Aigues-Mortes: Travel Information and Pictures

 

This fascinating and historic town of Aigues-Mortes has a charm all of its own. Nestling near the Mediterranean coast of France, it is very popular with tourists, rightly so as it is packed with interesting sights and absorbing things to do. Its long history is clearly shown in its beautiful ancient buildings, neatly wrapped within the medieval city walls. The pictures clearly show just how imposing these venerable old stones really are!

You will also find evidence of the characteristic longstanding local industries, notably the growing of grapevines and asparagus, together with the raising of Camargue bulls and horses. A special mention should go to the local delicacy ‘Fougasse Aigues-Mortes’, a delicious sweet brioche subtly flavoured with orange blossom. Today, tourism is an important industry too. Make a particular point of visiting the salt production lagoons. This ancient industry, still going strong today, is to be found on the surrounding salt marshes. These pools gave the town its name, Aigues-Mortes meaning ‘dead water’ in the local dialect. The lagoons are well worth a visit, especially on the convenient tourist train which you can see in the photo.

Getting to Aigues-Mortes
There are several convenient nearby airports serviced by low-cost airlines and Air France, for example Montpellier (24km) and Nimes (48km). Road communications are good with the Autoroute A9 passing within 20km and the D979 providing a convenient link right in to the centre of the town. It is also possible to travel the town centre by train, the journey from Avignon taking approximately half an hour.

History
Once here you can soak up the history and there is a lot to absorb! The legend of the town being founded by Gaius Marius in 102BC is unfortunately devoid of any supporting evidence, but there is no doubt that salt panning had been undertaken in this region since the Neolithic period and the Romans certainly continued exploiting the seawater in this way. Charlemagne built the Matafere Tower here both to protect the developing salt mining industry and as a communication device to enhance the security of his kingdom. By 1248 Louis IX had fortified the town, replaced the tower with the Carbonniere Tower and used the town as the departure point for his Crusades. By 1300 the impressive city walls were virtually complete.

Aigues-Mortes was the focus of international attention in 1893 when tensions grew between groups of French and Italian migrant workers, employed for the summer season in the salt industry. Jobs in France were hard to come by and the Italian foreigners were resented. A fight broke out and rumours spread that the Italians had killed some of the townspeople. A riot developed during which 7 Italians were killed and over 50 wounded. An international row ensued, fuelled by the Italian press and anti-French riots took place in Italy. The whole matter was eventually resolved through diplomatic exchanges and the judicious use of compensation.
Fortunately your visit to the town today will be a much calmer and more relaxing affair!

Sight-seeing
On arrival at Aigues-Mortes the visitor cannot fail to be impressed by the extensive city walls, looking very much as they would have done when first built, 700 years ago. The pictures convey a real sense of the grandeur which faces you at the city gates. One of the best ways to familiarise yourself with the town is to take a tour of the Ramparts. It will be €7.50 well spent. You will gain not only an intimate view of the town, but also, looking out, a panorama of the red-hued lakes and the glistening white pyramids of the surrounding salt industry. As you walk round the battlements you will marvel at the variety of rooftops, the arrow-straight Canal du Midi and the pretty harbour, full of pleasure-craft.

In the centre of town you will find Place St Louis, a bustling hub of shops and restaurants. Whilst there, make sure that you visit the church of Notre-Dame des Sablons with its perfect marriage of medieval architecture and modern stained glass. As you can see in the pictures, the surrounding streets are full of charm and excellent shopping opportunities.

The Salt Lagoons
You must not miss the fascinating story of the salt industry of Aigues-Mortes. This industrial resource is believed to have been exploited since the Neolithic period. Certainly developed by the Romans, the Benedictine monks expanded production in the 8th century and the work has continued right to the present day. The ‘fleurs du sel’, flowers of salt, are highly prized wherever good food is appreciated!
You can get a really good close-up view of the lagoons by taking the tour by tourist train as shown in the pictures. From the shaded comfort of the carriages you can see the spectacularly coloured lagoons (it is the concentration of salt which turns them such a striking red) and the blinding white pyramids of salt which stud the horizon. This is also the place to get that perfect shot of the walls of the town across the crimson lake! You will see the salt forming as the water evaporates, and the channels, gates and machinery which help create the finished product. The informative museum at the end of the tour contains many interesting curiosities.

Where to stay
The Boutique Hotel des Remparts is within the walls of the old city. Particularly highly regarded, the 300 year old building boasts airy rooms and wooden flooring. La Villa Mazarin is a 4 star hotel in a 15th Century building, excellently located within the citadel. If you like the water you could stay in 4 star luxury on a boat, Peniche “Tic et Tac”, in the harbour. For those on a more limited budget there is the highly regarded Le Mas des Sables, a little further from the town centre, but with the benefit of swimming pool and extensive gardens.

Restaurants
For the fine dining experience why not try Le Patio ‘Ne, offering French Mediterranean dishes in the centre of town? Another option is Boem which offers a delicious fusion of Asian and Mediterranean cuisine in a canal-side location. Highly recommended in the moderate price range is Le Feu o Plumes, just a short walk outside the walls, or within the citadel try Le Bistrot Paiou for delightful local food. For tasty, inexpensive meals try Le Petit London (burgers with a French twist), or La Viguerie (Italian).

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