Epic Experiences-the Camargue, Baux en Provence and Cassis

Today, May 25, 2016, we loaded up our car and left Carcassonne for the coast of Provence. One of the things I had always wanted to see was the great pink flamingo migration to the wetlands area of the Camargue in the delta formed by the two arms of the Rhône river as it enters the Mediterranean Sea.  The flamingoes (as many 10,000 nesting pairs, and upwards of 5,000 offspring) use this marshland area as their nesting zone each spring from about March to May.  When we visited the Camargue before on our river cruise, we did not venture deep into the marshland areas of the Camargue, so we did not see the famed flamingoes. Today, however, we were on a mission.

But first, we had to find gas! Last night, we learned from our taxi driver that France was experiencing a gasoline strike, and that it might be next to impossible to get gas, except on the motorway, where the gas stations were much more expensive. This explained the long lines we had been seeing as people tried to fill up before gas ran out.  Jim and I just decided to bite the bullet and fill up at a motorway pump, since we had a long day of driving ahead of us.

We travelled east back towards the Rhône and turned off into the Camargue region. Since it was pretty undeveloped (small roads and smaller explanatory road signs) Jim had programmed both his GPS and the car’s GPS, as well as following Rick Steve’s driving instructions to get to the visitors’ center in the wildlife refuse. After picking up a better map of the area (and a bid spotter’s book), it was off to find some flamingoes. Luckily, the first ones we spotted were feeding right outside the nature center!

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Then we continued driving deeper into the marshland to the end of the paved road at the beginning of what is a giant sand dike called La Digue.  This is where most of the flamingoes nest and feed and raise their young before continuing their annual migrations. After quite some time (and a few hundred pictures), we continued on our journey, much the happier for having gotten to see these beautiful birds.

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Our next destination, kind of “on the way” to Cassis, was the ancient abandoned town of Les Baux de Provence. This area is known for its lavender and olive oil, but we just wanted to see the impossibly perched houses and fortifications on the top of a limestone cliff. NO, we didn’t get enough of this yesterday in Cathar country! Van Gogh used to come here to paint, but today, it is mostly a very cute tourist town lined with shops.

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Finally, with “daylight burning” (as John Wayne would say), we climbed back in the car to complete our journey to Cassis.  Our good friend, Rob Renner, has raved about this cute seaside town in Provence for years, so we had to see it for ourselves. The town is located right on the Mediterranean, about 30 miles to the southwest of Marseilles, and boasts some really good seafood restaurant, along with some very impressive limestone cliffs that send fingers into the sea where several creeks feed into the sea. These limestone formations are called calanques.  Our hotel, the Royal Cottage is only about three blocks from the port of Cassis. As the sun set, we headed into town for some local seafood and rosé, and saluted another epic day!

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