Bouches-du-Rhône (13310) Population: 11,040 Altitude: 24 m
Saint Martin-de-Crau is a residential farming town in the now-rich farmlands of the Crau, between Arles and Salon-de-Provence, at the northern edge of the Camargue. The value of Saint Martin-de-Crau lies in its surrounding lands rather than the town. Market day Fri.
Once at a busy regional crossroads, the Arles -Salon-de-Provence traffic now bypasses on the N113 autoroute, including traffic for the southeast Pyrenees and Spain. The town center is a typical large village, its main street with most of the shops, cafés and restaurants. The rather grandiose town hall (mairie) dominates the eastern end of the town with its high cupola bell tower.
The town center isn't enormous, but there are a fair number shops of all kinds. There's also a large supermarket at the eastern edge of town, along the road in from the autoroute when you arrive from the direction of Salon-de-Provence or Aix-en-Provence.
The region of the Crau is a low-lying flatland with a long seasnon of dryness interrupted by a short season of massive rainfall. The 16th century hydological engineer Adam Craponne (1527-1576) imagined, designed and created the 124-km-long Canal Craponne, an irrigation canal system between La Roque-d'Anthéron, Arles and Salon-de-Provence that use the water of the Durance to open the Crau for farming. The Canal de Craponne runs east-west, crossing the D27 road just 2 km north of the town. Adam Craponne also worked on the Canal du Midi, and was one of the engineers, along with Leonardo da Vinci, on the Canal du Center in Bourgogne.
Canal irrigation was first used for olives, a principle regional resource of that period (and there are still many large olive groves here). The Crau is now famous for its hay, the only AOC animal fodder product in existance.
An extended area of the Camargue, the Crau also raises the typical black bulls and white horses that can be seen grazing in the fields.
Wet and Dry. The northern part of the Crau, that irrigated first by the Canal de Craponne, is called the Le Crau Humide. The southern part, still with a great deal of marshland, is called La Crau Sèche.
Pastrage Shepherds Festival
The Pastrage of Saint Martin-de-Crau is a folkloric/religious celebration on the last Sunday of January. The most public part, after the Shepherds Mass, is the 11 AM hot-wine and general milling about in front of the church, then the procession down the main street to the town hall (Hotel de Ville. A small flock of sheep remain in front of the church, with the procession continues with the shepherds afoot and horseback, folklore costumes, little girls carrying lambs and a period musical group.
Saint Martin-de-Crau is in the region where bullfighting is part of the cultural tradition, and there's a small permenent "arena" near the center of town.
The Feria de la Crau takes place there every April-May.
Located on the south edge of town, this park of winding pathways between tall trees and little canals makes a cool, shady diversion on a hot summer day. The trees are identified by plaques for your education, but just a calm stroll here is nice.
Arles and Les Baux
Roman Aqueduct and Mills
15 km northwest of Saint Martin-de-Crau is the village of Fontvieille. Approaching the village from here on the D33, just past the Chateau de Barbegal, are some excellent Roman ruins, including aqueducts and flour mill (meunerie). The aqueducts at the top of the ridge are still excellent remains. The flour-mill part on the slope of the hill, once housing two rows of 8 parallel water wheels, is more in ruin, but still evacotive of that ancient time. (Barbegal Aqueduct)
Windmills of the Mind
Daudet's windmill is located at the south edge of Fontvieille, 15 km northwest of Saint Martin-de-Crau, and just north of the Roman ruins. Restored now, in dedication to the writer Alphonse Daudet, this was one of the many early-19th-century windmills in the area for the grinding of wheat.
A great birding location (spotting some of the bids of the Camargue) is about 5 km southwest of St-Martin-de-Crau. Just south of the hamlet of La Dynamite is the lake Etang des Aulnes and the Peau de Meau nature reserve. A two-day permit costs 3 euros and is available from the Ecomusée de la Crau in Saint Martin-de-Crau. There are two parking areas at the northern end of the étang and walking paths that circle the lake. The entire eastern shore and the southwestern part are wildlife reserves for the birds.
History of Saint Martin-de-Crau
First record, 11th century
The area dates back to Antiquity, and the Romans were growing wheat and grinding grain then. In the middle of the 16th century Adam de Craponne brought the waters of the Durance in his canal to irrigate the plains and reactivate the area. In 1876 the Paroisse Saint-Martin church was built, and in 1925 Saint Martin-de-Crau broke away from Arles to become a commune on its own.
Gallo-Roman: The Roman milliaire "Archimbaud" was a milestone on the Aurelien Way, discovered near the Archimbaud farm, about 12 km northeast (southeast of Mouriès, south of Aureille). 15 km northwest, of course, are the Roman aqueducts and flour mill ruins between Chateau-de-Barbegal and Fontvieille.
Market day: Fri.
Jan (Last Sun) - Fête des Bergers - sheep and sheperds in the streets
Feb (2nd Wed) - Foire St-Valentin - Marché ovin, concours de Mérionos d'Arles, sheep shearing contest - Transhumance
May - Springtime Festival: Transhumance, Flea market, parades folklorique, cowboys (gardians), Carreto
July (Last weekend) - Fete Votive - events night and day, from cycling to bulls and horses, fireworks
Sep (Last weekend) - Fête de la Saint Michel
Oct - Foire d'Automne - Autumn Fair.
• GPS: 43.638346, 4.81058
IGN (1/25,000) #3043 OT "St-Martin-de-Crau, Baux-de-Provence, Alpilles"
The town of Saint Martin-de-Crau is largely residential, in the middle of a large, flat agriculturial plain, and there isn't any real hiking colse to the town. Only 8 km north (a 5 minute drive) are the Rochers de la Pène, low white hills, like a miniature Alpilles, with the ruins of the Tours de Castillon. This is the southern edge of hiking trails from the hills to the north, but also a pleasant place to wander around for the views, the scenery and the exercise. The rocky hills are covered in rosemary, and overlook large olive groves and the fields of the Crau.
Ecomuseum de la Crau
This is a wonderful little museum of ecology, nature and regional traditions. Located in an old bergerie, right in the town of Saint Martin-de-Crau, a garden of ancient farming implements and large external wall mural set the mood.
Part 1 - The gift/book shop at the entry opens into an area about the history and nature of the Crau region. models, diaramas and wall displays describe the nature of the Crau, from its dessert-like dryness to high-rainfall seasons and the marshes. The text is all French, but the diagrams and visual displays are excellent and pretty-much self descriptive.
While you're at the museum, think about getting a two-day pass to the Peau de Meau bird reserve at the Etang des Aulnes. This is the only part of the Central Crau (Crau Seche) open to the public; the rest is all private farms.
Part 2 - Museum of ancient life, trades and tools. This half of the museum has the best display of this sort we've ever seen. The displays are arranged into small "shops" as they might have been, and the content is diverse and very complete. This part of the museum is a family affair, startind by the father about 50 years ago and apparently carried on (at least maintained) by two sons now.
But there's a mystery: "NO PHOTOGRAPHY" - Stated over and over, on multi-lingual signs, diagrams, background notices and warnings. We met one of the principals during our visit there and asked about included a photo on Beyond just to give our readers an idea of what it was like. We were told a tale of one use of a photo that "wasn't as requested, but not dishonest or serious". Yet the "No Photography" rule is more paranoid than that. With some digging we found the family-museum website; it contains only small photos of the museum displays — and many, many more "No Photography" warnings and notices. There's obviously more going on behind this than we know — and we do like a good mystery.
Still, its well worth a visit.
Bvd de Provence, 13310 Saint Martin-de-Crau
Tel: 0490 470 201
Web: www.ceep.asso.fr; email: email@example.com
Transportation Saint Martin-de-Crau
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).
There's a fair amount of lodging in and around Saint Martin-de-Crau. In fact, this could be a good location for a few-days visit of the area if you would like to avoid the "big-city" traffic and parking problems of Arles (which is only 5 minutes away).
We stayed at the Auberge des Epis, a two-star Logis de France hotel near the center, and were very satisfied. The hotel's restaurant is excellent, and the locals come here for a nice dinner. They have a "chef patissier" so breakfast includes freshly baked croissants and rolls.
The new owners (Dec 2007) are remodelling and adding a swimming pool. We're hoping the prices (60 euro double) don't rise too much.