Wild West Adventures in the Camargue with Kids
Provence’s Wild West
Beaches, black bulls, ancient fortresses, and pink flamingos, the Camargue is like the Wild West of the South of France. The Camargue is a great place to spend your holidays. It feels less explored and lies between the Cote d’Azur and the Languedoc-Roussillon regions. The Camargue is a very interesting region to visit with kids, as there is a lot to learn. On nature, on the pink Flamingo birds that have their home here, to spot wild horses and bulls and to see the remarkable pink coloured salt ponds or green rice fields.
Continue reading here for travel tips, restaurant ideas, photos and an even visit to Arles a contributor blog post by Let’s Explore.
Navigating the Rhône River
Rhône Glacier located high in the Swiss Alps is the river’s source. By volume, the Rhône waterway is one of Europe’s largest rivers. The Saône River joins the Rhône in Lyon where it turns south towards the Mediterranean. Just south of Arles, the river divides into two branches the Grand Rhône and Petit Rhône, both of which join the sea in the Camargue. The result is a marshy, brackish area that is home to semi-feral bulls (taureaux), white horses, pink flamingos and the odd mosquito.
Long before roads, trains and airplanes, the Rhône was critical for trade during the Greek and Roman eras. However, the River was not easy to navigate, subject to flooding, wild currents and annoying, shallow parts. The French State undertook infrastructure improvements in 1885 and 1905 to raise the water levels in shallower sections to 1.60 metres. Established in 1933, the Compagnie Nationale du Rhône (CNR) assumed responsibility for safer navigation, development of hydroelectric power and the management of irrigation for agriculture in the region.
Untamed Beauty the Camargue
In Arles, take the walking path along the riverbank, to gain an appreciation for the power of the Rhône. As the Rhône waters wash into the Mediterranean, the river dumps some 20 million cubic meters of silt a year in the area.
Partially protected as a nature preserve since 1927, the Camargue wetland is 100,000 hectares and a UNESCO designated biosphere reserve. Managed by the Parc naturel régional de Camargue you will see rice fields, grapevines, brackish lagoons and dunes punctuating the flat landscape. This region is impossibly breathtaking and completely untamed at the same moment.
Camargue Adventures for Kids
There are many reasons to visit the Camargue, but for kids interested in animals, this is a special place.
Visit the pink flamingos. The Parc Ornithologique du Pont de Gau is a 60-hectare area with hundreds of birds. The park is open daily, walk on your own or join a guided tour. Picnics are allowed.
Experience manade life. The large ranching operations in Provence are called manades. These farming operations typically breed both the black bulls and the white horses. Many of the manades offer a 1/2 day experience, which includes a display of the guardians (cowboys) working the horses to round-up the bulls, followed by lunch.
Head out on a bike. In Saintes Maries de la Mer, there are several places where you can rent all-terrain bikes by the hour or for the day. Cycle along the beach or on one of the marked trails. The riding is mostly flat but can be bumpy.
Rent a kayak. There is no better way to see the water than on a boat. Kayak Vert Camargue offers several different options for those keen on paddling.
Walk the ramparts. Aigues Mortes translates into dead waters. In 1240, King Louis IX built a fortified presence here. Although in hindsight, it might not have been the best location. At that time, the Kingdom of France was geographically constrained; to the southwest in Languedoc Roussillon were the Kings of Aragon and in the east the Germanic Empire. It was a strategic move by King Louis, to establish a port on the Mediterranean, in a place ruled by Benedictine monks of the Abbey of Psalmody. The area was sparsely populated, and occupants eked out a rustic existence by fishing, hunting and small-scale salt production. The town’s ramparts stretch a full 1.6km (1 mile) an odd-shaped quadrangle, punctuated by ten entry gates and six defensive towers.