Serving as the capital of the Camargue, Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is a coastal town in the Rhône River delta. It’s an important pilgrimage destination for the Romani people as home to their saint, Sara-la-Kali, and comes to life in the summer months when visitors flock to its Mediterranean beaches.
Things to do in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer
In the heart of town is Notre-Dame-de-la-Mer, a Romanesque church that was originally built in the 9th century. It was later fortified to protect against raids by Barbary pirates and features a striking bell tower with five bells. The church’s old guardhouse is dedicated to Saint Michael and contains several relics that are brought out during pilgrimages.
If you’re visiting in the summer months, you can relax on the sands of Plage de Sainte-Marie-de-la-Mer or head to Plage des Arènes that juts up against the port. It’s backed by the Arènes des Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, where cultural festivals and bullfighting events are regularly held, as well as several restaurants serving locally caught seafood.
A short drive north of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is the Ornithological Park of Pont de Gau, which was founded in 1949 by André Lamouroux. It encompasses around 60 hectares of marshland that provides a vital habitat for native and migratory bird species, including storks and birds of prey. A highlight is watching the hundreds of flamingos that come to wade in the shallows at sunrise or sunset.
Getting around Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer
Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is 45 minutes’ drive from Montpellier-Méditerranée Airport and 1.5 hours from Marseille Provence Airport. Buses are the main means of getting to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer while the town is compact enough to explore on foot.