Bouches-du-Rhône (13800) Population: 35,163 Altitude: 20 m
This old maritime town at the northwest corner of the Etang de Berre (Berre Lagoon) is centered around the fortified church Eglise Notre Dame de Beauvoir at the top of the hill. Interesting little streets wind up the hillside from the center, with shady little squares along the way. Most of the old houses are painted with the lovely Provencal pastels and contrasting trim and shutters, with some restored bare stone buildings and walls. The view from the top [photo-2] is across the old tile roofs of the town and the low hills across the blue water of the Etang de L'Olivier. Market day Tue.
Istres is a nice town and a pleasant town, but not too exciting when we were there (during school holidays in october). Summertime is very active, however, with the Theatre de l'Olivier the center of festivals of dance, music and theater.
At the north edge of town, a lovely big lake-side park on a peninsula of the Etang de l'Olivier includes the hilltop site of the Oppidum du Castellan (long since gone).
History of Istres
First record, 10th century Castrum de Istrio
Prehistoric: An important prehistoric site was located at the quartier of Sulauzes, in the hills just north of the Etang de l'Olivier, with stone-age tools and animal bones.
Celto-Ligurian: The Gallo-Ligurian hilltop Oppidum du Castellan was a trove of pottery, coins, inscriptions, furniture and tombs, with the Oppidum du Castellan remaining active well into the Gallo-Roman era.
Medieval: The medieval town built up around the fortified chateau on top of the hill, first under the rule of the house of Baux and later the princes of Martigues.
Market day: Tue.
Apr - Fête St-Etienne
June - Feria et Fete de la St Etienne - animations, fetes, fireworks, garçons de café, etc - Centre Ville
Dec - Fête des Bergers - folklorique events, sheepdog trials, transhumant troupeau
• GPS: 43.512673, 4.987766
IGN (1/25,000) #3144 ouest "Martigues, Etang de Berre"
IGN Verte (1/100,000) #66 "Avignon, Montpellier"; #67 Marseille, Carpentras
This is not hiking country; much better for water sports and other activities. The nearest nature walks would probably be from Miramas, Martigues or in the Camargue. The Office de Tourisme does have, however, a list of several walking tours (sentiers de randonnées).
We didn't find any touristic center of restaurants near the old town, but there is a collection of terrace cafés on the Allées Jean Jaures, near the Arch and across from the Office de Tourisme (where you can get a list of restaurants and hotels).
We lunched at the restaurant of the Hotel de France on ave Hélène Boucher; a correct little restaurant familial.
Fun - Amusement - Kids
Aquatic Part "The Lagoon", water chutes, "tidal wave" swimming pool.
• Location: Rue de l'Equerre
• Tel: 0442 569 999
Musée d'Istres - René Beaucaire
Paleontology, prehistory (with the 8000-BC Cornille shelter and the 4000-BC Mouvin site), underwater archaeology, 19th-c industry.
Place de Puits Neuf
Tel: (33) 442 55 90 15; Fax: (33) 442 55 50 08
Open: Mon-Sat; June-Sept 14h-19h; Oct-May 14h-18h
Théâtre de l'Olivier
Bd Léon Blum
Tel: (33) 442 55 24 77; Fax: (33) 442 56 95 36
Reservations: (33) 442 56 48 48
A regional train service (TER) running between Miramas and Marseilles-St-Charles, includes stops at:
St-Chamas, Berre, Rognac, Vitrolles, Pas-des-Lanciers, Istres, Rassuen, Fos-sur-Mer, Port-de-Bouc, Crois-Sainte, Martigues, Ponteau-st-Pierre, La Couronne, Sausset-le-Pins, Carry-le-Rouet, La Redonne-Ensuès, Niolon, L'Estaque, Séon-St-Henry, St-Louis-les-Aygalades, Le Canet, St-Barthélemy.
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).