I’d always been intrigued by tales of the Camargue as it seemed such a mash of contradictions. In a country famed for its mountains the Camargue is flat, in a land that defends its culture the Camargue owes much of its traditions to both Spain and ancient Rome and at a time when the world has gone very PC the Camargue still enjoys bullfighting!
Since settling in the Aveyron, 2 hours from the Med, in May this year with my wife Debbie and four year old son, Leon, we’ve generally been soaking up the rural French country idyll and enjoying the lush green hills around out little paradise of St Geniez d’Olt.
With winter coming on I though it a good idea to make a final dash for the Mediterranean and enjoy a few al fresco meals before turning our attention to winter pursuits such as log fires, skiing and long, long lunches.
We chose the Maeva resort adjacent to Arles and booked a 2 bedroomed villa at the Résidence Maeva Les Mazets de Camargue for a three day weekend break.
Having loaded up our trusty Custom Chevy Astrovan (think ‘A Team’), we headed south onto the A75/E11.
This road is now the trans France equivalent of Route 66 as ‘it winds all the way to Montpellier, taking in great views all the way’ and is probably the route you are going to take if you’re heading from the UK to the Cote d’Azur, Camargue, Languedoc Roussillon or even Spain (remember to turn right for Bezier!).
This road has a lot going for it. Firstly, from Clermond Ferrand to Montpellier you have 333km of free French motorway.
Secondly, you will pass over the Millau (pronounced Me-You) Viaduct, probably the most beautiful thing ever made out of concrete, its central spire rising 1000ft in the air and allow yourself to swell with British pride as it was designed by Sir Norman Foster.
Thirdly, you’ll enjoy great scenery all the way which changes, almost as you cross the bridge, from picture postcard rolling hills of emerald to a much drier Mediterranean, wine producing, flatter, big blue sky environment.
Incidentally, if you were to drive all the way from Dieppe to Arles you’d be on the road for something approaching 9 hours and 575 miles.
Arriving at Maeva Arles
Caution: It seems that Maeva are trying to keep this site to themselves and have cunningly hidden it away from all prying eyes and have even gone to the trouble of misplacing it on their own website just to confuse you further.
Don’t let this put you off as, once discovered, (clue: it’s south of the E80 and not north as shown on the P & V website) you will be glad you persevered. We cheered when the friendly gate keeper confirmed that we had, at last, found the site and assuring us that, ‘A lot of people do that’, he directed us to the main reception.
The reception was a model of efficiency and we were greeted by a smiling receptionist who astonished us with her perfect English. Where we live no-one speaks English - even if they do, they don’t!
We were given crisp linens (take your own towels), remote controls for the security gates, keys and very comprehensive maps of the site and the area.
Our accommodation comprised of a spacious, brightly decorated house, with air con, well equipped kitchen, modern bathroom, downstairs WC and two generous bedrooms. An unexpected bonus was the covered patio and (semi) private garden although my son’s favorite thing was the electric roller blind at the patio door which was in constant use all weekend.
We decided to explore on our bikes and were amazed at the extent of the grounds and the facilities on offer.
At this time of year (early November) we were surprised by the range of all weather activities that were available, the list included tennis (indoor and out) with professional coaching, squash, golf, mini golf, horse riding, gymnasium, sauna, massages, bike hire, stretch classes and, an instant hit with my four year old, a games room with free Nintendo.
Most of the activities were included with equipment freely available and those that weren’t had reasonable charges. Leon had taken a fancy to the riding stables and he was delighted when we suggested a ride on a pony.
He was given a charmingly docile animal ironically named ‘Diablo’ and we were allowed to roam the grounds with this trusty steed and contentedly grinning child yelling ‘yeehaa’ and ‘giddy-up’ to Diablo who was having none of it!
You could easily while away a holiday without ever leaving the resort, particularly in Summer when you would have a choice of several pools and organised activities throughout the day.
We, however, were determined to explore and asked for recommendations at the reception.
Our charming English speaking receptionist suggested that we head over to St Gilles (10 minutes away) as they were having a festival which involved a street market (probably my wifes favourite phrase) and a bull run though the town.
We arrived in St Gilles to find the main road lined with temporary, bull restraining grills and there was certainly evidence of bull and horse ‘activity’ underfoot. Seconds later were heard the thunder of hooves and colourfully dressed horsemen galloped on beautiful white Camargue horses, they were herding some angry looking black bulls along the road and into pens. My wife was so smitten with the scene that she waited almost five minute before descending on the street market opposite.
The next day we went into Arles which is less than two miles from the Maeva complex. This is a very classy town with elegant parks, restaurants and shopping and some amazing Roman ruins including a well preserved 30,000 seat amphitheatre. We were soon climbing all over this ancient ruin and were amazed to learn that it was still in use for concerts and corridas (bullfights).
Incidentally, we also visited the well preserved amphitheatre in Nimes (25 minutes away) if you’ve only enough interest in such things, save yourself for Nimes as the staging of the venue including an incredibly detailed free audio guide, is exceptional.
The bull is an important animal in these parts and features in many statues, paintings, logos and recipes. Try the Taureau Gardiane which is a local speciality available at most restaurants.
Had we more time we could also have visited nearby Avignon, explored one of dozens of local vineyards, gone deeper in search of traditional Camargue horse culture or even pushed on to the Cote d’Azur for a bit of glitz. There are numerous museums, both of fine art and ancient history, and noteworthy historic sites that we will visit next time.
The area has inspired many famous artists and you will find yourself sitting in parks and at cafes that have been featured in the works of Van Gogh.
This is a very interesting place that offers you many exciting holiday possibilities and, for the most part, is still not on the British holiday map.
The Maeva Resort offered an ideal base for a family holiday and during peak season would be a riot of activity in a safe and convenient location. With every type of accommodation on offer from studios to two bedroomed houses and even a fully catered Hotel, the Hôtel Maeva Les Villages du Soleil, there’s something for everyone.
We had enjoyed three days of truly Mediterranean weather (in November) and taken all meals outdoors. As we crossed the Millau Viaduct heading home the green hills of the northern Aveyron were covered in mist and it won’t be long (fingers crossed) before they’ll be covered in snow.
Mmm, now there’s an idea!
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- In a protected area right in the heart of the Camargue region. Plenty of activities for all: swimming pools, balneotherapy centre and equestrian centreChildren's clubs (25/10 to 05/11) and activities for all the family ... more less
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