Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer or Sant Marie De La Mer is a coastal city on the french part of the mediterrenean. These days it is largely a beach resort with heavy tourism, busy beaches, hotels and campsites roaming with holidaymakers from all over Europe, but Sant Marie De La Mer is in fact much more than that. If you look at the cultural history it is a destination of pilgrimage as well as a popular seaside resort, with a central mediterrenean location in Provence, in the Bouches-du-Rhone.
These days the centerpiece of Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is the beach. A vast sandy beach that stretches for kilometres along the coastline with shallow waters making it extremely family friendly. However, the actual village is built around its famous ancient church of the eleventh century, that countains the mummified remains of the saint Mary (or the three marys that are the objects of pilgrimace and spectacular annual festivals). From the church the charming little village is spread out in a labyrinth of narrow cobbled streets with outdoor café serving refreshments on every corner, craftsmen producing leather belts from tiny stores and a wide range of other original goods for sale directly from the producers. Sadly these days, these original traits are under heavy pressure from cheap and tacky tourist shops, standard tourist nightclubs and burger bars but you can still find the charming spots wandering around town, which is well worth doing.
During the busy holiday season between Christmas and New Years, the village has an entertainment program named the Camargue. Thus, one can attend the “Abrivado”, which means a bull run taken away by cowboys (horsemen Camargue) carrying torches, visitors can admire the sunset with cowboys and bulls roaming the streets. Children can enjoy the bouncy castles while their parents stroll through the streets with live music, or visit the crypt housing St. Sarah. Each May 25, more than 10,000 gypsies from around the world flock to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer to venerate their holy “Black Sarah” or Sara-la-Kali. Her relics are carried through the streets at the gypsy festival and into the ocean in a heap of flames. A spectacular sight not to be missed. Every year also sports the vierginenco festo (the virgin festival), which is a ceremony for girls aged 16 that celebrates their change of status to that of an adolescent woman. Theres further festivals and monuments relating to the roma gypsies treating it as a holy city or mediterrenean capital and its always worth looking out for these gypsy fiestas as they tend to be entertaining, inclusive and rather mad.
The area surrounding Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer include a vast natural park with the opportunity to go on safaris and admire a range of wild life, a high speed canal for windsurfers and long stretches of undisturbed beaches away from the main tourist areas. Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is still well worth a visit, especially during the gypsy festival season, even though it has developed from a real hidden gem to more of a traditional tourist beach resort