•Bouches-du-Rhône (13460) • Population: 2,232
Ste-Maries-de-la-Mer was a fishing village, built on an island in the heart of the Camargue, where the Petit Rhône joins the sea. The original village was grouped around the Notre-Dame-de-la-Mer church, spreading out as it grew. The town is not picturesque in the style of the medieval villages of the "back country". Today it's a compact seaside resort town, full of shops and activities oriented for the tourist trade. Ste-Maries-de-la-Mer has a wonderful location, on the sea and in the Camargue, and the atmosphere in the busy seasons is festive.
Visit Ste-Maries-de-la-Mer (and the Camargue) year-round. Summer has the warmest weather, the crowds, the activities and music. Off-season has the feeling of the sea, with long empty beaches, the cry of the seabirds, and a relaxing solitude. The gathering of the Gypsies in May is an exciting and famous period. During off-season holidays, such as "Toussaints" weekend, has less crowds and cooler weather, but plenty of activity.
A fenced playground is right at the seafront, beside the Arena.
24-25 May. The saint's day for Mary Jacobe is 25 May, and 24-25 May is the largest pilgrimage and celebration, and the annual gathering of the gypsies (gitans), who venerate their patron saint, Sarah. The gypsies, who start arriving during the preceding week, use the time of gathering for marriage requests and baptisms.
Oct 22 (nearest Sun). The saint's day for Mary Salome is celebrated by a weekend of festivities and events, including the procession to the beach for the blessing of the sea.
Arena - Bull Fights
Ste-Maries-de-la-Mer has an arena, at the edge of the beach, for bull fights with the black Camargue bulls. In the French style, the bulls are not killed.
Camargue "safaris" by 4x4 "jeeps" are available in the village, and horseback tours are available along the road north of the village (see the Camargue page for both).
Vincent Van Gogh visited Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer in June, 1888, where he gave drawing lessons to Paul-Eugène Milliet.
History of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer
First record, 12th-c: Sancta Maria de Ratis; 13th-c: Villa de Mari; 15th-c: Notre-Dame-de-la-Mer; 17th-c: la Ville-des-Trois-Maries; 1838: Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer
The Provençal Legend:
Around the year 40, a boat was launched from Jerusalem, without sail, oars or supplies, and drifted across the Mediterranean until it drifted ashore at this site. The refugees in the boat were: Mary Jacobe, the mother of James and the sister of the Virgin; Mary Salome, the mother of the apostles James Major and John; Lazarus and his two sisters, Mary Magdalene and Martha; St Maximinus; Cedonius, who was born blind and cured and Sarah, the servant of the two Marys.
After landing safely, the group built a small oratory to the Virgin. The disciples wandered off their separate ways, Mary Magdalene went to Ste-Baume (map 06e), and Martha went to Tarascon. Marie Salome, Marie Jacobe and Sarah remained in the Camargue, and were later buried in the oratory. The tomb of these three saints became a cult object, and has been the attraction of pilgrimages for the past nineteen centuries. They were reburied beneath the chancel during the Barbarian invasions, and then removed and enshrined in 1448 by Good King René.
The Church. In the 9th century, the oratory was replaced by a fortified church, the Notre-Dame-de-la-Mer. In the 11th century, the monks of Montmajour established a priory here. In the 12th century, the monks rebuilt the church, incorporating it into the town's fortifications. In the 14th century, the projecting machicolations were added to the top, allowing boiling oil and dropped projectiles to be used against attackers.
Anecdote: In the year 869, when the original fortified church was being built under the direct supervision of the Archbishop of Arles, the Saracens raided the town and carried him away. The people of Arles quickly raised the demanded ransom, the Saracens returned with the Archbishop, set him up on the throne with great respect, and parted with the loot. The grateful people only then discovered that the prelate had died while in custody, and the Saracens had respectfully returned a corpse to the throne.
Tel : 0490 97 82 55; Fax: 04 90 97 71 15
Market day: Mon, Fri. Summer only
Brocante: Every Tue
May - Gypsy PILGRIMAGE - Pèlerinage des gitans
July (Mid) - Festival du Cheval /Feria (around the 14 July)
July - Feria du Cheval - Corrida
Aug (15th weekend) - Grande Féria - Camargue Pluriel - Bulls and horses, with Abrivado, lots of jazz on all 3 days, and ending with fireworks.
Oct - SAINTES PILGRIMAGE - Pélerinage des Saintes
Nov - Festival d'Abrivado - 200 gardians and 1000 horses on the beaches of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, all day
Dec - PILGRIMAGE - Pèlerinage de décembre
This museum is in the 19th-century town hall (photo). It presents the zoology and the agro-pastoral ways of the Camargue, and the history of Stes. Maries.
Open: Apr-May 10h-12h, 14h-19h, except Tue; June 10h-12h, 14h-19h; July-Aug 10h-13h, 16h-20h; Sept 10h-12h, 14h-19h; Oct-11 Nov 10h-12h, 14h-18h, except Tue.
Fun - Amusement - Kids
Pont de Gau Bird Park - Parc Ornitologique de Pont de Gau
- Bird park, bird zoo and museum in the Camargue.
- Location: Main D570 road, 4.5 km north of Stes-Maries.
- Tel: 0490 978 262
Other sports available for visitors to Ste. Maries-de-la-Mer are sailing, skin-diving, swimming and fishing.
• GPS: 43.552133, 4.429159
Refer to the Camargue page for hiking information.
This is a French seaside town, so be sure to sample the wide variety of fish and shellfish dishes. "Terrines à la Provençale" is made with tiny clam-like shellfish. There's a Spanish influence here, too, and good paellas are a specialty.
The "western" flavor of the Camargue, sometimes called the Texas of France, is based on the raising of the black bulls (taureaux), so there are good steaks for the carnivores among us. The "Gardiane de Taureau à l'Ancienne" is the local version of a beef stew, similar to the Provencal "daube".
The arrival of the Marys and Lazarus is commemorated by the "navette", a small pastry baked in the shape of the boat (navette) they arrived in.
Sea trips and trips on the "Petit Rhône" to discover the Camargue. Departs from Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer
Location: Sea trips and trips on the "Petit Rhône" to discover the Camargue.;
Entry: 12 €m 1h30 trip
Tel: 0490 978 472; Fax: 04 90 97 73 50
Trips on the "Petit Rhône" to discover the Camargue.
Location: Le Grau d'Orgon - D38 ; 13460 Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer
Entry: 12 €m 1h30 trip
Tel: 0490 978 168, or 0490 909 122; Fax: 04 90 97 99 47
Decouvertes de la Camargue en 4x4
Nature et Decouvertes de la Camargue en 4x4 (Jeep)
Location: Mas d'Icard - Route d'Aigues-Mortes; 13460 Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer
Entry: From € 35 for 2 hours, in personalized groups, with route adapted to your needs.
Tel: 0612 446 474, or 0490 909 539
Speaks French, English, Spanish
Le Gitan Safari Photo du Delta
4x4 (Jeep) safari tours of the Camargue, departing from Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.
Location: 17, Avenue de la République; 13 460 Les Saintes Maries de la Mer
Open: All year, every day
Tel: 0490 978 933, or 0676 769 793; Fax: 04 90 96 31 55
Safari 4x4 Gallon
4x4 (Jeep) tours of the Camargue, departing from Arles or Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.
Also horseback tours, ferrades, and farmhouse dining.
Location: Mazet de la Montlong - Villeneuve; 13 200 Arles
Entry: Safari 4x4 per person: 1h30 €20, 2h30 €33, 3h30 €48 (2012)
Tel: 0490 936 031; Fax: 04 90 96 31 55
Arles, Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer Bus
- There are several buses a day between Arles and Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. The trip takes one hour.
Bus line schedules for the Bouches-du-Rhone department are available from the www.lepilot.com website, section Les Réseau - CARTREIZE, subsection Infos/Téléchargement. Click on Fiches-horaires du réseau CARREIZE for a linked list of the bus lines (http://www.lepilote.com/presentation/?rub_code=1010&thm_id=11705&gpl_id=&part_id=10).
- Schedule: www.saintesmaries.com/pdf/cars_arles.pdf
Department 13, Bouches-du-Rhône Buses
- See Beyond's Bouches-du-Rhone (13) Bus Schedules for downloading Bouches-du-Rhone bus-lines map and bus-line schedules [pdf for each line] (link for PDF files).