The Saltworks of Aigues-Mortes Camargue, France

The Saltworks of Aigues-Mortes Camargue, France

                       

                The Saltworks of Aigues-Mortes Camargue, France


When salt concentration reaches 320g per litre, a micro algae would appear in the water. This algae contains great amount of carotene, which gives it its typical pinkish red colour. The higher the concentration of salt, the more this algae multiplies, the brighter the colour of the red sea. A marvelous sight.  

 

Salt works can be a natural place to produce salt. Place a dry land at sea strand, fill it with sea water, let dry in the sun, and you get salt.  
Aigues-Mortes Salt works are in the South of France, in the department of Camargue, 40km from Nîmes. It has water surfaces the size of a city like Paris, 10800 ha are cut up into 140 salt ponds.  
Aigues-Mortes means “dead water”, (Aquae Mortuae), because of the numerous ponds and marshes surrounding it. In the 7th century, the Benedictine monks founded an abbey in those marshes, the Psalmody Abbey. Eight centuries later, the kingdom of France didn’t have any port on the Mediterranean sea, so in order to facilitate trade with the Western world, Louis IX decided to create an inner port.  


The saline destiny of Aigues-Mortes began in the Ancient Roman time, Roman architect Peccius was the one in charge of organizing salt production.  
Nowadays, the salt works of Aigues-Mortes harbors 12 salt workers. Everyday, they drive along 340 km of tracks between the ponds and the sea, guiding the salt from the sea to the factories. They never force Nature’s ways: producing salt takes time, and each step has its season. A skilled farmer may be said to have “green fingers”, a skilled salt worker, has “blue fingers”.  
In March, water is pumped from the sea at 12m3 per second speed into the ponds. All the art of the salt workers is to move the water with everyday climate, to lead it to the saline tables. Too fast, salt would be washed away from the harvesting before crystallizing ; too slow, salt would deposit in ponds that are not meant for this, and wouldn’t be collected.  
From April to September, under the effect of the sun, water slowly evaporates, and becomes more and more concentrated in salt. A 9cm thick “salt cake” takes shape on the saline tables.  


In Summer, when the wind is scarce, millions of salt crystals take form on the water surface, giving birth to the salt flower of Camargue (Fleur de sel). Until today, the salt flower is always collected manually. It is a very refined condiment, with a fine and crispy texture, easy to melt. It can be used in table seasoning or at the end of cooking to reveal the flavor of the dishes. Its freshness, lightness and subtlety make the salt flower of Camargue particularly suitable for roast meat, fish and salads, a final touch of perfection.  
Before the rain season of September, it’s time for collecting. At the end of the salination process, the “salt cakes” issue a fragrance of violet, that is when they are ready. Every year, Aigues-Mortes produces 45 tons of salt, stored in the salt factory as 400m long and 25m high white hills.  
In the 10800 ha of saline marshes, salt workers live with quite a variety of birds. Grey herons, pink flamingo, redshanks, avocets,... Some come to reproduce; others to migrate or hibernate. It is said that in a 100 pink flamingos coming to France, 20 would be from Camargue. They come here to live and reproduce, at ease, they are not even afraid of humans, clearly masters of the site.  
From March to October, the salt works of Aigues-Morts would be open to public. Sightseers can take the touring train, on a 1h30 tour. They would learn about how salt is produced, why the water turns pink in Spring. If they want to go near the seashore, then jeeps are essential on a 3h tour, listening to the light humored explanations of the salt workers, sharing their pride for they work. When the rover speeds towards the sea, bright blue sky and pure white clouds flying across your vision, it would open your soul and light your mood. Don’t forget to buy salt before leaving, spicy salt, truffle salt, salt flower... multiple possibilities.  
Furthermore, do not miss the typical patisserie in the city of Aigues-Mortes: a fougasse made of brioche, butter, sugar and orange flower.  

For more information, you can visit the website:  
http://www.visitesalinsdecamargue.com/indexEN.php#/home

 

 
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