Must see attractions in Camargue

  • Top ChoiceSights in Arles

    Les Arènes

    In Roman Gaul, every important town had an amphitheatre, where gladiators and wild animals met their (usually grisly) ends. Few examples have survived, but Arles (like nearby Nîmes) has preserved its colosseum largely intact. At 136m long, 107m wide and 21m tall, built around AD 90, the oval-shaped amphitheatre would have held 21,000 baying spectators. Though the structure has suffered down the centuries, it's still evocative of the might and capabilities of Roman civilisation. Entry is on the northern side.

  • Sights in Camargue

    Parc Naturel Régional de Camargue

    Enclosed by the Petit Rhône and Grand Rhône rivers, most of the Camargue wetlands fall within the 850-sq-km Parc Naturel Régional de Camargue, established in 1970 to preserve the area's fragile ecosystem, while sustaining local agriculture. It's a stunning and precious environment in which age-old farming practices coexist with one of Europe's greatest havens for birdlife. If you are a birdwatcher, you simply must come here. The park's headquarters are housed in the Musée de la Camargue, just outside Arles.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Arles

    Fondation Vincent Van Gogh

    Housed in a listed 15th-century manor, now twice repurposed (its other incarnation was as a bank), this Van Gogh–themed gallery is a must-see, as much for the architecture as the art. It has no permanent collection – rather, it hosts one or two excellent exhibitions a year, always with a Van Gogh theme and always including at least one Van Gogh masterpiece. Architectural highlights include the rooftop terrace and the coloured-glass bookshop ceiling. Look online for child- and family-centred programs.

  • Sights in Arles

    Musée Départemental Arles Antique

    This striking cobalt-blue museum perches on the edge of what used to be the Roman chariot-racing track (hippodrome), southwest of central Arles. The collection of pagan and Christian finds includes stunning mosaics and an entire wing of treasures highlighting Arles' commercial and maritime prominence. Permanent collections reach back to prehistory, through the arrival of the Greeks in 600 BC to the Roman period and beyond. If you love a proper museum, full of artefacts and history, this is for you.

  • Sights in Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer

    La Digue à la Mer

    This 2.5m-high dyke was built in the 19th century to cut the delta off from the sea, making the southern Camargue arable. A 20km-long walking and cycling track runs along its length, linking Stes-Maries with the solar-powered Phare de la Gacholle (1882), a lighthouse automated in the 1960s. Footpaths cut down to lovely sandy beaches and views of pink flamingos strutting across the marshy planes are second to none. Walking on the fragile sand dunes is forbidden, as is driving.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer

    Parc Ornithologique du Pont de Gau

    Flamingos are a dime a dozen in the Camargue, but this park is one of the best places to see the many other migratory and seasonal species that thrive in these wetlands. Herons, storks, egrets, teals, avocets and grebes are just some you may spot, depending on the time of year. The reserve has 7km of trails, giving you every chance to see its avian inhabitants, and a care centre for sick and injured birds. Follow the D570 4km north from Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer.

  • Sights in Arles

    Fondation Luma

    Arles' already-bulging cultural landscape avidly awaits this new cutting-edge gallery and arts centre, rising inexorably at a defunct railway depot in the city's southeastern quarter. Funded by the Swiss-based Luma Foundation, and designed by Frank Gehry, it's set for a high-profile opening in 2019. If you want a scoop, there are French-language guided visits of the site five times a week, and one in English at 11.30am on Saturdays (adult/child €7/free).

  • Sights in Arles

    Théâtre Antique

    It's easy to admire the grace and engineering of this theatre – built at the behest of the unofficial first Roman Emperor, Augustus, in the 1st century BC, despite a semi-ruinous state brought on by centuries of pilfering. It still serves as one of Arles' premier venues, staging summertime concerts and plays where lighting, seating for 10,000 and the few remaining pillars create a magical atmosphere. The entrance and ticket office is on rue de la Calade.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Camargue

    Domaine de la Palissade

    This remote nature centre, 12km south of Salin de Giraud, organises fantastic forays through 702 hectares of protected marshland, scrubby glasswort, flowering sea lavender (in August) and lagoons on foot and horseback (call ahead to book horse treks). Before hitting the scrub, rent binoculars (€2) and grab a free map of the estate’s three marked walking trails (1km to 8km) from the office. The tours are as educational as they are enjoyable.

  • Sights in Arles

    Cryptoportiques

    The origins of these fascinating underground chambers, now sitting below the current city centre, go at least back to the first Roman colony in Arles in 46 BC, and most likely extend to much older Greek caverns. It's a wonderfully literal 2000-year excursion to take the stairs from the gleaming administrative heart of modern Arles, down to three vaulted chambers that may have housed shops or storage cellars under the Roman forum.

  • Sights in Camargue

    Réserve Nationale de Camargue

    One of the oldest nature reserves in France (first delineated in 1927 and given official protected status in 1975), it covers 132 sq km of wetlands, lagoons, islands, peninsulas and the vast 600-sq-km Étang de Vaccarès. There's an information centre at La Capelière and the website has useful maps detailing recommended birdwatching areas and balades naturalistes (nature walks).

  • Sights in Arles

    Église St-Trophime

    Named for Arles' semi-mythical first archbishop, this Romanesque-style church, built over a 5th-century basilica, was a cathedral until the bishopric moved to Aix in 1801. Built between the 12th and 15th centuries, it’s considered a masterpiece of Provençal Romanesque. Look for the intricately sculpted western portal, topped by a tympanum depicting the Apocalypse (and St Trophime himself, brandishing his crozier). Inside, the treasury contains bone fragments of Arles’ bishops. Occasional exhibitions are hosted in neighbouring cloister, Cloître St-Trophime.

  • Sights in Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer

    Manade des Baumelles

    Located on the Petit Rhône, this manade (bull farm) lets visitors enter the world of the gardians ('cowboys'), watching their strenuous work from the safety of a truck. The braver can ride horses, join in the farm-work, go canoeing and play traditional gardian games. Tours end with an optional farm lunch ( menus €25/37) and a gift shop stocked with Camargue specialities.

  • Sights in Camargue

    Musée de la Camargue

    Inside a 19th-century sheep shed 10km southwest of Arles, this museum evokes traditional life in the Camargue, with exhibitions covering history, culture, ecosystems, farming techniques, flora and fauna. L'Oeuvre Horizons by Japanese artist Tadashi Kawamata – aka a wooden observatory shaped like a boat – provides a bird's-eye view of the agricultural estate, which is crossed by a 3.5km walking trail. The headquarters of the Parc Naturel Régional de Camargue are also based here.

  • Sights in Aigues-Mortes

    Les Salins du Midi

    Glowing a peculiar pink in the sunlight, the vast, flat salt pans that stretch southwards from Aigues-Mortes have for centuries produced the region's famous salt. It's still done in the traditional way, with sauniers (salt workers) harvesting the salt by hand in late summer. You can visit the salt pans either aboard an electric train (1¼ hours, up to 10 daily) or on a cycling tour (three hours, two per day). Reserve ahead.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Arles

    Musée Réattu

    This superb 150-year-old museum, housed in an exquisitely renovated 15th-century Hospitaller priory by the Rhône, might be assumed old-fashioned, yet its modern collection is truly top-notch. Among its holdings are works by 18th- and 19th-century Provençal artists, two paintings and 57 sketches by Picasso, and of course some works from its namesake, Jacques Réattu. It also stages wonderfully curated cutting-edge exhibitions.

  • Sights in Arles

    Les Alyscamps

    Testament to the significance of Roman Arles, this grand processional avenue of tombs and sarcophagi holds more than 1500 years of corpses (which Roman custom insisted were buried outside the city). Van Gogh and Gauguin both painted this necropolis, at the eastern end of which stands the marvellously atmospheric, unfinished 11th-century St-Honorat chapel.

  • Sights in Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer

    Église des Stes-Maries

    Built on the potential first site of Christianity in the Camargue, this fortified church is of uncertain vintage, but probably hails from the 12th century. It draws legions of pilgrims to venerate the statue of Sara, their revered patron saint, during the Pèlerinage des Gitans. The relics of Sara and those of Marie-Salomé and Marie-Jacobé, all found in the crypt by King René in 1448, are enshrined in a wooden chest, stashed in the stone wall above the choir. Don't miss the panorama from the rooftop terrace.

  • Sights in Arles

    Place du Forum

    Just as social, political and religious life revolved around the forum in Roman Arles, so the busy plane-tree-shaded place du Forum still buzzes with life. Underneath it lies the underground galleries of Cryptoportiques – the forum's subterranean foundations and buried arcades (89m long and 59m wide). These caverns were carved out in the 1st century BC.

  • Sights in Arles

    Église Notre Dame de la Major

    Complicated restoration projects mean this 12th-century church, dominating Arles from the highest point in the city, can only be admired from outside. Enduring a chequered history, including desacralisation during the Revolution, it's now the unofficial church of the gardians (Camargue cowboys).