Situated on one of the biggest migratory paths between Europe and Africa, approximately two thirds of all birds found in Europe can be observed in the Camargue.
Pont de Gau Bird Park
For several decades the Etang du Fangassier has been home to the Mediterranean’s largest colony of flamingos, unique in France. However, the flamingos appear to have been disturbed in some way and, in May 2017, the 10,000 couples on the site flew away. Ornithologists are optimistic that they will return. In the meantime, the Pont de Gau Bird Park is still home to other sedentary and migratory birds such as herons, storks, egrets, teals, sparrows, wading birds and raptors.
La Capelière (Information Centre for the Camargue Nature Reserve).
A short walking trail with 4 hides for bird-watching including 2 equipped with telescopes. From here you can also visit the former Royal salt works (Salin de Badon) – 3 hides along 4.5km of track. Access to the site is restricted, you have to buy a pass at La Capelière, and so you might well have a chance of being alone with the birds. And a wild boar or two. C 134 de Fiélouse, Arles
Domaine de la Palissade
This exceptional 702-hectare natural site on the right bank of the Rhône belongs to the Coastal Protection Agency. It forms a rough square with the Rhône on two sides and the sea on a third, encompassing ponds and lagoons linking the river and the sea, and thus providing a rich habitat for fish and birds, and a wide variety of flora and fauna. The site has walking and riding trails with hides. A map is provided with a choice of walks of approximately 1, 2 and 5 miles in length. From April-October, qualified instructors propose a variety of rides on Camargue horses – including a gallop on the beach for experienced riders. These rides are for age 8 years upwards and beginners are welcome. Rides should be reserved in advance. (And you need to take your own drinking water). Salin-de-Giraud. Tel. 04 42 86 81 28.
The Vigueirat Marshes National Nature Reserve
This 1200-hectare Nature Reserve also belongs to the Coastal Protection Agency and is only accessible on foot, or with a guided tour on a bike, a horse or in a horse-drawn carriage. There are paths and trails (including one built on piles) to explore. It’s literally teeming with thousands of birds and there are five breeders of bulls and horses in the reserve. Some circuits are self-guided, others require a guide. A guided tour in English along a circuit with hides and an observation tower takes place every Tuesday in July and August (departure at 9am, duration: 2 hours) Mas Thibert. Tel. 04 90 98 70 91.
The Scamandre Regional Reserve
This typical Mediterranean wetland is home to a number of remarkable species including the protected European pond turtle and no less than 9 species of heron. There are several short circular walks, including one built on piles, and a visitor centre. Route des Iscles, Gallician, Vauvert. Tel. 04 66 73 52 05.
The Camargue Regional Nature Park produce a comprehensive booklet in English explaining how to access the best places to see birds, including details of guided tours for sensitive and protected sites.
The Aigues-Mortes Salt Marsh
The biggest Mediterranean salt marsh. Centuries of salt cultivation have preserved thousands of hectares of land along the Mediterranean with their own rich and distinctive ecosystem. If you happen to be here at the right moment, just before harvest, the water is a magnificent pink.
You can visit the salt marsh, the huge stockpiles of salt and a museum about salt mining and the salt workers’ lives over the centuries, either on foot or bike, with a guide, or on the little train from Aigues-Mortes – the visit lasts 1h15. From the beginning of March to the beginning of November. There’s also a ‘sunset tour’ in July and August which leaves Aigues-Mortes at 7.30pm. The commentary is in French but there are explanatory leaflets in English.
And do buy a tub of ‘Fleur de Sel de Camargue’ – which can only be harvested once a year (from July) when conditions are right – as a tasty souvenir of your visit.