Le Salin de Gruissan welcomes its visitors with a stunning display of pink lakes cast against a blue horizon. Each summer, salt is harvested here by hand using traditional methods. During our recent holiday in France it made for a fascinating visit for the whole family as we learned about these salt marshes and their surrounding ecosystems.
The low-lying marshes of France’s Mediterranean coast have been producing salt since Roman times. In Gruissan, an old fishing village near Narbonne located between Provence and Spain, salt has been harvested for over 100 years.
Le Salin de Gruissan is situated between the Mediterranean Sea and a lagoon known as l’Étang de l’Ayrolle.
Marshland was converted to salt fields that now cover an area of 400 hectares (990 acres). Sea water is pumped and travels 40km through the network. From over one hundred types of salt present in sea water, this process is able to isolate the only salt commercialised by Le Salin de Gruissan: sodium chloride.
The guided visit (in French) involves a leisurely walk of two kilometres that lasts around an hour and a half. You are encouraged to ask questions, touch, taste and even collect (and take home) salt directly from the fields.
The area receives more than its fair share of sun and wind, which accelerates the evaporation process. As different types of salt are filtered through the fields, the colour turn from blueish green to a radiant pinkish red.
Dunaliella salina, a micro-algae, gives Le Salin de Gruissan its gorgeous pink glow. Flamingos relish eating it and the large amounts of carotenoids produced by the algae turn their feathers pink. One of the back-salt fields is especially dedicated for flamingos who are known to reproduce happily there. An observation hut enables local wildlife authorities to study the birds.
Le Salin de Gruissan produces not only coarse cooking salt but also the delicate “fleur de sel” (flower of salt). Fleur de Sel is an extra fine salt crystal. It is saltier than coarse salt and dissolves very quickly. It is mostly used as a finishing salt for salads and crudités, such as radishes. It is quite expensive, so it is better to sprinkle it rather than cook with it, unless you are making chocolate or caramel.
A selection of traditional cooking salts (plain or flavoured), Fleur de Sel and ElixSel (a liquid salt containing trace elements with 75% less sodium) can be bought on-site, alongside a wide selection of local wines (the Narbonne region is known for its high-quality wines).
The eco-museum opposite is well worth a visit as it documents how salt was produced at the beginning of the 20th century.
Oysters are also farmed on site and can be enjoyed at the restaurant situated next to the salt fields.
You can visit Le Salin de Gruissan for March to November. Advance booking is advisable during busy summer months.
Le Salin de Gruissan
Route de l’Ayrolle
Tel: 04 84 25 13 24 | www.lesalindegruissan.fr