This Mediterranean coastal town is about 70 miles west of the glitz of Marseille, and a world apart. Camargue is literally a mix of the American Old West, quintessential small-town France, and the Roman Empire. Here, you’ll find a populace of under 80,000 people, made up of French cowboys, known as gardians, winemakers, charcuterie shops, bakeries, and more all surrounded by a natural area full of rivers, wildlife, marshes, and white sand beaches.
The White Horses Of Camargue
Often compared to the wild, free-roaming mustangs of the American west, The white horses of Camargue, also known as “horses of the sea,” represent the rough and tumble spirit that is this region of France. Legend holds that they are among the oldest breeds of horses in the world. They are easy-going and are used by the gardians on local ranches to herd the area’s large population of black bulls.
Exploring Camargue on horseback is one of the highlights of any visit to the area. There are plentiful opportunities provided by local stables. French travel blog Creme de Languedoc lists a few choices to consider here.
The Long-Horned Black Bulls Of Camargue
The Wild West is alive and well in Camargue. Gardians still work the ranches, raising their famed long-horned black bulls. These bulls represent tradition and honor in this town and are bred to entertain crowds in the course Camarguaise, or Camargue bullfighting. Camargue black bulls are a bit smaller than bulls found in Spain or Mexico. They are lighter and quicker but just as smart and fierce.
In their breeding, both bulls are raised to fight, but the difference is a Spanish bull has one fight in his short life, while a Camargue bull could become a star in the ring for a decade or more.
The Famed Pink Flamingos
Camargue is home to the largest river delta in Western Europe. An ecological marvel, the area is home to more than 350 species of birds thanks to the creation of the Ornithological Park of Pont de Gau. But the most famous of the local waterfowl are the zesty pink flamingos, which have become as popular as Carmargue’s white horses and black bulls.
Pont de Gau is the best place to see the Flamingos. It offers miles of nature walking trails where you can get close up to the pink flamingos as well as hundreds of other bird species.
Editor’s Note: Love flamingos? Here are six places to see flamingos in the wild.
The balance struck between the Mediterranean Sea, the Rhone River, and human beings has created a lasting effect on the Camargue region. The effects on the soil have resulted in the region being home to crops such as rice, which do not grow anywhere else in France. Corn and asparagus fields abound, next to vineyards and salt flats and marshes.
The abundance of these salt flats and marshes does indeed dominate the landscape. You’ll see a mix of small saltwater lakes balanced with grazing pastures for both the Camargue horses and bulls.
From March to October, the famed Roman-era Arles arena hosts young razeteurs, or Camargue bullfighters, in no-harm bull races to show off skill and quickness. The young men attempt to remove ornaments off the animals’ horns. It’s described as a chivalrous game of loyalty and valor from both man and beast. But unlike Spanish bullfighting, the black bulls of Camargue are treated as the heroes in these competitions.
Interestingly enough, bullfighting is illegal in France, except for in this region. Known locally as The Course Camarguaise, the fight features six bulls who appear one at a time “against” multiple razeteurs, who are each competing against each other to successfully remove objects from the bull’s horns. The action is fast and heart-pounding. When a round is complete, the famous aria from the French opera Carmen is played to signify the end of combat.
Know Before You Go
The best times to visit Camargue are winter and spring. It is not recommended to visit during the summer or autumn, especially if you are bothered by mosquitos. The area’s marshes are also home to many species of insects, specifically some of the most ferocious mosquitoes to be found in France.
Camargue is a destination city, and it’s recommended that you plan a visit here in conjunction with other locations in Southern France. Cars and RVs are the most popular modes of transportation due to the region’s proximity to notable towns such as Marseille, Narbonne, and Nimes. You can also check out train and bus lines, which run continuously from town to town.