July 19, 2024
Medieval Town By A Bubblegum Pink Lake: One Of The Last True Hidden Gems In France

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France is the most visited country worldwide, easily surpassing Spain, Italy and Mexico.

Last year alone, it hosted over 100 million guests, who flocked from all over the globe to see the Eiffel Tower sparkle at night or marvel at the regal opulence of palaces like Versailles.

I live here, in Paris specifically, and I can tell you it’s been an absolute gong-show, but as widely popular as France is, one thing I’ve learned traveling across the territory is that large swathes of it remain largely undiscovered.

Medieval City By A Pink Lake In Aigues-Mortes, Camargues, France

As a majority of foreign tourists will typically check off Paris and, if time permitting, visit a couple of summery towns in the French Riviera before moving to the next country in line, they will often miss out on some of the most awe-inspiring, fairytale spots (un)known to most.

In a recent trip to the Camargue region, I stumbled upon one of these hidden gems, a medieval city resting on the banks of a bubblegum pink lake, and I almost couldn’t believe my eyes—and the fact there were very few foreigners in sight:

Is This The Last True Hidden Gem Of France?

House In The Inner City, Old Town Of Aigues-Mortes, Camargues Region Of Southern France, Southern EuropeHouse In The Inner City, Old Town Of Aigues-Mortes, Camargues Region Of Southern France, Southern Europe

Aigues-Mortes is not the typical town that would feature on the travel brochure displayed at your hotel front desk if you’re coming to France.

Unlike Nice, Avignon, St Tropez and the like, the French would very much like to keep it a secret.

It is a small settlement in the historical Camargues, a coastal area of France best known for its vast wetlands, and a UNESCO-protected reserve tourists are mostly bypassing altogether when traveling up the N113 on the way to Montpellier.

I could dedicate an entire stand-alone article to the national park, probably the most fascinating bird-watching and wildlife-spotting site in Europe––expect to find elegant pink flamingos and majestic wild horses prancing about––but let’s stick to Aigues-Mortes.

Old Town Aigues-Mortes In Camargues, Southern France, Southern Europe.jpgOld Town Aigues-Mortes In Camargues, Southern France, Southern Europe.jpg

It is located at the junction of two channels, the Rhône and the Maritime, making it a natural transit hub for boats traveling to and fro the coast; needless to say, Aigues-Mortes was a hugely important center of trade in the Middle Ages, when it accumulated most of its cultural wealth.

I didn’t know what to expect pulling up with the car before the imposing medieval ramparts, but as I would soon find out, this offbeat town tucked away in the salines of Camargue is one of the best-preserved medieval treasures still surviving in France today:

What Makes Aigues-Mortes So Special?

Medieval Ramparts In Aigues-Mortes Framed By Flowers, Southern France, Southern EuropeMedieval Ramparts In Aigues-Mortes Framed By Flowers, Southern France, Southern Europe

I know Dubrovnik gets all the praise, and even in France, Mont St Michel citadel is far more easily recognized, but the square-shaped Aigues-Mortes is also surrounded by intact city walls and defended by a series of towers and fortified gates.

Chivalric romance stuff, you know?

Strolling the charming Old Town, a grid-like maze of cobbled lanes lined by identical stone houses, distinguished by their flower arrangements and colorful window shutters, it’s almost as if you’re transported back in time.

House In The Inner City, Old Town Of Aigues-Mortes, Camargues Region Of Southern France, Southern EuropeHouse In The Inner City, Old Town Of Aigues-Mortes, Camargues Region Of Southern France, Southern Europe

You could spend hours on end exploring at leisure, and you’re sure to find one or two secret courtyards with a centuries-old well at the center and plenty of souvenir shops where you can buy pure Camargue salt, lavender products, and unique craftwork.

The most striking feature here, and one you can’t easily miss if you’ve been to a fair share of castles before and you’re already numb to the manmade wonders of Europe, is the vividly-pink lakes that border the historic ramparts.

Well, I must add they are not lakes proper, but saltpans that are naturally salmon-colored due to the presence of a microscopic algae that proliferates in the environment.

Pink Lake In The Salines Of Aigues-Mortes, Camargues Region Of Southern France, Southern EuropePink Lake In The Salines Of Aigues-Mortes, Camargues Region Of Southern France, Southern Europe

In short, don’t try and go for a swim as it’s far from being… hem, safe.

Either way, it’s not every day you get to see a medieval citadel straddle a pink body of water, and what a sight, my friends!

Top 3 Best Tourist Activities In Aigues-Mortes

Visit The Salines

One of my favorite things to do in Aigues-Mortes is visiting the Salin d’Aigues-Mortes, the town’s landmark saline, home to the largest salt marsh in the entire Mediterranean basin and where about 500,000 tons of salt per year are produced.

Medieval Town Of Aigues-Mortes In The Camargues Region Of Southern France, Southern Europe.jpgMedieval Town Of Aigues-Mortes In The Camargues Region Of Southern France, Southern Europe.jpg

Other than buying different-flavored salt, you can hop on a tourist train rattling up the narrow lanes between saltpans, and if you’re hoping to snap the classic postcard picture of the pink lake with the Aigues-Mortes townscape for backdrop, I’d suggest you sit on the left side.

There’s a small, rather interesting museum on site, too, and you can even climb up a salt mound for a breathtaking panorama of the typical Camargues landscape.

The Petit train visit lasts just over an hour, and tickets cost $13.90 per person (or the equivalent in euro).

Walk The Ramparts
Historical Ramparts Of Aigues-Mortes, Southern France, Southern EuropeHistorical Ramparts Of Aigues-Mortes, Southern France, Southern Europe

In town, the must-do attraction is accessing the ramparts and their adjacent Constance Tower: yes, you can walk the entire 1.8-mile extension of them, and make sure you bring a bottle of water, and a power bank for that limited-battery phone, as you’ll probably be taking pictures every step of the way.

There are lots of activities in and around Aigues-Mortes that should keep you busy for a couple of days, so I suggest you plan at least an overnight here––I stayed myself at Hotel L’Escale (check out the Google reviews here), in the heart of the ‘Inner City’, or the walled Old Town, and a double room cost $56 per person.

Medieval Town Of Aigues-Mortes In The Camargues Region Of Southern France, Southern EuropeMedieval Town Of Aigues-Mortes In The Camargues Region Of Southern France, Southern Europe

On average, room rates in Aigues-Mortes range from $113 to $160 on Booking, a far more reasonable ask than Paris’ jaw-dropping $208 to $342 at the peak of Olympics season.

Sample Some World-Class French Food

If you’re keen on experiencing French culture—and by that I mean sampling every type of cheese under the scorching sun and sipping a Sable de Camargue Rosé —the Main Street leading from Porte de la Gardette to the Notre-Dame des Sablons Church is flanked by traditional brasseries.

For rustic, wood-fired food that screams ancient tradition, head to Chez Coco.

They serve freshly made pizza and pasta for the weak of stomach, and for the more adventurous kind like me, the best andouillette sausages and the most tender, melt-in-your-mouth lamb shoulder you’ll ever try.

A Plate Of Andouillette, Traditional French Dish Served In France, EuropeA Plate Of Andouillette, Traditional French Dish Served In France, Europe

If you’re vegan, Le XIII is the place to go: not only do they have a lovely secluded outdoor seating area, shaded by exotic trees, but their refreshing Bergère salad, accompanied by chèvre-et-miel toast tastes heavenly on particularly hot summer days.

Aigues-Mortes is well-known around France for its seafood, particularly its mussels, and Casa Toro is where you’ll find the best mussel à la Aigues-Mortaise in town, salted to taste, and don’t forget to order an anchovy-based anchoïade dipping sauce for the bread, if available.

One Of The Most Welcoming Destinations In France

House In The Inner City, Old Town Of Aigues-Mortes, Camargues Region Of Southern France, Southern EuropeHouse In The Inner City, Old Town Of Aigues-Mortes, Camargues Region Of Southern France, Southern Europe

The price range for restaurants is an acceptable $30-35, if you’re ordering a small entrée, a main dish and a glass of wine or similarly-priced drink, and the service is usually impeccable—living in Paris myself, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to deal with ill-tempered waiters.

Aigues-Mortes has none of the big city fast-paced living, traffic, nor hustle and bustle, and as I perceived it, people are just in a better mood than Parisians in general: it’s no wonder Aigues-Mortes was recently ranked by Booking the most welcoming town in the region.

Medieval City Gate In Aigues-Mortes, Camargues, Southern France, Southern EuropeMedieval City Gate In Aigues-Mortes, Camargues, Southern France, Southern Europe

Other than the cultural value and the friendliness of locals, Aigues-Mortes is one of the most unique destinations I’ve been in France (and boy, have I got around…) and I just can’t believe it’s yet to be overrun with international tourists.

How to Reach Aigues-Mortes

If you’re wondering how to get here, the nearest airport is in Montpellier (MPL), serving the namesake city, and hosting seasonal low-cost flights from a number of colder European destinations, like London (Gatwick), Copenhagen, Berlin and even Paris.

House In The Inner City, Old Town Of Aigues-Mortes, Camargues Region Of Southern France, Southern EuropeHouse In The Inner City, Old Town Of Aigues-Mortes, Camargues Region Of Southern France, Southern Europe

If you’re already in Southern France, however, getting here is even easier, as the town is served by a train station with direct links to the city of Nîmes: the SCNF-TER service takes roughly 53 minutes to complete the journey, and tickets cost as cheap as $1.

If you’re touching down in Montpellier, you can travel from Montpellier to Aigues-Mortes, but it will require one change in Nîmes, tickets for the entire journey costing from $7.48, at a total travel duration of 1h28 for the shortest transfer times.

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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com

Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.

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