We were looking for Sara, the Patron Saint of the Romani people and the reason why tens of thousands of Gitan, Romany, Manouche and Tzigane Gypsies descend upon Saintes Maries de la Mer every May.
We’d been told she was to be found in a small crypt to the right of the altar in the 9th century Eglise de Notre-Dame-de-la-Mer, accessible via a back door. But when we went around the back of the church and paid a small fee, it led us to a narrow staircase which wound its way to the top of the building and we emerged into blinding sunlight, high above the streets of the town.
Despite having conquered my vertigo many years earlier on a trip to Sigiriya in Sri Lanka, my hands were tingling as I stepped up from the crenellated walkway that circumnavigated the roof and onto the steep, stone tiles that rose to an apex behind the bell tower. When I reached the central ridge, I perched on the stone sill and finally allowed myself the luxury of lifting my eyes to the horizon.
Directly below me, the narrow streets of the town buzzed with morning shoppers and lunch time diners, garlic-infused warm air rising from cooking pots on market stalls. Red tiled roofs spread out from my vantage point like a captive congregation waiting for the sermon to begin, hemmed in on all sides by the Rhône estuary. Beyond the stone penitents the salt flats of the Camargue shimmered in the heat haze, their scorched grasslands speckled with the blue trails of watery inlets. With no other tall buildings to interrupt, I could see for miles and miles while a gentle breeze broke the summer’s stranglehold and fanned my brow like a faithful punkawallah.
We never did find Sara.
Andrea (Andy) Montgomery is a freelance travel writer and co-owner of Buzz Trips and The Real Tenerife series of travel websites. Published in The Telegraph, The Independent, Wexas Traveller, Thomas Cook Travel Magazine, EasyJet Traveller Magazine, you can read her latest content on Google+