I had never heard of Saintes Maries de la Mer, but every year between May 23 and25 (*), the famous festival takes place in this town. The statue of the dark-skinned Saint Sarah is carried to the sea to replay the scene of her arrival to this land from Egypt back in 42AC.
Gypsies come to this town to celebrate the arrival. It is their pilgrimage.
*In 2012, it begins on May 24. For more details, please visit the official website of Saintes Maries de la Mer.
In order to deal with the huge number of camping cars of the visitors, mostly Gypsies, there are so many parking lots and camping sites. Gyspies open stores on the street and make money as blacksmith, basket seller, and of course, street musicians.
People play music on the street, and other people randomly dance to the beat. The dance looked like flamenco. There were so many exotic Gypsy dancers, both male and female, and they looked like as if they jumped out of movies or books.
The level of the musicians varied. Many of them were selling their CDs, and I regret that I didn't buy it; there is no guarantee that I can find the same music even if I go to Romania, since Gypsies are basically nomad.
I saw so many Gypsies at a time in this occasion, and I was just amazed by the unique energy they had. They were totally different from the world I was familiar with.
After the festival, this small town turned into a quite beach resort. Both Gypsies and tourists left the town as soon as the festival was over.
We stayed here for 2 nights, but I think staying in Arles and come to Saintes Maries de la Mer for one day trip will also do. All the hotels in this town were completely full during the festival season, so the reservation must be done way before.
The hotel we stayed on the first night (*) had a vacancy because it was a bit more expensive than other hotels and far from the center. It was 190€, breakfast and dinner included, at high season price. Considering the quality of meal and room, it was quite reasonable.
*Hotel Restaurant Mangio Fango