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Chapter Twentytwo

Day 62

Arles

After a clear and starry night the sky is clear blue and although the sun is shining the winds still quite strong. The surfers are out again, they are glad of the wind. Carro is a fishing village and the fish market is doing a brisk trade, the colourfully painted fishing boats bob in the small port and there is a lovely little bay with a sandy beach in which the waters are calm in contrast to the wilder waves on the front. The houses have obviously been renovated and look really nice. There are not many shops, but there are enough for what you need and there is also a take-away selling chips and pizzas. The camperstop charge was only €6 and provided water and waste emptying facilities, it was large enough to hold around 90 vans. Even at this early part of the year it was quite full. A lot of the people coming here go walking along the coast paths or come for the surfing.The village obviously is making an effort tso that people will want to come here and there is a huge car park near to the beach for visitors. Leaving Carro the road climbs up past some quite interesting houses, some have been built onto the side of the rocks, and there are some lovely views down over the village and the coast line. In the distance you can see Marseilles to one side and Martigues on the other, further down the coast is Montpellier. The cargo ships are still coming in and out on the horizon. Coming into Martigues the road runs down to the seafront and it is a lovely area and seems to have a lot of work done to encourage people to come there. A large parking area, a marina and nice walkways along the seafront. Cafes and restaurants line the front from which you have a good view of the sea.

The N113 takes you across a very flat landscape as it runs away from Martigues towards Arles. The old town centre of Arles is rich in historical buildings, first occupied by the Celtic tribes, then Greek Arles became Roman when Julius Caesar gave the town to the veterans of his legions.During the 17th and 18th centuries there were many stately town houses built which enhance the charm of the old city, where there are dozens of buildings some of which are over two thousand years old,are listed as Historical Monuments. The Roman and Romanesque buildings are UNESCO listed.

The large Amphitheater, which now is used for bullfighting, was built around 90 A.D.It is 136 metres long, 107 metres high and has 60 arches. The Amphitheatre could hold 20,000 spectators seated on the 34 tiers, the entertainment would take place on a central wooden stage.In the middle Ages it became a fortress but in 1826-30 it was cleared out and 212 houses and 2 churches were removed and a large restoration began. The Roman Theatre built in the late 1st century B.C. could originally hold 10,000 spectators. It has undergone major restorations after having been covered up in the Middle Ages. Open air plays are again being held here. Saint Tromphime’s Cathedral is from the 12th and 15th centuries and stands in the Place de le Republique next to the ‘Hotel de Ville’ (Town Hall), it has a magnificent Romanesque facade.

Other places of interest not to miss are :- The 12th and 14th century cloister of Saint Trophime, Constantine’s Bath from the 4th century A.D.,The Cryptoportico of the Forum, The Alyscamps, The Museum of ancient Arles, The Espace Van Gogh, the hospital were Van Gogh was a patient, Van Gogh’s bridge, The Carmargue Museum and the Abbey of Montmajor.

The streets in the old town are very traditional in their style, narrow and cobbled or stepped, and small houses with painted wooden shutters and flower pots on the window sills. From the Place de la Major, by the church of Notre Dame de la Major you can look right out over the roof tops and to the countryside beyond. The river Rhone runs alongside the city and there are good opportunities for parking along the river bank where you can sit and watch the boats travelling along. A good way of getting around and seeing the sights is to take the little train which drives around the streets. There is a lot to see in Arles and the city also has traditional French charm. Nearby is the heart of the Carmargue which its abundance of wildlife and nature trails, the Carmargue is also famous for its horses and flamingos.

Travelling away from Arles we head through the village of St.Giles and on towards Nimes passing acre upon acre of vineyards on this very flat landscape, with the brilliant bright red of the poppies adding a splash of colour as we drove by. We pass through the small village of Vauvert, a pretty little place but we are not stopping. The countryside is green and lush with small streams and lakes.Crops growing in the fields, under cloches and polytunnels seem to be doing very well. The small, sleepy village Aimargues has the church bells tolling as we pass through. Wine caves offer tastings and men are out playing boules, which they take very seriously of course.

There are lots of white horses around as we drive along, we have heard of the wild white horses of the Carmargue but the ones we are seeing look very tame and friendly. Still no flamingos though. Then all of a sudden there they are, first of all seven of them in a small lake at the side of the road and turning off the main road to look at them we spot even more a litle further on, they are lovely. Two of the flamingos take flight and swoop away with their wings pure pink, such a lovely sight. Having taken the turn off to look at the flamingos we find ourselves in Le Grau du Ro, which at first seems to be a small fishing village but on closer inspection is quite big and although there are many fishing boats of all sizes about there are also a selection of all sorts of boats moored up. It is a really lovely place and seems quite lively, we find a camperstop at the main car park. A good place to park and it is in easy walking distance of the port and the town. Walking down the side of the marina we come to a bridge from where there are restaurants lining each side of the water and a lighthouse stands at the end along with the church of st.Pierre. As we walk along the street lights are lit up and give off a golden glow adding even more colour to the already well lit area. At the end is the beach which stretches off in both directons from the town. Walking back we head off the main road and come into a square with a nice looking restaurant, L’Horizon. We enjoy a good meal and drink in here and the welcome is very warm and attentive, and much to the delight of some of our group a television in the corner was showing the football match although, luckily, it was on silent. If you come here it is well worth looking for this place if you want a meal. We walk back to the motorhome and pass by the statues of two of the wild Carmargue horses next to the fountains. Just next to the car park is the bullring with statues of three large bulls at the front. Along the marina with the boats fishermen are trying their hand at catching a few fish, a bit late for their tea now though. Time to get the kettle on now before bed.

Day 63

With the decision made to wake up early each day we rose at 11….just joking, 8 is our roll call each morning now. The weather outside is a bit dull but the town still looks like a real good find. Bikers roll past the bobing boats in the marina and there are a few men sitting round the rocks trying to catch some of the large fish that are swimming about. As we relax with our breakfast we have a chat about todays antics and destinations. We are heading to Carcasonne but dont want to miss too much on the way so we decide we will clean the van (as outside is getting pretty dirty now), have a little stroll around the shops and try our own hand at fishing before we leave late this afternoon and head to Sete, another coastal town only forty miles away.

Breakfast devoured and the van now gleaming white, two of us head off into town to see if we can pick up any information and of course any bargains while the others stay beind, fishing rod in hand to try and catch our lunch stroke dinner stroke goldfish for the children. The town is quite busy and there are alot of tourism shops selling the usual holiday items such as flip-flops, bags, t-shirts etc. We find the tourist office which gives free wi-fi, and head in to see what there is of interest in the area. There are a few things of interest for the keen, outdoor loving people, like quadbiking and parasailing but in general it is more of a beach sunbathing kind of destination. So with a few leaflets we head back to the van with huge expectations of finding our freshly caught fish waiting for us, however unfortunately even though a couple of close calls we were told, nothing, not even an old welly or bike tyre, so spagetti bolognaise it is!

After our late lunch we start to think about heading off, however in the bull ring next to us I can see a few men running about so I decide to head over and see whats going on, maybe a photo oppertunity. A man painting the arena calls to me as I peer through the railings to come over through the door near him and points to the stairs. I thank him and enter expecting to see the matadors doing ‘keep fit’ or exercises however to my delight they are fighting with the bulls. They are running across the arena being chased by the bull and then diving over the wooden fence and onto the railings before being tagged by the bull. It really is a good sight. It is something I never cared for or even thought about watching but it is so exciting. The bull had a flower on its head and the matadors had to try and get it off before getting out. They then pass it on to someone in the audience, and then the bull goes back in and a new fresh challenge comes out. A bull did manage to clip a few of the matadors however it was scary to see one matador fall and the bull trample on him and then picked him up and flung him into the air like a rag doll, then proceeded to crash into him, the whole audience was worried however once the bull gave in and chased someone else the matador just stood up and walked off, the beating he took really reminds you how dangerous this sport is, but that does add to the excitement. The good thing we were told here is that the Bull does not get hurt, and the bulls actually become the stars of the shows, not always the matadors. I would certainly recommend for people to experience this at least once as it is something you will either love or hate, and I have to admit I loved it. After sitting and watching for a few hours the event finally came to an end and we headed back to the van. All packed up and ready to leave we paid our ticket and headed off.

The drive to Sete was partialy remote, occassionaly giving way to a new tourist town such as ‘Carnon’, a town with some amazing beach side property and also a motorhome stop which as we passed must have housed at least 50 vans.The road then headed in slightly until heading back out to the coastal road where we had the ocean to both sides, a very beautiful road with amazing scenery, which of course included the famous ‘white wild horses of the Camargue’, and many of the lakes and waterways are full of flamingos when they take flight you can see the dark pink of the underside of their wings and they fly with their bodies in a perfectly straight line. We finally arrived at Sete and where greeted with a town full of expensive yachts and beautiful buildings, though there does seem to be many “Travellers” scatterd around and living in the carparks. We park up next to the river and near more motorhomes and after having our tea, take a walk into the town. It is a lovely walk and quiet a warm eveining. A nice way to end a really exciting day.

The Camargue is a National Park and the wildlife and plants are all protected. There are a few differnent ways of entering right into the heart of the Camargue and witnessing the beauty of the area. Safari excursions by 4×4 vehicles can be arranged from quite a few locations in the area, the best way to find out more is to visit the local Tourist Office, there are also opportunities to go into the Camargue on horseback which is an excellent way of getting in close. There are aslo cycle routes and walking paths.Another exciting way to travel is by a steam-paddle boat, quite an experience. The amazing natural beauty and the wildlife are, of course the main attraction of the Camargue but it s a place that offers opportunities for everyone, with beautiful beaches, sailing, fishing, walking, good food and a warm, hospitable welcome it is a lovely area to visit.

There are also many Historical buildings, bridges and museums in this area such as the Pont du Gard the tallest aquaduct in the Roman world and built in a mere five years, is almost 2,000 years old and is a UNESCO site. This magnificent structure provided the citizens of Nimes with running water for 5 centuries. It stands 50 metres high and 360metres long on three levels. In the summer as night falls and the sun catches the arches on the bridge it is a truely magnificent sight.

Aigues-Mortes was a trading port and departure point for the crusades and was built on the orders of King Saint Louis IX. This intact fortress is one of the most spectacular and well-preserved medieval fortifications in Europe.

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