Etang Aulnes Saintmartindecrau G MartinEtang Aulnes Saintmartindecrau G Martin
©Etang Aulnes Saintmartindecrau G Martin|G.Marin /

Étang des Aulnes

A vast flat area located between the Rhône, the Alpilles massif and the Etang de Berre, the Plaine de la Crau is a wild space with exceptional biodiversity. Amongst the natural treasures that it conceals, the Etang des Aulnes offers a refuge to a remarkable fauna and flora. Sublime and fragile, this area is subject to special protection. Nevertheless, it can be approached and tamed by visitors seeking a privileged contact with nature.

A wealth of biodiversity

The Étang des Aulnes (the Alder Pond) is unique in France and on the Mediterranean rim. It is made up of an interweaving of natural habitats. Dry grasslands, wet and dry meadows and garigues cohabit with ponds and aquatic areas, in a subtle and fragile biological balance. This exceptional site is home to a riparian forest composed of poplars, a few elms and pedunculate oaks. This type of vegetation grows exclusively around rivers, streams and water bodies.

Many birds have taken up residence around the Etang des Aulnes. Numerous sedentary and migratory species await the amateur or passionate ornithologist. In the sky, the spectacle offered by the ballet of birds of prey is constantly renewed, thanks to the majestic flights of the Red Kite or the Hen Harrier. You can also observe the pin-tailed sandgrouse, a colourful species found in France only in the Crau plain. It is a prime location for birdwatching in France.

Small mammals have also made this vast wilderness their own. The most attentive walkers can meet the Eurasian beaver, the largest aquatic rodent in the northern hemisphere. Many species of insects live here, some of which are now threatened. This is the case, for example, of the Sympetrum depressiusculum, a rare species of dragonfly.

To the south, the Coussouls de Crau domain, covering a thousand hectares, preserves a natural area that is unique in Europe: the coussoul, a semi-arid pasture ecosystem found nowhere else.

Heritage and culture

A Provençal-style building stands at the heart of the estate managed by the departmental council. The foundation of this former agricultural estate, whose land once stretched as far as the eye could see, dates back to the early 13th century. The heart of the estate, with its 300-hectare surface, is now owned by the Departmental council of the Bouches-du-Rhône. Visitors are seduced by the charm of the place, with a wooded park whose lawns slope gently down to the pond.

The main building and its annexes are home to an artists’ residence that showcases dance, theatre, music, circus and street arts. A concert hall has also been set up.

The Domaine regularly hosts cultural events. The Sundays of the King of the Alder give pride of place to music from the South, and some concerts of the International Piano Festival of La Roque d’Anthéron take place there.

Practical information

The Étang des Aulnes estate is open to hikers and horse riders, who can use the bridle paths. Guided tours are regularly organised to familiarise you with the biodiversity of the area. A discovery trail that starts at Peau de Meau runs through the Coussouls de Crau Nature Reserve and partly through the departmental estate.

Access is easy by car:

  •  From Arles, take the N113 towards Saint-Martin-de-Crau, then the D24 (exit 11, towards Z.I. Saint-Martin-de-Crau). Follow the D24 in the direction of Fos-sur-Mer, and turn left when you see the sign for the Étang des Aulnes.
  • From Marseille or Avignon, take the A7 motorway, then the A54 motorway at Salon-de-Provence towards Arles. Continue past the toll station on the N113. Take exit 11 (Z.I. Saint-Martin-de-Crau), follow the D24 towards Fos-sur-Mer, and turn left when you see the sign for the Étang des Aulnes.

There is a car park on the departmental estate.

Further information can be found on the official websites