Though located in the Occitanie region, it borders Provence, giving you a great opportunity to get off the beaten path in southern France. The salt flats found here are well known to the French, but remains relatively under the radar to international tourists.
So, what’s up with Salin d’Aigues-Mortes?
These salt lakes are known as Salin d’Aigues-Mortes in French, or salt of Aigues-Mortes. It’s said that Salin d’Aigues-Mortes is the largest salt marsh in the Mediterranean, producing about 500,000 tons of salt per year!
While the salt flats have been naturally occurring for hundreds of years, the salt is mined by the Salins Group. They’re one of the largest salt producers in Europe with brands such as Baleine and Le Saunier de Camargue.
Why the salt lakes are pink
Microscopic algae are found in highly concentrated salt water. As the algae grow, they give salty water their pink color by synthesizing beta-carotene (red/orange pigment found in fruits and veggies) to protect itself from the sun.
Fun fact: the local flamingos get their pink color from this algae!
What to expect on your visit to the salt lakes
Access to Salin d’Aigues-Mortes
One of the most important things to know is that you cannot visit the pink salt lakes anytime you want.
You can visit the Camargue salt lakes either on a guided tour by train, bicycle or on foot, or by paying an entrance fee to explore the salt lakes on your own with your bicycle.
The next section better explains how to visit the pink salt flats.
The different shades of the pink salt lakes
The shades and hues of pink of the salt flats will depend on the time of day you visit. This is because of how the sunlight reflects on the water.
You can imagine that during ‘high noon’, there could be so much reflection on the water that the pink hue would be less apparent than if you had visited in the late afternoon when the sun has weakened.
Try to avoid the sunniest part of the day to witness the different shades of pink.
Camargue: a mosquito prone region
The top piece of advice I received from everyone prior to visiting the Camargue region was to beware the mosquitoes!
Camargue is home to one of the largest river deltas in Europe. In the Summer and Autumn, the mosquitoes come out in full force.
Whether you’ve got the kind of blood that attracts mosquitoes or not, I recommend to put on some mosquito repellent before visiting the salt lakes. You won’t regret it!
How to visit the Camargue salt flats
While you can’t visit the salt flats whenever you want, there are several options you can choose from for how you’d like to visit.
This is the most common way to visit the salt flats. The visit by train lasts 1 hour 15 minutes and it covers a lot of ground. You’ll get to ride past many pink marshes, climb a salt hill, and visit the museum and shop.
The train is open air. You can sit on either side of the train to be treated to lovely views of the salt flats.
You can purchase tickets in advance online here or at the ticket office.
Train itinerary through the Camargue salt lakes
Make your way to the ticket counter to pick up your tickets and board the train.
Each row on the train can seat 3 adults. Because of this, many people will try to line up early to try and score a seat on the outer edge.
Once you’ve boarded the train, you will go on a ride past some small lakes and the walled city of Aigues-Mortes.
Keep your ear open because if there are flamingos nearby, the tour guide will point them out to you.
After driving for several minutes with the background noise of the French-speaking guide explaining the local production of salt, you will approach a big salt hill. The guide will ask you to get out and to climb the salt hill.
YEP! You get to walk up the white hill and have a panoramic view of the salt lakes surrounding you. I recommend to wear sneakers or sandals with a good grip. If walking uphill is a bit of a struggle, there is a rope you can hold onto as you climb.
Once everyone gets back into the train, you get to ride through more salt lakes, each with their own shade of pink. Once the ride is done, the tour will drop you off at the museum and gift shop. The museum offers some interesting facts (historical and present day) about the salt production, while you have the opportunity to purchase a variety of salt and rice at the gift shop.
Unfortunately, the stop for the salt hill is really the only time you have to get off the train to snap some photographs. Near the museum, there are also some pink lakes. If you want to take some photos, I recommend asking the train conductor nicely.
You could also visit the salt lakes while part of a bicycle tour group or on your own.
If you decide to cycle as part of a tour group, you can choose to bring your own bike and pay the admission fee of 23€. If you will be renting a bike there (which is likely your situation), the price to join the bicycle tour group is 28€.
The bicycle tour is estimated to last 3 hours.
To bicycle on your own through the Camargue salt flats, you’ll have the liberty to explore the 12 kilometers of Salin d’Aigues-Mortes at your own pace. Since you won’t be part of a tour group, you can take your time to appreciate the lakes, flora, and fauna. If you’re lucky, you could even see some flamingos!
The self-guided cycling tour costs 22€, and you must provide your own bicycle.
A third option for visiting the Salins Aigues-Mortes is by foot. Because the salt flats are part of the Salins Group’s operations, you won’t be able to walk through the salt marshes without a tour guide.
The walking tour is estimated to last 2 hours and costs 18€.
When to visit the pink salt lakes in Camargue
Time of year
The salt lakes in Camargue are only open a few months out of the year – normally March to November. The best time to see the pink salt flats in Camargue is between May-June. During these two months, the weather is mild and bearable.
August-September is when the salt starts to get extracted from the lakes. So, for obvious reasons, it’s best to visit the salt flats before this time frame.
Provence is sunny most days of the year, so if you visit in July, you can bet that you’ll bake a bit thanks to the heat.
Time of day
I recommend to visit the pink salt lakes during the morning or late afternoon hours. This gives you the opportunity to witness the lakes’ various shades of pink.
Top 3 things to do in Aigues-Mortes
The Camargue salt lakes sit at the entrance of Aigues-Mortes. Why not take some time to explore the walled town and grab a bite to eat?
Go up the fortified city walls for views of the surrounding landscape
This is one activity I regret not doing while in Aigues-Mortes. The towers and walls surrounding Aigues-Mortes were historically used for various reasons such as a defense mechanism and a prison.
Not only will walking on the walls give you an aerial view of Aigues-Mortes, but you could look beyond the wall and see the various shades of pink of the salt lakes that surround the town.
Visit a local market and buy traditional red or black rice of Camargue
Did you know that Camargue is the only rice cultivating region in France? This is partly because of the abundance of water that flows in from the Petit Rhône River. So, this mixed with the perfect combination of sun and air quality is essential for the drying of rice during harvest. Camargue’s environment makes it ideal to cultivate red and black rice, long grain rice, round rice, aromatic rice, and wholegrain rice.
For 500 years, rice has been harvested in this region, but it didn’t become such an important food source until World War II. Since then, there has been significant investment in the local agriculture to increase rice production and optimize cultivation.
Rice is sowed from April through May, then is cultivated in September and October. For this reason, Summer and early Autumn make for good times to visit Camargue.
Eat a delicious meal at Le Dit Vin
Whether you enjoy meat, seafood, or vegetarian dishes, Le Dit Vin in Aigues-Mortes is one restaurant you shouldn’t skip out on. This restaurant was recommended by a local, and wow, what a treat!
The restaurant uses local ingredients and flavors to provide really delicious dishes. For example, I had a super tasty dish composed of fish, round rice, grilled vegetables, and a chive-based sauce.
The restaurant is open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner. During high season (June – October), the restaurant is open non-stop during the day. And in France, this is a treat as most restaurants are closed between 2 PM and 6 PM.
I hope you’ve discovered a new destination to add to your South of France itinerary! If you have any questions or need help planning your trip, feel free to contact me.
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