InspireKeith Van SickleProvencal History & Traditions

Gaso de Taureaux When the Bulls Go For a Swim in Provence

An abrivado is a special event in Provence, where French cowboys called gardians run bulls through a town as part of a big sporting event. It’s an exciting test of horsemanship that not all gardians can master.

Even more exciting is the Gaso de Taureaux. Here, instead of running through the streets, the bulls are driven through a lake. It’s not clear why—maybe they need to freshen up?

I saw my first Gaso at a lake near Maillane that has a small sliver of water sticking off to the side. It’s like a finger of lake a hundred yards wide and gardians make bulls swim across it. It’s an even sterner test of horsemanship than an abrivado because bulls don’t normally just go for a swim.

Gaso de Taureaux Cowboy Culture Provence @KeithVanSickle

Here’s how it works: bulls are let out of a truck and gardians run them toward this finger of lake. Then, at the last moment, the gardians stop their horses and pull them to the sides. The unsuspecting bulls plunge into the water, swimming across to the other side where they are corralled by more gardians.

At the Maillane lake, two thick ropes marked the path that the bulls would follow through the water. There were hundreds of people in boats floating along these ropes, plus many more on shore.  Sausages were grilled, wine was drunk, and bands played—the crowd even did the wave.  It was like a big tailgater before a college football game.

Gaso de Taureaux Cowboy Culture Provence @KeithVanSickle

The bulls were driven in three groups. As the first group arrived, several tons of bull, horse and gardian came charging towards the finger of lake.  The horses suddenly screeched to a halt and the bulls plunged ahead and swam to the other side.  Success!

Soon the next group of bulls and gardians raced forward. This time one of the horses forgot to stop and plunged into the lake along with the bulls.  His poor gardian fell off and desperately hung on to the saddle, looking very nervous at being surrounded by four seriously ticked-off bulls. Somehow he got back aboard as his horse left the lake.

When the third and final group made their run, everything was fine at first. Then halfway across, the bulls decided to make a break for it. They took a sharp left turn, breaking through the line of boats and scattering the spectators.  They swam toward the open water of the main lake while boats full of drunken fools gave chase.  One guy even jumped on a bull and rode bareback for a while.

Gaso de Taureaux Cowboy Culture Provence @KeithVanSickle

At first you could see the bull’s heads and tails as they swam to freedom. But as they receded further and further into the distance, heading for the far shore of the lake, the only things visible were huge horns bobbing along.

Luckily, the fire department was prepared for this, with a speedboat at the ready and steely-eyed pompiers geared up for action.  Unfortunately, they had forgotten to prime the engine and spent precious minutes swearing and trying to get it started while the bulls continued their escape.

Eventually, the engine started and the pompiers roared off. They captured the bulls, which came back clean and fresh, if a bit waterlogged.

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Keith Van Sickle

Keith Van Sickle

Keith and Val Van Sickle made their first trip to Provence decades ago, and it was love at first sight. After that, they came back every year until 2008, when they began a part-time life there, splitting their time between Provence and California.

Over the years, they’ve travelled all over Provence, seeing sights both well-known and obscure. Their French friends have introduced them to favourite restaurants and wineries and picnic spots and taught them funny local expressions (not all for polite company).

Keith now shares this local knowledge in his new book, An Insider’s Guide to Provence. Packed with the Van Sickles’ favourite things to see and do, it’s a must-have for anyone travelling to this glorious corner of France.

Keith previously published two books about the couple's experiences in Provence. One Sip at a Time: Learning to Live in Provence, and Are We French Yet?, both are available from Amazon.

You can see all of Keith’s blog posts at Life in Provence.


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    Anne Marie
    April 12, 2018 at 8:07 am — Reply

    Do you have any information about Château de Roussan near St. Remy? Also where is Lake Maillane? We will visit the area soon and hope to follow many of your suggestions on what to see and do. Your book One Sip at a Time has been helpful. Thanks.

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      April 12, 2018 at 1:55 pm — Reply

      Hello Anne Marie: Thank you for reading Perfectly Provence and Keith’s terrific article on the Gaso de Taureaux. I will let him answer your question on Lake Maillane. I have dined at Château de Roussan a couple times (a few years back), the setting is beautiful, and the garden serene. There are approximately 20 rooms. The location is good, but not what I would consider walking distance to St Remy. I hope that helps.

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    April 13, 2018 at 6:37 am — Reply

    Hi Anne Marie,

    I’m glad you enjoyed my book!

    As Carolyne says, Château de Roussan is a lovely place with wonderful gardens. My wife and I stayed there once years ago and enjoyed it, though the rooms were a bit dated. I understand that they were refreshed a few years ago. As for the restaurant, they have a new chef this year but I haven’t yet tried it.

    As for the lake, it is between St-Rémy and Maillane, just off the D5. Maillane is about 5 miles north of St-Rémy.

    I hope that helps. Have a great trip to Provence!

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    April 22, 2018 at 6:55 am — Reply

    Great story, Keith. I saw a similar event in Saintes Maria del Mer, but advertised as an abrivado. I didn’t expect to find them wading in a lake beside the Med. Lots of fun…for spectators.

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    April 22, 2018 at 9:09 am — Reply

    Glad you enjoyed the story! Bull culture is one of the things I love about Provence, even if some of the events are a little bit crazy!

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    May 6, 2018 at 11:59 am — Reply

    Haha love this!

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      May 6, 2018 at 10:07 pm — Reply

      Hi Karolyn: me too! From what Keith described, I can’t wait to see a Gaso de Taureaux in person.

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      May 7, 2018 at 12:27 am — Reply

      It’s a lot of fun!

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