Long known for its salt production, the Camargue region holds a fascinating history. From the Roman cultivation of the first salt marshes to the Cistercian and Benedictine monks’ salt trade during the Middle Ages, this territory has been highly sought after due to its product and proximity to the coast. With salt being one of the most valuable commodities in the ancient world, King Louis IX traded property in Languedoc with the monks in the 13th-century and proceeded to construct a tolled trade route to the Mediterranean Sea through the salt marshes. These marshes, or ‘dead waters,’ gave the town its name: Aigues-Mortes.
A few years after his death, Louis IX’s son, Phillip III, ordered the construction of defensive walls around the town. It’s these well-preserved walls that draw travelers to Aigues-Mortes, but there’s far more to the city. The Carmargue is famous for its rugged cowboy culture and the fortified city is the perfect home base for exploring the surrounding scenery. Along with experiencing the local produce, best cafés, and markets in town, it’s worth adding it to your trip.
Here’s how to visit Aigues-Mortes.
Top Attractions in Aigues-Mortes
Thousands of visitors flock every year to see the historic city walls of Aigues-Mortes, along with the surrounding rose-pink salt marshes. Situated half an hour west of Montpellier and surrounded by wild marshland, there’s plenty to explore in the city, including these can’t-miss activities.
Tour de Constance
The Tour de Constance (Constance Tower) is best seen on the ramparts walk. Begin your walk along the Aigues-Mortes ramparts at the medieval Tower of Constance, built in the 13th century by Louis IX. It sits on the site of the Matafère Tower, originally built by Charlemagne in the 8th century. The full rampart walk is just over 1200 meters long, with twenty towers to visit along the way. Both the towers and the walls offer remarkable views of the town and the pink salt marshes beyond.
To really take in the history, we recommend grabbing the audio guide when you start your walk. Stay moments from the Constancy Tower at Boutiques des Remparts & Spa and get lunch or dinner at Le Bistrot Paiou nearby. It’s cozy, welcoming, and very popular, so make a reservation in advance.
Le Saunier de Camargue offers tours of the Aigues-Mortes Salt Marshes by train, as well as by mountain bike, 4×4, and on foot. You’ll get to take in the area’s natural beauty, learn the history of the area, and how the salt is harvested. The marshes’ picture-perfect hue is the result of a delicately balanced ecosystem. The Dunaliella Salina algae that turn it pink is often eaten by shrimp, which in turn are eaten by flamingos.
You may see the flamingos flying overhead, but the Aigues-Mortes salt marshes are too salty for shrimp to thrive, keeping the flamingos away. If seeing flamingos is on your bucket list, try a Camargues Insolites tour or visit Parc du Pont de Gau.
Once a crucial stronghold for the region, the Carbonnière Tower is now a fascinating piece of medieval architecture. It stands, out of time, in the middle of a road just five minutes outside of Aigues-Mortes. On your way back into town, stop at Boem, on the banks of the Canal du Rhône à Sète, for a taste of the Mediterranean.
From inside the walled city to the marshland beyond, explore everything Aigues-Mortes has to offer on foot, on horseback, or on the water. With plenty of warm, sunny days throughout the year, outdoor activities are a must for your visit.
Fortified City: The Streets and Architecture
Inside the walls of Aigues-Mortes, narrow stone streets lead you past boutique shops and top-notch restaurants. Make your way to the Place Saint Louis, where people gather at outdoor dining tables near the statue of Louis IX. One of the best restaurants in town, Le Saint-Amour, offers home-style cooking just off the square on Rue Sardi Carnot.
On the corner of the square and Rue Jean Juarès, you can visit the Notre Dame des Sablons Church, and take in the Gothic façade and interiors. The building itself dates back to the 13th century, but its stained glass windows were updated in the 1990s. Its abstract style is polarizing but well worth a look.
On Wednesday and Sunday mornings, you can visit the market just outside the walled city on Frédéric Mistral Avenue. You’ll find plenty of local produce and hand-made items, including the Aigues-Mortes fougasse, a local bread you won’t want to miss.
The Canals and Boats
Aigues-Mortes sits on the Canal du Rhône à Sète, making a river cruise one of the best ways to get an overview of the city’s surrounding area. Croisiere En Camargue offers river cruises that take you past the salt marshes, city walls, and vineyards. Don’t forget to pack a hat and some sunscreen if you take the mid-morning tour.
Wild Horses & Horseback Riding
A visit to the region isn’t complete without experiencing its ranching culture. Experience the rugged history and explore the natural landscape in the Camargues region around Aigues-Mortes on horseback. Mas de l’Espiguette offers horseback tours, including beach and forest rides. While you’re touring the marshes and wetlands around Aigues-Mortes, you might encounter the white Camargue horses, one of the oldest horse breeds in the world.
Bulls in the Camargue Region
Cowboy culture can also be seen through the Bulls, both an icon and a delicacy of the Camargue region. They’re also the stars of the ‘courses Camarguaises’. This is a type of bullfighting where, instead of a fight to the death, a number of ‘raseteurs’ compete to retrieve a ribbon from between the bull’s horns. If you’d prefer to see the bulls in a more relaxed environment, try your luck at the meadows on the outskirts of town. Along the Avenue d’Aigues-Mortes on the way out of town—past Carbonniere Tower—you can get lunch at Cha U Kao while taking in the nearby pasture where you can see bulls grazing.
Discovering Hidden Gems in the Town
Aigues-Mortes itself is often thought of as a hidden gem of the Occitanie region, and it has a few unique spots that can easily go overlooked. For example, you might not have come to the south of France to learn about American trains, but that’s exactly what you can do at Les Trains du Colorado. Even those who aren’t train lovers will be charmed by the carefully constructed miniature train dioramas.
Just a few doors down, you can enjoy an exceptional meal away from the busier tourist areas at Pastabar (don’t worry, there’s more to the menu than just pasta). For French-speaking travelers, the old-school Cinéma Aigues-Mortes is a lovely way to spend an afternoon. They show opera and ballet performances as well as new releases. After the film, head to the Paz Dia tapas restaurant for fresh empanadas.
Exploring Nearby Towns and Villages
Aigues-Mortes is in the Gard Department, which is home to numerous unique towns, along with the neighboring Bouches-du-Rhône department. Once you’ve had your fill of the salt marshes, head down to the sea where picturesque shorelines and captivating wildlife await. Of course, you’re also not far from larger cities like Montpellier and Cannes.
La Grande Motte
Unique pyramid-shaped buildings adorn the shoreline at this seaside resort, home to a gorgeous beach, along with walking trails and cycling paths.
Le Grau-du-Roi sits opposite Aigues-Mortes on the south side of the Salt Marshes. Here, you can visit the Seaquarium where you can see a range of marine life, including seals, turtles, and sharks.
Home to Roman ruins, this fascinating town is also close to many other beautiful Provençal towns and attractions, such as Saint-Remy, Les Baux, and the lavender fields surrounding them.
The fortified Church of Notre-Dame-de-la-Mer is the prime attraction in this town surrounded by water.