5 Reasons to Visit the Camargue
Take a road trip to a world away from lavender-scented fields, perched villages, and candy-coloured shutters.
Head to the Camargue.
The marshland and brackish waters where the Rhone River finally meets the Mediterranean define Provence’s “wild west.” This natural wetland preserve of 100,000 hectares was created in 1986 (read more here).
Here are five (5) reasons to add the Camargue to your Provence bucket list:
The White Horses
Striking white manes and mottled grey-white coats characterize the traditional horses that appear, almost like ghosts, in this swampy terrain. In the equine world, the Camargue horse has been officially recognized by the National Stud Farms since March 17, 1978 — a faithful, even tempered, sturdy working animal. This horse is a rustic mammal that lives semi-feral within the marshes of the manades (ranches).
Typically, there are several brood mares to a single stallion and foals are born in the wild wearing strangely dark coats, which begin to fade after about three to four years. As yearlings, the foals are branded with the insignia of the manade and separated from their mothers. At the age of three, the males are corralled and training begins, this is a delicate operation for the gardians (cowboys) who must progressively gain the horses’ confidence.
Black as the night you do not want to meet this creature in a dark alley or tempt fate in the wilds of the Camargue. Bred for show or their meat taureaux (bulls) are never domesticated. The bulls destined for work – games in the arenas or runs in the streets – are identified early. The race of Camargue bulls (raço di biou) are stocky, never much higher than 4-5 feet with long horns that point to the sky. Horns on Spanish fighting bulls are oriented toward the earth.
The breeding of bulls like the rearing of Camargue horses is extensive with roughly 120 cowherds about 20,000 animals (2011 numbers). At a year old, the calves receive the ferrade (brand) of their manade. In winter months, the animals grow a coarse coat to protect themselves against cooler temperatures this tends to cover the mark, ear cutting is permitted, so that the bulls can be identified from a safe distance.
The meat “Taureau de Camargue” received the designation of origin (AOC) in the late 1990s. The animals feed exclusively on typical plants and grasses of the Camargue, never grain, resulting in a lean, organic protein.
This brackish wetland is in fact where two branches of the Rhone River join the sea to form the largest Mediterranean delta after the Nile. It is a bird’s paradise with over 340 species, one of the most recognized is the pink flamingo. In the 1970s, a program was developed to protect the flamingos in the Camargue. Scientists created an artificial island on l’étang du Fangassier to encourage a breeding program, which has been highly successful with some 10-15,000 couples reproducing a year.
The Camargue Cross
Not quite a Latin cross like everything else in the Camargue this emblem is distinctive, with three virtues to fused into one symbol:
- The cross for faith – with a three-pronged fork used by the gardians (cowboys)
- The anchor for hope – recognition of the importance of the sea to the life of the region
- The heart for charity
In Provence terms, the cross is not very old it was developed by sculptor Hermann Paul in 1924 as a commission for Marquis of Baroncelli.
Maybe this should be the #1 reason these are ruggedly handsome men!
Do you want to visit?
Here, are a couple recommendations:
There are many ways to visit the Camargue, but if you are pressed for time consider hiring a local to give you a tour. We recommend Jerry Perkins Visite Camargue a local character with hours of stories to answer any questions you might have.
Alternatively, spend a half-day at a manade to learn a bit more about the traditions. We recommend Manade Cavallini.