Print Posted By Lost in France on 3 Mar 2009 in French Regions - Provence-Alpes-Cote-d'Azur

The Magnificent Camargue

The Camargue is a vast river delta stretching across more than 360sq miles on the French Mediterranean coast where the Rhone river forks in two and meets the sea. The largest river delta in Europe the Camargue is a beautiful area made up of large lakes, salt pans and lagoons, the area is rich in history and tradition.
Map showing the Camargue
Most of the Camargue is a regional park and is home to many species of birds and animals including the Flamingo, Egret and the famous white Camargue horses and black Camargue bulls. Inland there are huge salt pans where sea salt is harvested during the summer when the pans dry out.

The summer warmth and marshy wetlands also mean that the area is suitable for growing rice and paddy fields can be found across the region. The rice grown here is known as Camargue Red rice it is a speciality rice with a distinct nutty flavour and firm texture.

Greater Flamingo

Pink Flaningos in the CamargueThis Pink Flamingo is almost an emblem of the Camargue and can be seen in the marshy areas and lakes, the best time to see the flamingos is during their breeding season which runs from November through to March.

The Parc Ornithologigue just outside of Saintes Maries de la Mer has viewing hides and observation towers where you can view the birds easily.

The Gardians of the Camargue

Gardians of the CamargueThe Camargue is the wild west of France and is home to a semi wild breed of bull which is much prized for its meat and also sold for bullfighting.

The bulls are black in colour and are tended by cowboys known as the Gardians. The Gardians ride the famous white Camargue horses which are used to round up the bulls each year.



Gardian houseTraditionally the Gardians live in small single story houses situated deep in the marshland. The roofs of these houses are thatched with local reeds and outside of each house a tall wooden pole is erected which the Gardian can climb to look out and oversee their animals.

The houses are windowless and the front door is usually decorated with bulls horns to ward off evil spirits. Many of these Gardian houses still exist in the Camargue today and some have even been turned into tourist accommodation.

White Horses
Camargue HorseThe Camargue horse is an ancient breed dating back to Celtic times which is only found in this region of France, they are traditionally ridden by the Gardians and are used for rounding up herds of bulls. As adults the horses are white but they are born dark brown or even black, they are a hardy breed well known for their stamina, temperament and agility. Although small in size they are capable of carrying a good weight, many of the horses roam semi wild across the countryside.

Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer

Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is the capital town of the Camargue, once a small fishing village it is now a bustling sea side town attracting thousands of tourists each year there are plenty of shops and things to do and see.

Bullfighting at Saintes-Maries-de-la-MerBullfighting
On the edge of the beach there is an arena where there is bullfighting throughout the summer although unlike Spanish tradition in France the bull is not killed.

Pélerinage des Gitans
The Pilgrimage of the gipsies is a colourful three day festival held around the 24/25th May each year, the festival dates back to the Middle Ages and includes much singing, dancing and traditional costumes.

Aigues Mortes

Aigues MortesSituated in the petit Camargue Aigues Mortes (town of the dead waters) is a Medieval fortified town which was originally a busy port with access to the Mediterranean sea but over the centuries a build up of silt means that it now sits in an area of salty marsh.

Much of the towns fortifications remain intact including its thick ramparts with twenty towers. Be sure to visit the Constance tower a massive medieval dungeon which was used as prison by the Knights Templar.

Arles

This historical river port is situated on the edge of the Camargue on the banks of the Rhone and is considered as the gateway to the Camargue. Arles is the largest city in France and has many important Roman ruins including an amphitheatre and a cryptoporticus but if ancient ruins aren't your thing there are plenty of other things to see and do in Arles from art exhibitions to bustling markets selling local produce.

The Roman amphitheatre at Arles
Arles is considered a city of culture and has many festivals and events through out the year as well as bull runs and bull fights. The city is best explored on foot as the ancient streets are narrow and difficult to drive through, walking means you get to see more and appreciate the architecture as well as explore numerous cobbled alleyways, gift shops and brocantes. If you're short on time or don't feel like walking you can take Le Petit Train D'Arles a small road train which runs from Easter until October, the train will take you on a guided tour of the city.

When to Visit the Camargue

Lighthouse in the CamargueThere are things to see and do all year round but try to avoid the Mistral. The Mistral is a freezing cold but dry wind unique to the Mediterranean coast that can blow at a tremendous speed and last for days on end. It was aptly described by Peter Mayle the author of a Year in Provence as being a "brutal, exhausting wind that can blow the ears off a donkey".

The Mistral is caused by a complex series of weather conditions and is most common during the late winter months.

 

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