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Pink flamingos, wild horses and black bulls. Lagoons, salt marshes, rice paddies, vast swamps and miles of sandy beaches. The vast wetlands of the Camargue offer the cyclist all this, between the sky and the sea. The Rhône estuary, which extends over 150,000 hectares in the southwest of Provence, is a unique natural landscape with a rich fauna and flora and a strong character. On this 6-day cycling trip we discover the Camargue with all its facets in a gentle and quiet way. We will glide sometimes over dikes, sometimes along miles of sandy beaches. The shimmering pink flamingos are the most emblematic representatives of the rich natural world: Between April and September, 15,000 pairs gather here. From the old Roman city of Arles, we first explore the eastern part of the Camargue and then close the circle via Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer and Aigues Mortes. Regional culture is also on the agenda: horse breeding, the extraction of the fleur de sel or the Camargue bullfight. And of course, the culinary delights of a mix of land and sea food. Bon appétit!
Itinerary start: France Bike Trips services begin on day 1 at 10am at Arles SNCF railway station.
Our bike tour starts in Arles, the picturesque Roman city of the south par excellence. A few pedal turns are enough to reach the bullring: Mecca of bullfighting and architectural testimony to the city's glorious past. We leave the city via narrow streets and soon find ourselves in rural surroundings. We head south to the Etang de Vaccarès, one of the largest salt marshes in the Camargue Regional Natural Park. Here the Centre de la Capelière offers us the first opportunity for a break. We will discover the typical sansouires (wetlands) and reed belts of the area on narrow paths. A few kilometres further on we come across the ruins of the former royal saltworks of Badon. The last part of the day finally leads us to the sea! And for those who still don't have enough kilometres in their legs, we offer a loop from Salin de Giraud to the Domaine de la Palissade. The meanders of the Rhône and the sea have made this piece of land the largest river delta in Western Europe. Made up of fresh and brackish water, wetlands, lagoons and salt marshes, it is a privileged habitat for no fewer than 67 protected bird species.
Distance: approx. 45 km
Option Domaine de la Palissade: approx. 15 km
We start this day by riding further into the heart of the salt marshes. Today the dikes will guide us through the day. The water will change colour depending on the salt concentration, from blue to black to pink. The Fangassier Etang is of particular interest to us: It's the only breeding ground of flamingos in France. For the fittest among us, the day begins with the old lighthouse of Faraman and its beach. Its difficult access gives it a very special charm, a feeling you would likely expect at the end of the world. Today, one salt marsh follows the next, and the further we go, the more we are captured by the Mediterranean atmosphere. For those who choose the level 2 and 3, you can make a loop of 20 km from the tourist office of Salin de Giraud to visit the heart of the private domain. Depending on the season, we have the opportunity to enjoy the cool water or simply relax on the beaches. For kite lovers, the famous beach of Beauduc offers its windy show and perfect conditions! Our last stop is the lighthouse of Gacholle, the starting point for hiking trails to discover the Sansouires and some protected lagoons. We end the day in Saintes Maries, where our hotel is waiting for us.
Level 1 : approx. 30 km (without the visit of the Salin de Giraud)
Level 2 and 3 : approx. 50 km (30 km of level 1 + 20 km loop to visit the Salin de Giraud, registration in advance at the tourist office of Salin de Giraud)
Today the wild horses of the Camargue are in the spotlight! We cycle north from Saintes Marie, on a narrow road that borders the Etang impérial. Rather quickly we come into sight of Mas de Cacharel, the starting point for riding tours in the purest Camargue style. This beautiful residence was used in 1952 as the location for the unforgettable film "Crin Blanc". Here we leave the road and take the path of the five gorges (cinq gorges), a wide tourist trail that gently leads us to another remarkable place: the Méjanes estate. The park was a fortified residence of the Templars in the 13th century and covers 150 hectares of land entirely devoted to rice growing in the Camargue. This is enough to learn a little more about one of the symbols of the Camargue's terroir. Horses live in semi-freedom on certain parts of the estate, as do the bulls, whose horns inspire a certain amount of respect. We then set off in the direction of the Petit Rhône, along which we drive for a while to the Château d'Avignon. This centre of contemporary art opens its doors for a simple visit to the park or to see its collection. Overnight in our accommodation near the Petit Rhône.
Level 1: approx. 20 km
Level 2 and 3: approx. 40 km
A day full of rural and wild beauty awaits us today. We start it on a small road lined with herds of bulls grazing quietly. Seeing these majestic animals helps us understand the passion and place bullfighting occupies in the Camargue culture. Continuing along our route, the highlight of the day awaits us: the Scamandre nature reserve. This is a vast wetland on the edge of the estuary of the same name, where cranes and ibis have taken refuge, but we might also come across some cistudes (turtles). We will discover the area via laid out nature trails and wooden bridges. The last part of the day takes us to the Rhone Canal close to Sète. We will use its dikes to reach the walls of Aigues, whose love story with salt dates back to the Neolithic period.
Distance: approx. 30 km
After the mandatory visit of the old town of Aigues Mortes and its towers, we start with a tour to the old fortress of Peccais (for the fittest among us)! Probably built on an older building from the 14th century, the present fortress, of which only ruins remain, was commissioned around 1560. It served to control the neighbouring salt works and canals and thus to protect the salt production. Back in Aigues Mortes, we now head towards another tower: the Carbonnière tower, whose tolls emptied the wallets of many medieval travellers. We now enter the Camargue Gardoise (Département du Gard). Along the narrow roads and paths we discover the rural idyll of the Camargue. The avenues and shady canals invite us to take a walk. Here is also a wine-growing region, whose speciality is vin des sables, or vin gris. Finally we reach the hamlet of Franquevaux and its old abbey, where we will spend the night. Overnight stay in Saint Gilles in case of availability problems.
Level 1 and 2: approx. 25 km
Level 3: approx. 50 km
After a good monastic night's rest, we leave Franquevaux Abbey via a dike path along the canal that connects Sète with the Rhone. A narrow asphalt road leads us further past the Château d'Espeyran. Little by little we leave the world of marshes, pine forests and salt marshes and return to a more arid environment. A short stop in the small town of Saint Gilles, which will seduce us with its medieval centre. A visit to its abbey church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a must. Saint Gilles was indeed one of the most important pilgrimage sites of Christianity in the 12th century, right after Jerusalem, Rome and Santiago de Compostela. We cross the Petit Rhone for the last time and leave Saint Gilles. On the last part of our cycling tour we follow a country road towards Arles. One last bridge and, voilà, we are back to Arles, where we can end our tour on one of the many café terraces of the old town.
Distance: approx. 35 km
Itinerary end: France Bike Trips services end at Arles SNCF railway station at around 5pm on the last day. On request we can book the following night's accommodation for you in Arles.
Distances and altitude gain are an indication only and may vary.
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