For a leisurely stroll and an opportunity to see birds of the Camargue in their natural habitat, plan a visit to the Parc Ornithologique de Pont de Gau. Located 32 kilometers south of Arles, right off of RD 570, it’s nicely situated about four miles away from Saintes Maries de la Mer. On the way, enjoy the scenery and the white horses.
With over 150 acres of natural marshes in the park, there are numerous nature trails to follow. Choose one of three circuits from 2.6 to 7 kilometers that lead visitors through a diversity of habitats. Wooden boardwalks link trails through muddy or wet areas. There are several observation towers for a different point of view or the patient observer waiting for that one-of-a-kind photograph.
An abundance of pink flamingos, herons, storks, egrets, teals, other wading birds, raptors and birds of prey can be seen. There are sedentary as well as migratory bird colonies, and a clinic for injured birds. Keep an eye out for the occasional muskrat scurrying across the trail.
The park was founded in 1949 by ornithologist André Lamouroux. In 1974 he was succeeded by his son, René, who increased the size of the park and established more protection and care for the birds. Now open all year, plan to spend a minimum of two hours. Be sure to bring your binoculars, camera and hat. Even though there is a lot of foliage and water, it can get hot.
We stayed nearby at the four-star Hotel-Restaurant Mangio Fango, just four kilometers down the road. Nestled on a lagoon, it was an oasis of calm and comfort with marsh views from the balcony. We had a delicious dinner, beautifully presented in the chic dining area. From the hotel it’s an easy 10-minute walk to Saintes Maries de la Mer, where one can rest on the beach or explore this historic and colourful town– an important pilgrimage site.
Jo Anne Marquardt is the author of My Trip Around the Hexagon: Meandering in France and Falling in Love with France, both available at Amazon.com. Her first published book, Falling in Love with France, offers responses to the various questions friends and family have asked her over the years about why she visits France so often. The second book includes illustrations and descriptive notes from her travel journals.
Visit Jo Anne’s website to check out her art: www.joannemarquardt.com.