Aigues-Mortes to Arles - Melo Vélo Meanderings - CycleBlaze

June 25, 2018

Aigues-Mortes to Arles

In planning the route for this trip, I was excited about today's ride to Arles as we were going to bike through the Camargue, a large natural region located between the Mediterranean and the arms of the Rhône delta.  The area is a haven for birds and mosquitoes, and is home to flamingos and the wild Camargue horses.  Our route today would take us down to Saintes-Marie-de-la-Mer `and up around the Etang de Vaccarés before heading up to Arles.  I had stocked up on mosquito repellent in Sète, so was ready for anything.  Except the wind!

We headed out of Aigues-Morte on the D58, a main route to Arles.  Although there was a good sized shoulder, the traffic was fairly steady and there was a stiff wind from the north. After about 7 miles, we pulled off at a little bar-restaurant for coffee and to discuss our options.  Agreeing that a trip down to Saintes-Marie-de-la-Mer would be a beast on the way back north, and wanting to have a little time to explore Arles, we decided to shorten our route and skip Saintes-Marie-de-la-Mer.  We eventually got off onto smaller roads that were largely bereft of traffic, allowing for a more relaxing ride. Our search for horses and flamingos began. However, we saw little to no evidence of these iconic Camargue fauna - even after climbing a "Point of View" lookout platform.  The landscape was flat, with scruffy marshland interspersed with agricultural fields and cattle pastures.  We did spot a couple of Camargue horses that appeared to be wild - at least they were not obviously corralled. Earlier, we had attempted to visit a Camargue Horse Museum but found all the horses gone and the place barricaded.  Because of the change in route, we likely did not go far enough south where the birds and horses are more plentiful.  We did stop at roadside venue selling local products, including an impressive display of local salt.  I couldn't resist purchasing a few bags, dismissing the added weight as a meaningless. 

In spite of the wind, it was a hot day and there was no shade to be found.  Once we turned northeast toward Arles, it seemed more like cowboy country - though not quite as arid as Texas.  Cattle appeared with more frequency, and there were many "Caution Bull" signs. We stopped for our picnic lunch at a rare shady spot along a stone wall, and then continued to beat against the wind until we reached Arles around 2 pm. On this day, the conditions and time considerations resulted in an interesting but somewhat disappointing trip through the Camargue, at least one that did not meet my expectations.  Next trip, I will allow sufficient time to more fully explore this fascinating region.

Small road through the Camargue region
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Carmargue horses on the loose
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Scrub marshland seen from the Point of View platform
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Fleur de Sel and Camargue salt - in many sizes and flavors
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Our early arrival in Arles allowed us to do some touristing.  The first stop was the Fondation Vincent Van Gogh where we saw two exhibits. "Hot Sun, Late Sun. Untamed Modernism" displayed works by a number of artists, including Adolphe Monticelli, van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Alexander Calder, and Joan Mitchell, among others. Carolyn especially liked the "Paul Nash. Sunflower Rises" exhibit, which featured 30 works by the English modernist that demonstrated his range of subject matter and style. After the museum, we visited the Ancient Theater of Arles and the Arles Amphitheatre, both built by Romans at the end of the first century. In ancient times, the amphitheatre seated over 20,000 spectators and held events such as chariot races. More recently, it has been host to concerts and bullfights, the latter frequented by Pablo Picasso.  Bulls and bullfighting appear to be quite popular in this region, giving the area a somewhat  Spanish flavor.  Though Arles is very much on the tourist map, I found it to be a city that retains the charm of a place where people live and work.  I was glad that we got a little time to explore as it whetted my appetite for a more extended stay sometime in the future.

Fondation Vincent Van Gogh in Arles
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Rooftops of Arles seen from the terrace of Fondation Vincent Van Gogh
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Roman Theatre in Arles - where they still hold concerts and other events
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Roman Amphitheatre at Arles
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Roman Amphitheatre in Arles
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Rockin' the Orange in Arles
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Today's ride: 37 miles (60 km)
Total: 906 miles (1,458 km)

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