This must have been the reason he woke so frequently during the nights; Lauris had planned a wonderful weekend for the family! It was truly an appreciated, relaxing vacation for this maman. After a late night out due to the Clermont-Ferrand ASM vs.
Toulouse rugby match (semi-finals, but sadly last years champions, ASM, will not be advancing to the finals this year against ) we managed to get on the road by nine Saturday morning. Heading south across the Millau viaduct we made good time to Montpellier , stopping for lunch in a park in La Grande-Motte. After a baguette with cheeses, charcuterie, tomatoes and lettuce we continued east along the Montpellier Mediterranean until we reached Saintes-Maries-de-La-Mer.
The town is named after the three saints Mary Magdalene, Mary Salome and Mary Jacobe who are believed to be the women who were the first witnesses to the empty tomb after the resurrection of Christ. According to French legend, they either sailed or were cast adrift while sailing from Alexandria, Egypt after the Crucifixion of Christ, and came ashore here. The town is also a pilgrimage destination for Roma (Gypsies), who had gathered the previous weekend. Vincent van Gogh, Picasso and Ernest Hemingway are other celebrities that have spent time in the town, and more can be found about them as well as the world sailing speed records at the Wikipedia entry for Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.
After a drive through town to gain a first impression we stopped by the hotel to check in and ended up staying for a bit to take a dip in the beautiful pool. Once back in town we went directly to les arènes, for a bullfight - not exactly a bull fight, but students of bullfighting learning the tricks of the trade. Interesting - especially seeing the bulls jump the first barrier several times, causing all the workers to jump into the arena to avoid the strategic bulls. The Camargue, of which Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is the capital of, is known for its bulls, and one can watch the “guardians of the bulls,” dressed in traditional costume, put on shows of herding the bulls atop their white horses, which are also symbols of the area.
|Roberts and Lauris watching the bull in action|
We stopped for dinner at a place that caught our eye with colorful table settings and a big pan of seafood paella cooking outside. Afterward we strolled through the town, enjoying the crowds of shoppers on the main streets. At the center is a medieval church, and all around are little streets with restaurants, cafés, wine stores, art galleries and the obligatory t-shirt, postcard and tourist shops. Lauris and I got our feet wet in the
|Yum! Roberts tried the paella, I had the moules gratinee|
With the last daylight we drove north into the Parc naturel régional de Camargue in search of flamingos and more of the white horses. The Camargue region is mostly delta between the
|Ūsiņš and the white horses|
Back at the hotel, we ventured out from our room to see if the Racing Métro 92 vs.
|Dipping our feet into the Mediterranean for the first time|
The best meal of the weekend came the following morning, in the resort hotel. Possibly the best 10-Euro breakfast in the country? We ate poolside, buttery croissants drizzled in honey, fresh melon, big cups of steaming coffees and cappuccinos, begnets filled with chocolate and a variety of other homemade pastries and other delicacies. And because the pool looked so beautiful in the morning sun we changed into our suits and spent an hour on the cushy furniture poolside, abandoning our previous plans to head straight to the city. As Roberts noted, we were on relaxed, “Baja time.”
On the way into town I finally spotted some flamingoes up close. As far as I could tell, they are identical to the
flamingos, so we didn’t linger long. Of course by the time we hit town it was time for lunch, and a quick stop for moules avec frittes turned out to be just the thing. Our last planned activity was to take a boat trip aboard Les Quatre Maries II for a 1.5 hour tour of Le Petit Rhône. Seeing even more black bulls, white horses, egrets and a quick loop into the Florida Mediterranean were a perfect finale to the trip, and after disembarking we made our way back to the car and headed home.
|Famous Camargue bull and future matador|
The drive south was a little over four hours, and although this trip is “do-able” in a weekend, I would suggest three days, which gives an extra day to visit Aigues-Mortes or just to spend on the beach. However, I am delighted we made the trip; I think I could get used to the Mediterranean pace of life!