grau-du-Roi. Large aquariums which house 200 species of fish and marine invertebrates and the 1 m000 Requinarium (yes!), Where 2 species of sharks swim.
- Equestrian cabaret des sables : 1745, route de l'Espiguette, D 255B. Horses, riders, a bohemian atmosphere, flamenco, traditional meals, olé!
- The center of the Scamander : route des Iscles, in Gallician. Discovery trails, such as the Star Bittern trail or the Fromagère trail.
- The Reserve of the Petit Rhône : Sylvereal bridge.
- At Grau du Roi: mid-apr, the Graulinades, around southern gastronomy Pierre (procession, blessings and boat trips, Languedoc jousts, bull abrivados competition) seven, Languedoc jousts, bull releases and Camargue races. The fiesta!
- Do not miss the St. Louis around August 25. Damoiselles and damoiseaux enliven the city in the colors of the Middle Ages. Historical parades, medieval market and ball, fireworks. Mid-October, after the harvest and the salt harvest, abrivado, bandido, Camargue races. Pure local