To Saintes-Maries-de-La-Mer - Three Seasons Around France: Autumn - CycleBlaze

November 7, 2022

To Saintes-Maries-de-La-Mer

In a tour that has had very few disappointments, today’s ride to Saintes-Maries-de-La-Mer counts as a modest one.  We came here on a day ride from Aigues-Mortes five years ago, on one of those outstanding rides we’ve relived many times.  We biked to this enchanting seaside town at the mouth of the Petit Rhone; continued past it on the very sandy trail/road through the lagoons as far as the Gacholle lighthouse; returned to the town for lunch as our main meal of the day, and best of all stopped in at the ornithological park on the way back and were awed by close up views of its huge flock of flamingos.  It was a full day, and light was failing by the time we were safely back on the Rhone-Sète Canal approaching our hotel.

When we planned this tour it had always been my thought that we would stay overnight in Saintes-Maries this time, and then continue on from there the next day by biking that path to the Gacholle lighthouse and then continuing on to the east side of the Camargue, staying the next night in Port-Saint-Louis-du-Rhone at the mouth of the Rhone.  At the last minute though we lost our nerve on this plan.  Between a worsening weather forecast and our refreshed memory of how difficult it was to bike partly out that sandy path across the delta even with unloaded bikes, we decided to just stay in Saintes-Maries for two nights instead.  If we’re lucky on the weather I’ll plan on a solo out and back across the delta on the layover day.

The disappointments came on the ride down to Saintes-Maries.  First, I regretted not being able to ride the tiny cable Bac du Sauvage ferry across the Petit Rhone, something we had done last time and I looked forward to repeating this year.  When we came to the turnoff to the ferry though we found that the ferry shuts down for 90 minutes over lunch, and we just missed it.  It really didn’t make sense to bike to the ferry, which after all is actually out of the way, and then sit on the bank waiting for it to resume operation after lunch.

The second and biggest disappointment came when we reached the ornithological center, found the parking lot nearly empty and saw very few signs of bird life.  The ticket window is open and the attendant says yes, they have plenty of birds - but she’s trying to drum up business and I’m not convinced.  Rachael talks her into at least letting her use the facilities, but then we just bike on.  It’s not clear whether we were just lucky last time or if the drought has affected bird behavior and they’re hanging out in wetter habitat than we’re seeing right here this year.

So the day’s ride has turned into just a ride, although a very nice one - sunny, lightly breezy, flat, very relaxed.  We arrive in Saintes-Maries almost two hours earlier than we’d expected, and too early to check in to our hotel.

Soon after leaving town we passed nearby to the Tour Carbonnière. An odd sight standing isolated several miles from anything significant, it was built in the late 13th century as a defense for Aigues-Mortes, three miles to the west. At the time it was the gateway for the entrance road from the east, and the surroundings were all impassable marsh land.
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Passing the wine estate at Montcalm.
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The first disappointment of the day - we won’t be taking the ferry after all. A planning failure - if I’d taken the time to look up the schedule we could have known to arrive here about an hour earlier.
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Such beautiful animals. If we can’t see flamingos up close at least we have these to admire.
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Just a ride today, but a very nice one.
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Rice?
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Video sound track: Mambo Sinuendo, by Ry Cooder and Manuel Galban

With time on our hands when we reach town, we grabbed a bench in the sun at the edge of what looks like a large empty field, break out lunch, and enjoy the pageant as the boules players started congregating, arriving in ones and twos on foot or on bicycle.  Hands are shaken, French kisses are exchanged, and before long three games are underway, with about forty or so players and their followers.  a large gathering, and this is well into the off-season.  It’s easy to imagine this entire field filling up with boules players in one of the warmer months.

A crowd convenes by one’s and twos.
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Displaying one style.
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Displaying another. I don’t really understand this game, but a few ideas are starting to sink in. These two styles are different because they have different aims. The first is lagging, trying to position the boule close to the marker. The second is lofting the boule, trying to hit one of the opponent’s stones and knock it away. There’s probably a name for each, if I bothered to read up on it.
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Rich FrasierYes, there is. :)
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2 weeks ago

At three we check into our waterfront hotel, and find that given that we’re here at such a quiet time we’ve been upgraded to a seaside room with a balcony.  After resting up a bit I take off for a walk, heading west toward the lagoon.  Rachael does as well, starting somewhat after me and returning not long before.  When we compare notes later it sounds like we followed a pretty similar path at first, but chose different plans when the equestrian trail we were following turned to mud - somewhat disappointingly because in the distance we could see flamingos wading in the lagoon, but still too far off for a good view.

Rachael took probably the saner approach and just turned back at this point; but I looked around, saw a trail of hoof prints leading off toward the shore, and decided to follow them to see if they’d connect up to the coastal road.  I kept an eye on the time and light, with the idea that I’d leave enough time in the day to just turn back if it looked like I couldn’t get through.

The seaward view.
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Two little egrets.
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Following the equestrian trail, which looks like it continues straight ahead from here. Flamingos in the distance.
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Not from a flamingo, I think.
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Zoomed in, from as close as I can get before footing gets too sloppy.
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The road back. Actually, it looks like I’ve probably come out too far already.
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A more promising direction, as long as it doesn’t just end in an impassible channel or another lagoon. Only one way to find out.
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Snag art.
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There’s that windy mountain again.
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I’m in luck.  The footing holds all the way to the sandy coast road, which I can then just walk back to our room along.  I’m about to head that way when I decide to walk just a bit further around the next bend, and am thrilled when I find a small flock of flamingos not far off at all.  They’re absolutely mesmerizing as they drift on the still, glassy surface, exhibiting a behavior I haven’t seen before - they’re essentially staying in one spot but slowly pirouetting, scraping their beaks upside down on the surface of the water.  I’m close enough that I can see their beaks rapidly opening and closing slightly, almost like they’re inhaling whatever they’re stirring up with this motion.

Back on the coastal trail. I’m starting to think there could be a good sunset coming up.
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I stay until the light starts to fade and the birds fall into shadows, and finally start for home.  As I walk I’m astonished by the developing sunset ahead, stopping repeatedly to take another shot.  Then, for some reason I look behind me and see the perfectly full moon rising.  Another very slight disappointment then - if I’d looked that way just five minutes earlier I think I’d have seen it break the horizon and cast its reflection on the water.  That would have been amazing.

Looking west to Saintes-Maries.
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Gosh.
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Band of gold.
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Last of the tour.
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It’s we’ll on getting dark and I’m just nearing town when the phone rings - it’s Rachael, concerned that I’m not back yet.  It’s fine though - I’ve got a map on the phone, the streets are lit, and I’m back in plenty of time for dinner.  We walk back into the village at seven, find a place that suits us well, and enjoy a fine meal.  It’s very quiet and peaceful here, in a lovely town at the tail end of the season.  A completely wonderful day, if not quite the one we’d imagined starting out.

In Saintes-Maries-de-La-Mer.
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Keith AdamsKind of eerie-looking in that light.
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2 weeks ago
Scott AndersonTo Keith AdamsIsn’t it though? I love this shot, taken with Rachael’s phone. It really captures the mood of the place.
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2 weeks ago
In Saintes-Maries-de-La-Mer.
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In our restaurant for the evening.
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Ride stats today: 29 miles, 400’; for the tour: 1,601 miles, 90,600’

Today's ride: 29 miles (47 km)
Total: 1,601 miles (2,577 km)

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