Cycling in the Carmargue Nature Reserve– Relaxing on the Coast of Provence

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Monday 13 October 2014

Cycling in the Carmargue Nature Reserve– Relaxing on the Coast of Provence

The wetlands, lakes, salt plains and marshes of the Carmargue Nature Reserve on the Mediterranean coast of France felt almost like the northern islands of Holland as we made our way to the sea on Friday afternoon. This vast nature reserve, just a small part of the Carmargue region, is bounded by the mighty Rhone river meeting the sea on the east and by the Petit Rhone on the west, with the rest of the river delta in between. Home to many rare species of birds and wildlife, the area is pancake flat - a novel experience for us after leaving the Ventoux region just the day before.

Our home for the next few days would be a quiet campsite right on the sea front in the small town of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer (The 2 Mary's of the Sea), named after the mothers of 2 of Jesus's disciples who legend says landed here from the Middle East shortly after the crucifixion. A region we'd wanted to visit for some time, after some long journeys and a busy few weeks, we hoped to be putting our feet up and relaxing in addition to a bit of cycle exploring and considering our next move as well.

Sadly our arrival coincided with gale force winds hitting the coast for several days which somewhat curtailed our exploring and kept us pinned down in the campsite, not helped by a nasty round of stomach cramps I suffered on the second day. However, the heated outdoor pool and occasional sunny spell provided a welcome way to relax and although our excursions were limited to one afternoon walk into the town (being sandblasted as the wind whipped across the beach) and short visits to the sea we did feel well rested.

The wind was much calmer on Monday and the temperature a toasty 25 degrees, just right for finally getting our bikes off the van and having a better look around. Following the coast westwards through Saintes-Marie-de-la-Mer, we picked up the route across the sea dyke heading towards the Rhone delta. The dyke was built at the end of the 19th century is 25 miles long and 2 metres high to prevent the autumn and winter sea intrusions which had made agriculture impossible. As an added bonus it also provides a perfect cycle route on the narrow spit of land separating the raging sea from the calm lakes and marshes. With the sun shining and thousands of flamingoes and other sea birds flying overhead we felt very lucky as we pottered along.

Returning to the motorhome after lovely 25 mile ride we felt ready to move on the next day having finally been able to enjoy the beautiful Carmargue coast. Although it would have been fun to have explored the delta even further we also knew that winter was on its way and we still have hopes of maybe making it to the Pyrenees before the snow arrives.

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