St Maries de la Mer the Abrivado of the Year in Provence
Camargue the Bouches du Rhône
The Camargue is the end of the watery road for the Rhone River. The Rhone finally dips its tentacles in the Mediterranean some 813 kilometres from its glacial source in Switzerland. From a frigid, violent start the water reaches the river delta and lazily unfolds, like a beach towel, before taking its final dip in the sea.
Like many areas of France, the Camargue has a strong, local industry built around the cultivation and production of food. There are rice paddies that stretch for kilometres, although production is now about one-third of what it was in the 1970s. Other planted grains included corn, wheat and canola. On drier land, there are vineyards and fruit trees. Local fishing and Fleur de Sel (specialty salt) production are also significant sources of employment in the region.
Aside from water, the Camargue is filled with fauna. There are black bulls (taureaux) bred for two purposes; fighting and their meat. The landscape is home of a distinctive, powerful white horse. These steeds are a peculiar, small breed that has adapted to the harsh local conditions, over thousands of years. Both the bulls and the horses roam semi-feral around the ranches or manades. There are also lots of birds, thousands of them, including flocks of pink flamingos.
This brackish wetland is home to semi-feral white horses, black fighting bulls and hardworking cowboys or gardiens. This combination of beast and brawn embrace equine traditions with Spanish origins.
From early spring until well into the fall, it is possible to view any number of athletic events related to chevaux (horses), taureaux (bulls) and brave cowboys and cowgirls.
Horse and Bull Events in Provence
Abrivados (arrival to town or the arena)
Bandidos (heading home)
Corridas (traditional Spanish bullfight)
Course Camarguese is a sport with humble origins as a form of a daring farmyard game. It achieved official status in 1975. The goal of the course a la cocarde is to cut ribbons from a bull’s horns for prize money.
Ferias are festivals that include bullfights, bulls running in the streets, bodegas (bars and music). The Feria de Nîmes and Feria d’Arles are amongst the biggest in the region.
Ferrades is an event surrounding the branding of the young bulls with the mark of the ranch. Horse mounted riders corral the bulls towards the spectators. Those who are young, agile and stupid enough, attempt to catch the young bulls and wrestle them to the ground. Once settled, the calf receives the mark au fer rouge (red hot iron).
The Season Finale
It all culminates in St Maries de la Mer on November 11th each year with one enormous event that takes place on the beach (200 gardiens, 1000 horses, 11 abrivados). This video will give you a flavour for the energy surrounding the two-day festival.
Read about Ginger and Nutmeg’s abrivado “baptism” here.