plage de beauducFrom the dunes of Piémanson and Beauduc, pictured, to the family-friendly golden sands of Saintes Maries de la Mer, some of Provence's most spectacular beaches are in the Camargue.

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camargue beaches smallUnlike the rocky little hidden coves of the Blue Coast beaches directly to the east, much of the coastline here is really a continuous strip.

One vast open expanse of sand blends gently and seamlessly into the next one for miles and miles all along the estuary of the Rhône river.

For convenience, we've surveyed the main beaches attached to the towns of the Camargue, running from east to west.

Click on the map to enlarge the image. Click here to read our guide to driving around the Camargue, here to read about the best bird watching sites and here to read about Camargue bulls, ranches and games.

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PORT SAINT LOUIS DU RHONE

The three beaches of Port Saint Louis du Rhône are all well out of the town centre, so you really need either four or two wheels to get there. A beach bus (bus de la plage) runs to them in the summer season.

plage napoleon port saint louisThe plage Napoléon, pictured, is the undisputed star. Its fine golden sand stretches as far as the eye can see: for 10 km / 6 miles, half of which you can drive along.

Unsurprisingly this beach is a firm favourite with RV tourists, though overnight camping there is, in theory, prohibited.

It's found at the end of a 7.5 km / 4.5 mile drive along a long, narrow spur of land, including a separate cycle track, with water on both sides.

You might spot the odd flock of flamingos along the way, though car drivers won't find many places to pull over to see them.

On the map the beach itself is subdivided into "theys". Each one is named after either a boat or its captain beached or shipwrecked on its treacherous sandbanks. Today fences of chestnut wood posts protect the dunes from erosion and offer a little protection against the wind.

Turn left when you arrive at the sea and you'll be heading back towards the oil refineries of Fos sur Mer. Turn right for the beach's best and wildest parts around the mouth of the Rhône river. The plage Napoléon is an "espace naturel protégé", meaning that it's a protected site rich in bird-life and fauna.

Sunbathing is the main order of the day here; for sporting activities, go to Port Louis' two other beaches. But the plage Napoléon is popular with kite-surfers on windy days.

A lifeguard station (at the point where the road meets the beach) is manned in the tourist season, when you'll also find organised activities and games and be able to buy drinks and snacks. At other times, bring your own refreshments. There are a couple of WCs.

You'll have to pay for car and RV parking at the plage Napoléon in the summer. If you're not sun-worshipping, it's best to go in the evening, when traffic will be lighter, the parking is free (after 5pm) and, as a bonus, you get to enjoy the sunset.

The "beach" at the plage de Carteau is nothing special: it's rocky and stony, with a spongy layer of dry seaweed that attracts sand flies. Water sports are the main reason to go here.

There's a dry dock and yacht club and you can rent equipment for kayaking, stand-up paddle, windsurfing, kite-surfing, sailing, fishing and other sports, and also take lessons in some of them. As elsewhere in the Camargue, the water is shallow. WCs and free parking are available.

plage olga port saint louisThe road to Carteau beach, about 4.5 km / 3 miles from the main marina, is lined with sardine and shellfish processing plants. Port Saint Louis is reputed for its mussels, and there's a mussel and oyster farm just offshore - and a restaurant to eat them at.

About 5 km / 3 miles from the marina, the small plage Olga is surrounded by cabanons (traditional provençal beach houses) and has an attractive little harbour.

The beach itself, pictured, is composed of sand dunes and pebbles and sits opposite the oil refineries of Fos sur Mer.

These dominate the horizon and you can sometimes hear the nearby wind turbines rumbling in the background. Even so, the place has a sort of scruffy, low-key charm. Parking is free and there are WCs.

 

SALIN DE GIRAUD

Two of France's most remote and most legendary beaches are the plage de Piémanson and the plage de Beauduc. And they can be found near the little town of Salin de Giraud in the south-east corner of the Camargue.

Until 2016 parking and camping at them were free and so they attracted thousands of visitors who set up spontaneous communities there throughout the summer months.

However these beaches are inside the Camargue Regional Park and the authorities have been gradually cracking down on the encampments.

Access for larger vehicles is now restricted, most of the temporary dwellings on the beaches dismantled and overnight camping prohibited. Police monitor the site in the late evenings, armed with parking tickets.

Visitor numbers have dropped dramatically since the ban. It has been widely viewed as the end of an era. On the other hand many people consider these measures necessary to protect the environment. And there's still nothing to stop you enjoying the beaches by day.

The plage de Piémanson is a long thin finger of fine sand tucked between the estuary of the Grand Rhône river and the salt marshes and lakes, pictured, south of Salin de Giraud.

salt flats salin de giraudTo get there, take the D36D for 12 km / 7.5 miles south out of town (you're likely to spot flamingos en route).

The road ends at the beach, where there is a car-park, open until mid-evening only. Boulders and fences now block vehicle access to the beach itself.

The facilities are basic: no electricity, running water or WCs. There's a lifeguard post and snack bar in summer.

Marked by a sign, an official nudist area (authorised by the Fédération française de naturisme) is at the eastern end of the beach a short walk from the car-park.

If you thought the plage de Piémanson was remote, check out the almost inaccessible plage de Beauduc. Only one road to it is currently open (a previous way to the beach out of Salin via the route de Faraman is now closed).

To get to this mysterious beach take the D36 out of Salin de Giraud towards Arles, then after about 3 km / 1.8 miles turn left on to the D36C.

After about 2 km / 1.2 miles, this road goes round a left bend, then takes a sharp right corner.

There are two road signs at this point, one to Arles (34 km) and one to Salin (4 km). The turn-off to Beauduc is on your left. However, in what seems like a conspiracy to keep it secret, there's no signpost to the beach itself!

road to beauduc beachA concrete grid near the beginning of the route blocks access to all vehicles over 2.10 metres / six feet ten inches wide (there's no height restriction). It's a further 12 km / 7.5 miles from here to the beach.

This road is wide and straight. But, apart from a short strip at the beginning, it's not tarmacked and the surface is very poor and pitted with deep potholes. It's not recommended to try driving it after heavy rains, or in a low-slung car.

At the beginning, tamarisk trees line the route but the landscape, pictured, soon becomes empty and almost lunar: arid, wind-swept sand and salt flats as far as the eye can see.

Some parts are fenced off to contain bulls or horses, though we saw no sign of either.

kitesurfing beauduc beachThe road wasn't busy but, when we arrived, dozens of kite surfers were swirling around on the beach to the right of the parking area: the wind was fierce that day.

Beauduc beach is divided into zones. Separate areas - on the pointe de Beauduc, to the left of the parking area - are reserved for land sailing and (in winter only) surf fishing.

Quad bikes and 4x4s are prohibited from the beach. However, despite the grid, we did see some larger vehicles on the plage de Beauduc.

It seems that, on certain days, an alternative route is occasionally opened up for members of local associations by prior arrangement. But you will need to make enquiries on the spot to find out more.

SAINTES MARIES DE LA MER

In contrast to the other beaches in this section, all the beaches in Saintes Maries de la Mer are within comfortable walking distance of the town centre.

plage est saintes mariesThis is the Camargue's family seaside resort, with fine, silvery sand, shallow water and easy access.

In summer there are three manned lifeguard /first-aid stations, one in the east, one in the centre and one in the west of the town

The plage Est stretches for many miles from the edge of Saintes Maries de la Mer eastwards all the way to the plage de Beauduc.

In fact you could hike or cycle (but not drive) from one to the other if you were feeling extremely sporty.

The part of the beach nearest the town centre is family-oriented but, as you go further east, a nudist area takes over.

 

 

This end of town has a large pay-for parking space for caravans and RVs on the rond point de la Vallée des Lys (just after the spa), an equally spacious campsite and a first-aid station. On the beach itself, a couple of restaurants offer food, drink and a range of snazzy (pay-for) sunbeds, The Bamboo Palm Beach, pictured, even has four poster beds!

plage des amphores saintes mariesHeading towards the centre of Saintes Maries, you arrive at the plage des Amphores. This beach is carved up by man-made spurs to prevent sand erosion and, in contrast to the big spaces of the other beaches, consists of a series of smaller bays.

Pictured, a wide promenade peppered at intervals with showers and stone benches sweeps along the side these beaches, separating them from the road.

It's a pleasant stroll and the only real downside is the shortage of shade. There's on-street car-parking all along the road too.

The plage des Arènes is, as the name suggests, right behind the Arena and sits in the very heart of Saintes Maries. This is the family-friendliest beach of all, with a children's playground at hand, plenty of bars and restaurants, showers and WCs and easy access for push- and wheel-chairs. It has a large pay-for car-park.

The great wide sand dunes open up again as you head west out of town. The plage du Crin Blanc is well supplied with beach restaurants which hire out sunbeds.

There's free on-street parking and, if all those spots are taken, more free parking a block back from the seafront along the Canal des Vaunes.

On the western edge, the plage du Clos du Rhône takes you right up as far as the mouth of the petit Rhône river. Saintes Maries' second campsite is at this end of town.

Photo credits: all images © SJ and RWS for Marvellous Provence

 

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