The fortress of Aigues-Mortes is certainly one of the France's best-kept secrets. Situated at 30 kilometres from Montpellier, the little town is the entrance gate of Camargue, the highlight of our second itinerary from the south-west to the south-east of France I'll publish in a few weeks.
For our first itinerary, we had stopped for one night in Saint Guilhem le désert, a magnificent medieval village close to Montpellier. For our second itinerary, we have spent one night in Aigues-Mortes, then one night in Le Lavandou, along the Mediterranean sea. Aigues-Mortes was a good place for visiting Camargue on the next day.
Why did I choose Aigues-Mortes for our night stop
- It was a natural entrance to Camargue from Agde.
- Palavas would have been a good option but the visits would have been limited.
- La Grande-Motte is an awful town with a modern seafront full of buildings.
- Aigues-Mortes has a rich history.
- It's possible to walk on the walls of the city.
- Aigues-Mortes is famous for its saline (salins in French).
- Les "Salins du Midi" can be visited by bike or little train.
- I wanted to see the town and knew I wouldn't arrive before the evening in Camargue.
Where did we stay
I had a reservation in the "Hotel des 4 Vents" from booking.com (affiliate link).
It was a correct option for one night: friendly staff, good breakfast on the terrace, swimming pool, clean, well situated, quiet. It also only takes 10-15 minutes to walk to the centre, along the canal.
But compared to the next hotel in Le Lavandou, it was more expensive, I also had to pay a supplement for my westie dog, my room was a bungalow, and my "private" terrace was open with the view on the flowered parking (instead of the sea in Le Lavandou).
What to visit in Aigues-Mortes
Louis IX, also known as Saint Louis, left his mark on the town and has a great influence still nowadays.
#1. Walk on the walls of the town and learn its fascinating story.
Following Charlemagne who erected the Matafère Tower in the middle of the salt marsh in 791, Saint Louis understood the strategic importance of the place. He buys the town and the ground around from the monks of the abbey to get a direct access to the Mediterranean sea. He will send his troops for the Crusades from here.
He first built some of the towers and a castle. In 1266, he begins to build the ramparts all around the town. His son, Philippe le Hardi, and grandson, Philippe le Bel, will achieve his work.
You can visit the 1643 metres long walls, towers and doors. It's open each day, except on the 1st January, 1st May, 1st and 11 November, 25th December, from 10am to 5:30pm (7pm from May to August). It costs 7,50€ (free for people under 18yo) and 6€ for a group of 20 people minimum. Check the whole information on the official website of the monuments.
Info+: Accessible to the disabled people.
No dogs allowed.
#2. Wander around the streets and lanes, the Saint-Louis square and the churches.
We arrived too late to go on the ramparts, but wandering around the city is a pleasant activity. We have seen several chapels and churches with the typical provencal open bell tower. Some people romantically say it's a way to let the wind go through.
I only followed my inspiration through the flowered lanes in and outside the walls. It's not possible to get lost here.
#3. Go to the "Salins du Midi".
There are two ways to discover the beautiful salines:
- with the little train (also an evening visit during summer).
- with a mountain bike and a guide.
You will find the prices and opening hours with the two previous links.
Special tip: there's a special ticket to visit the ramparts + the salines.
I, unfortunately, couldn't shoot the salines during my first visit. The second time, as I was there during the day, but the sky was very cloudy and the water is only a bit red on my video.
#4. Don't forget to go to the "Tour Carbonnière".
This tower was the first one to be built by Saint Louis. At the same time, he built the road in the middle of the marsh. Its function was to keep the city from the invasions, both by the sea and by the road.
At the beginning of the XIX's century, the tower should be destroyed to widen the road. Fortunately, they get around and nowadays the monument is classified as a historical one and protected.
Visit the tower on your way between Aigues-Mortes and Saintes-Marie de la Mer. At a roundabout close to Aigues-Mortes, you will see the sign to the tower "Tour Carbonnière" and Saint Laurent d'Ayguade.
Close to the parking, you will see the beautiful wild white Camargue horse. I learnt there that the foal is brown and becomes white around 3 years old.
You will walk on a small bridge in the middle of the marsh to reach the tower.
From the top of the Carbonnière tower, you will have an amazing view on the different types of landscapes all around. I only kept one video as the sky was too cloudy. There was a big colony of pink flamingos I could shoot with my zoom.
What to eat and drink in Aigues-Mortes
"Fougasse": a cake perfumed with orange flower.
"Fleur de sel de Camargue": a hand-harvested sea salt.
"Vin des sables": the grapes are cultivated in the sand (sable). The wine (vin) is mainly grey (gris), grey of grey (gris de gris) and pink. There's also a bit of white (2%) and red (4%) wines. In my area (Landes) we also have some sand wines.
"Asperge des sables": asparagus from the sand. Also available in my area.
"Taureau, gardianne": Bull meat.
"Tellines": a delicious little shellfish often served with aoïli.
Where I ate
Be aware that Aigues-Mortes is an expensive town and the restaurants menus are quite expensive.
I found a place called "les Enganettes". I had a good local menu (tellines, taureau). The dessert was also homemade. The dish was generous and beautifully served. And the price was cheaper than in the other restaurants.
Agenda: Traditional festivals of Aigues-Mortes
#1. Saint Louis Feast in August
It celebrates the King Louis IX during a whole weekend, at the end of August: medieval processions and markets, knights camps, musicians, theatre, etc.
The ramparts are illuminated by a firework.
#2. Votive feast in October
This festival ends after 12 days and involves mainly the local families.
The days begin with a traditional breakfast in the old arenas. These wooden structures belong to the families of the town. During the day, but also nights, there's a lot of activities, as Camargue races, abrivados, parties, etc.
Another read I recommend on Aigues-Mortes
The personal website Provence & Beyond made a brilliant article on the medieval town, with a different approach. It completes perfectly mine.
You'd like to mix itinerary number 1 and 2?
After St Guilhem le desert, in the north-west of Montpellier, spend the day in Aigues-Mortes (south-east), then spend the night in Saintes-Maries de la Mer or Salins de Giraud (wild Camargue, full of wild horses, bulls and birds). That would be my favourite option.
If you want to see Aigues-Mortes at night, the "Oliveraie de Paul" seems a good choice.
In the medieval streets, there was a great Jack the ripper's atmosphere!
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