A historical town in the south of France, Aigues-Mortes is famous for being one of the most beautiful medieval fortified towns in Europe. This medieval walled city is located in the Camargue region of France which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It is near the towns of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, Arles, Nimes, Salins de Giraud, Saint Martin de Crau and the Camargue national park, making the destination a popular stop for visitors and tourists.
While it is smaller than its larger Occitan neighbour Carcassonne, this medieval citadel is an impressive sight looking like it is straight out of Middle ages. Its massive stone walls, battlements and iconic towers made it perfect to defend against attacks from the Mediterranean sea.
So let’s see the best of what to see and do in Aigues-Mortes, shall we? Allons-y!
Aigues-Mortes owes its existence and fame to Saint King Louis IX who stopped here regularly in the 13th century on his way to the crusades with the Knights Templar in the Middle East.
Louis was a religious man, and was passionate about participating in the Crusades in the Middle East. He decided to construct a stronghold on the Mediterranean to reduce his dependancy on the Italian cities that were acting as a staging ground for transporting troops to the Crusades.
He selected Aigues-Mortes for its access to the sea, and the town has been associated with him ever since. Construction of the ramparts started under Louis IX, and continued under his son, Philip III the Bold.
Later from 1575 to 1622, the town of Aigues-Mortes was one of the eight safe havens granted to the Protestants. After the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 by Sun King Louis XIV, the town and its famous Constance Tower was used as a prison for the Huguenots who refused to convert to Roman Catholicism.
Today, it has a population of around 9,000 people, but welcomes thousands more visitors during the busy summer tourist season.
Things to see and do
1. Visit the Ramparts
The center of Aigues-Mortes is surrounded by an imposing set of walls and ramparts designed to protect the city from enemy attack. The walls date back to the 13th century, with construction having begun under the reign of Saint King Louis IX.
Today, much of the ramparts remain in relatively good shape, and you can walk all the way around the old Château de Aigues-Mortes walls. Entry into the castle and the ramparts is around €8/person.
2. Climb the Constance tower
One of the oldest parts of the ramparts of Aigues-Mortes is the Constance tower. It stands on the site of an older tower known as the Matafère Tower which was built in 791 by King Charlemagne.
At the time, the area was surrounded by swamps, and the tower was built for the safety of fishermen and salt workers. Saint King Louis IX built the Constance Tower in the 13th century on the site of the old Matafère Tower, to house his garrison.
Known as the “grosse tour” meaning “fat tour” as it is nearly as wide at 22meters diameter, as it is high at 33 meters. Along with a garrison for troops, it later became a prison for protestant Huguenots in the 16th century.
Entry to the Constance tower is included in the price of the ticket to the ramparts.
3. Notre-Dame des Sablons Church
Inside Aigues-Mortes city walls, you will find the 13th century church, Notre-Dame des Sablons. The exact date of construction is not known, but it is believed to have been built before the ramparts.
Saint King Louis is said to have stopped here to pray here before leaving on the crusades in 1248. He stopped here again in1270 on his way to another crusade, but died of illness soon after dysentry broke out in the camps.
The church is dedicated to him, with a plaque and the town of Aigues-Mortes still holds a strong connection to the King.
4. Walk through the old town
Within the fortress walls, lies the old town of Aigues-Mortes. There are several shopping streets featuring a variety of souvenir shops, restaurants and cafés.
However, Aigues-Mortes is still a living town, with plenty of quieter streets and private homes within the city walls.
The French famous writer Alexandre Dumas wrote about his trip to Aigues-Mortes in his book Impression de voyage dans le Midi de la France. Today, you can find a street named after him in the old city center.
5. Dine in Place Saint Louis
Near the Hotel de Ville (City hall) of Aigues-Mortes is the large Place Saint Louis dedicated to Saint King Louis IX, who is one of the most popular saints in France. The square is surrounded by restaurants with outdoor terrasses and makes a wonderful place to stop for lunch and watch the passersby.
Here you will find a bit of everything from the various specialities from Occitanie like bouillabaisse and moules frites (mussels and fries), to salads and pizzas.
6. Tour the Camargue
The area around Aigues-Mortes is famous for being part of the natural reserve known as the Camargue. It is known for its unique wetlands and horse-riding culture that attract visitors from far and wide.
Along with several species of wildlife and beautiful pink flamingoes, the Camargue also has an eponymous horse breed, the famous white Camarguais which are raised in almost wild conditions.
Just across from the Château de Aigues-Mortes, there are boat cruises that go up the canal into the Camargue. The canal leads from Aigues-Mortes to the town of Beaucaire, crossing the wet plains of the Petite Camargue, and from Sète to Saint Gilles and Montpellier.
While the boat tour can be a little long and slow, you can take a private guided tour to the Camargue near Aigues-Mortes here.
7. Visit the Salin d’Aigues-Mortes
The Camargue is also known for its sea salts that are produced by drawing seawater into marsh basins and allow the water to evaporate, leaving behind the salt. Some salt crystals float on the surface of the water, forming a delicate crust of crystals that is called fleur de sel.
A couple of miles away from the Château de Aigues Mortes, you can visit the Salin d’Aigues-Mortes, which are the salt fields that are thought to be the largest around the Mediterranean sea.
It is run by a private company producing the fleur de sel de camargue, and vehicles are not allowed inside the fields. For a fee, there is a small train you can take inside, or visit on foot. (You can also ride a bike, but you must bring your own bike.)
8. Try a Fougasse d’Aigues-Mortes
Fougasse is a type of French bread, and the traditional one from Provence is usually topped with crushed olives, cheese, garlic or anchovies.
However, the town of Aigues-Mortes in the Occitanie is known for a sweet version of the fougasse. It is usually made with pâte à brioche (brioche dough), sugar, butter and orange blossom.
In certain cases, it is also topped off with a caramelised fruit like apples, as shown above. Traditionally, the sugary fougasse d’Aigues-Mortes is served at Christmas, placed among the 13 desserts of Provence.
How to get to Aigues-Mortes?
It takes around 6h45 minutes to get to Aigues-Mortes from Paris by car. The closest airport is in Montpellier which is about 1 hour drive away.
If you are coming from Paris, you can take the TGV high-speed train from Paris to Nimes which takes around 3h and then take another train for 40 minutes to arrive in Aigues-Mortes.
How easy is it getting around?
The center of Aigues-Mortes is pedestrianized and quite easy to get around. A portion of the ramparts has an elevator, so there is not too much climbing. However, is you wish to visit the Camargue or the salt lagoons, you will need access to a car or take a tour.
How many days should you spend?
Aigues-Mortes is relatively small, so I would suggest spending one night here. The boat tours of the Camargue and salt lagoon fields take 2-3 hours, so unless you spend the night, you will not have a chance to visit the other sights.
You can also use the town as a base to visit nearby Arles, Martigues, Montpellier, Nimes, and more.
Where should you stay?
There are some wonderful hotels in the town center of Aigues-Mortes that will allow you to visit all the main attractions on foot.
- €€€ – Hotel Les Templiers
- €€€€ – Boutique Hôtel des Remparts & Spa
- €€€€€ – La Villa Mazarin
If you enjoyed that article, you may like to read more about traveling around the Occitanie. A bientôt!