Camargue Provençal Gypsy Festival
May 22nd – May 30th, 2018
9 days, 8 nights
A magical triangle of land in southeastern France, Provence contains the spirits of civilizations past and present within a splendid, multi-faceted mosaic of sunshine and serenity. This sun-kissed, untamed corner of the map encompasses such seasonal bounty, pastel colors and irresistible scents of lavender, rosemary and thyme,that you can almost taste its beauty.
Our Camargue Provençal Gypsy Festival Adventure begins after your arrival at the Gare de Nîmes (Nîmes Train Station). We will drive forty-minutes southeast through the garrigue (Mediterranean eco-region) to our deluxe, boutique hotel accommodations at Villa Regalido in the charming village of Fontvielle After settling into your rooms to relax and unwind from the day’s travels, we will meet at apéritif time, the perfect transition into the evening, and enjoy a welcome dinner together at the hotel.
The Camargue region is one of the most unique areas in France, a vast salt delta and marshland nestled between the two arms of the Rhone River. We will take a leisurely drive to Aigues Mortes, a perfectly preserved, bastide, walled village, set among the salt marshes of the Camargue. A magnificent example of medieval architecture built by St. Louis (King Louis IX of France), Aigues Mortes was the Mediterranean port from which he launched his 7th Crusade to spread the Gospel. This village is filled with cafés, art galleries, and shops. We will have lunch at Chez Coco, one of the best restaurants within the village walls. After lunch we might tour the historic ramparts or walk across the bridge just south of the walled city to visit Les Salins d’Aigues Mortes, producers of fleur de sel (Mediterranean salt) since 1856.
We will take a very short drive to the village of Maussane to tour the Moulin Jean-Marie Cornille, France’s most important olive oil mill. The Moulin Cornille continually receives a gold medal for its unusually flavored olive oil, tasting of dried fruits and almonds, produced from the fruit of over 400,000 olive trees that carpet Les Baux Valley. Les Baux is the most dramatic 10th century fortress sight in Provence. Perched on a promontory over looking the Val d’Enfer, Valley of Hell, this pedestrian-only village was the fiefdom of the blood-thirsty Lords of Les Baux and paradoxically, the birthplace of the troubadour tradition of courtly love & chivalry. Its ruined castle and environs, once the legendary haunt of witches and spirits, attract more visitors every year than the Louvre in Paris. Below Les Baux, at the quarry site where bauxite was discovered in 1822, is the Carrière de Lumière, a natural theatre where three dimensional images are projected onto the white quarry walls, floors and ceilings, accompanied by music and creating an amazing audio-visual experience.
The Gypsy Festival and pilgrimage to Saintes Maries de la Mer, located on the tip of the Camargue, has been taking place since 1448. According to legend Sara la Kali, a black woman and patron Saint of the Gypsies, was already in the Camargue region as early as the first century, when a boat arrived carrying the three Marys: Mary Jacobe, Mary Salome, and Mary Magdalene. Sara waded into the Mediterranean to help them land. She is the one who rests in the crypt of the ancient church by the sea. For those who would like to experience the full-bodied flavor of the festival and pilgrimage, we will return to Stes. Maries-de-la-Mer for the candlelight procession in and around the church.
Early on the morning on May 25th, the town of Saintes Maries de la Mer begins filling with people. Musicians play traditional Gypsy music in the many village squares. The manadiers, guardian cattle ranchers dressed in their traditional outfits sit astride beautiful white horses. Arlesian women and children, also dressed in their traditional costumes, mill through the crowds. By 10:30 the clergy from the church make their appearance, holding aloft a small wooden boat carrying effigies of two of the Saint Marys. A procession of hundreds upon hundreds begins forming, headed by the leader of the Gypsies, the manadiers, and the Archbishop. As it weaves its way through the village streets, everyone joins in song until the procession reaches the sea. Wading into the Mediterranean with the crowd, the priests return the boat to the sacred waters, and for one brief moment, history is repeated. Afterwards, restaurants and shops in the village open and everyone celebrates by singing and dancing in the streets.
Uzès is one of the best kept secrets of Provence. This gem of a village, set amidst the beautiful, rugged countryside, is filled with Renaissance and Romanesque architecture and has the best Saturday market in the Gard départment. A most extraordinary tourist attraction lies just a few minutes away–the 3-tiered Roman aqueduct, the Pont du Gard— the tallest and most famous aqueduct of the ancient Roman Empire, which we might visit after lunch. Another possible stop is the charming St. Quentin la Poterie, a medieval village that has gained international fame in the world of ceramics. There are twenty pottery studios open to the public.
L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, in the Vaucluse départment, resembles a miniature Venice with it’s canals and bridges. Powered by the Sorgue River, which cuts an intricate path through the village, only 9 of its original 70 water mills remain, It is the European center for antiques and second-hand stores.
Every Sunday of the year, L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue combines it’s antique and farmers’ markets into a feast for the senses and a shopper’s paradise. In the afternoon we may choose to visit the Fontaine de Vaucluse and comfortably hike to the source of the Sorgue River, or drive a bit further to the stunning, hilltop village of Roussillon. each of its buildings pigmented with one of the 17 shades of ochre mined in its quarries.
St. Remy is also one of the villages that hosts the Transhumance, a seasonal migration of shepherds and their flocks between summer and winter pastures. We could walk through for hours, perusing its many cafés, restaurants, galleries, and shops. On the way back to our hotel we will stop for a dégustation, wine tasting, and tour of Château Romanin, the cellars of which resemble an underground cathedral.
Arles was one of the two most important Roman towns outside of Italy and was the capital of the three Gauls–France, Spain and Britain. Everything worth seeing is within easy walking distance of the village center. Here we will view the famed portal of the 12th century church, St. Trophime and its cloister, then take a short walk around Les Arènes, one of the largest, best preserved Roman amphitheaters in France. We might also visit the Museon Arlaten, created in 1896 by Frederic Mistral, a Nobel-prize winning, regional writer. This museum illustrates the life of people living in Provence in the 19th century, with costumes, furniture, work tools, objects of worship and of superstition.
Another option is a walk through Alyscamps, a Roman necropolis and one of the most significant cemeteries in the ancient world. Van Gogh painted over 300 canvases while in Arles, and though the town doesn’t own a single one of them, its appreciation of his work and life are evident everywhere.
After our last breakfast together we will depart for the Gare de Nimes. For those leaving later in the day we will tour Nîmes historic town center and visit the Maison Carrée, a 2,000 year old Roman temple and possibly the 17th century Jardins de la Fontaine, a 15 acre botanical park, depending upon the time.
RESERVE YOUR PLACE NOW FOR THE CAMARGUE-PROVENÇAL GYPSY FESTIVAL TOUR, a once in a lifetime experience for those seeking a truly unique adventure off the well-beaten path in the Gard, Vaucluse and Bouches-du-Rhône départments of Provence.
May 22 – May 30, 2018: 9 days, 8 nights – $3,995.
Book before November 31, 2017 and save $500. per person.
This is a small group tour for no more than 6 people.
Visit the Savoir Faire page for more details.