Thursday, August 11, 2011

STAMP #2: Le Camargue, France

An early start to drive to the Camargue. First part from Aix to the small ferry across Le Grand Rhone to Salin de Giraud was skirting Marseilles and trying to stay on smaller roads. We found the signage lacking the road numbers and got lost a couple of times in the towns. As we approached the huge container port at Port de Fos, we were sandwiched between huge semis belting along.
The ferry is tiny and takes five minutes for five euros to cross the river. The Rhone here was smaller than I expected but the current was swift and quickly caught the ferry that swung to and fro. Once we hit dry land on the west bank we had arrived in the nature reserve that is the Camargue. I was enchanted by the flat delta covered in long grasses and the salt marshes that have grey-green vegetation growing like mounds, and tiny channels, which you can barely see, wind around them. We drove along the Etang de Vaccares, one of many large sand small bodies of water left landlocked by the quantity of silt deposited by the Rhone. They are very shallow (17cms) and here I saw my first wild flamingos. Not much habitation here, though there are some ranches, big ones. The roads are narrow and rough.
We wound our way all around the etang heading for the small town of Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer where legend has it that possibly Mary Magdalene and definitely two other Marys were shipwrecked in 42 CE and made their home. One Mary was the sister of Mary, mother of Jesus; and the other the mother of the apostles, James and John. With the two Marys came Sara, whose origins are in question. Some say she was their servant, others say not. It is Sara, not Mary Magdalene, who is also venerated in this church. She is the patron saint of the Romany gypsies who gather in large numbers every May on a pilgrimage.
Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer is a seaside town with all the touristy stores selling beach toys, postcards, and silly souvenirs. The part around the church dedicated to the three Marys is pedestrian and more enjoyable to wander through than the beach front. However, the best restaurants and cafes are overlooking the Mediterranean.
The church resembles a fortress from the outside and indeed was built as one that housed the local population when threatened by besieging armies. It has a well in front of the altar. Inside is filled with paraphernalia about the Marys - most is tacky. The building dates from the 12th century, but there was a sanctuary as early as the 5th on a wooded island. The town took shape at the same time and ramparts enclosed it. The remains of the two Marys were discovered in the crypt in 1448. Since the early 1300s, the church has attracted pilgrims.
NOTES FOR LATER: Lunch at Le Piccolo - huge seafood buffet. Bright red, cheery tablecloths. Outside. Mussels were the most delicious I've had, tho' small. Lashings of garlic and parsley.
Bird park - raptors, wild flamingos in etang. Two in flight. Egrets, storks, and a muskrat. Did a short walk around one etang before checking in to our hotel - Auberge Cavalieres.
Hotel - set between two etangs. Bouries, stables, horse rides,big pool - all overlooking water - and a glorious restaurant - outside, inside, and we were in the courtyard. One of white horses across a stream greeted us as we opened our patio door. Dinner: Pointus with aoli, fillet de taureau, cheese or dessert. I had raspberry tart - divine. Rose to drink. Delicous. Dinner and breakfast is included. My perfume was bug repellent and garlic!! The mosquitos are severe in the marshes and I got badly bitten on the walk at the bird park.
Tomorrow - pix of stables and morning ride. Jeep ride till lunch.


IMAGES: (c) Julie H. Ferguson 2011




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