White horses and pink flamingos: A day in Camargue

Merhaba lovely readers! I am in Turkey right now, sipping on my lemonade and looking at/editing photos from my time before the summer holidays started. I realized that even though I wrote a blogpost about Tuni’s and my trip to the South of France, I did not include photos from my faorite day, because I thought that it desered a blogpost on its own. So here it is!

In this very special blogpost I want to tell you about a place where eagles, hawks and harriers soar in the blue skies and muskrats swim along the little canals, a place surrounded by marshy wilds and rice paddies, orchards and even a few vineyards. And especially, a place – as the title already tells you – teaming with wild white horses and pink flamingos:

On our last full day in Nimes, Tuni and I decided to isit the National Park nearby (Parc Naturel Regional le Camargue) and book a safari with Camargue Autrement, an alternative little agency that offers unique and local insights into the region. We took a train to Grau du Roi, a little seaside town in the south of Nimes and met up with our guide and his safari jeep. The stunning landscapes and wildlife we saw that day made us forget all about time. The wetlands we passed by were roamed by black bulls, white horses and pink flamingos. They were chequered with silver salt pans, large salt mountains, and waterlogged rice paddies.The area has a fascinating history: On the western edge of Grau du Roi lies the remarkable walled city of Aigues Mortes (meaning “death water”) In mediaeval times, this was the Mediterranean port from which the Crusaders set out, and it was on the coast. Since then, the Rhone delta has silted up, and Aigues Mortes is five miles inland, rising up out of the marshes.Aigues-Mortes is one of the finest walled cities in France, and it is possible to walk round the old city walls, which are largely intact. The city ows its terrifying name due to the many illnesses that killed its population contained by the city walls and due to the tradition of pickling dead bodies with salt in winter wars. Tuni and me were shivering at the stories our guide told us and felt like we had landed in a medieval movie. Having mentioned salt: the area is famous for its exquisite salt (fleur de sel, I am sure many of you know it by name) and the salt plains can even be seen from Google Maps! 

We continued our safari to the grasslands further inland to watch black bulls and legendary white Camargue horses graze in the fields. Cars and motorcycles are forbidden in this area and Camargue Autrement has special entry permissions for their vehicles from the local authorities. Camargue horses form a distinct breed, which, like the Camargue bulls, live in semi-liberty (fenced in wide areas of grasslands) .The Camargue is one of the oldest breeds in the world, closely related to the prehistoric horses whose remains have been found elsewhere in southern France. At birth they are coloured dark brown or black, but turn white around the fourth year (In layman’s terms they are white horses, but to horsy folk they are grey, since they are not uniformly pure white all over, hihi.)

Our tourguide was a real Camarguaise, born and raised in the region and participating in traditional bullfights as a Gardian (cowboy) since his childhood. We loed hearing his action-ridden stories in the car and learning about the history of the bulls firsthand. The Gardiens – raise fighting black bulls for the bullrings of Languedoc and Spain. Camargue bullfights – courses camarguaises – are not like Spanish bullfights. Camargue bullfights are a competition of agility between men dressed in white, and black bulls; the aim is for the bullfighters to steal the trophies, such as ribbons and tassles and rosettes, that are placed between the bull’s horns. In the Camargue tradition of bullfighting, there are no matadors, and the bulls are not killed. (Yay!) Several times a year the inhabitants of the area get together and build an arena for their bullfighters. Traditionally each family contributes one piece of material to the arena. Additionally, the old Roman arena in Nimes also holds these bullfights and thousands of people from all over France come to see this spectacle.

The day slowly came to an end when we stopped at an old monastery and vineyard to taste traditional bull sausage, vin sable (wine grown on sand) and sweet pastry. It was exquisite. After our little picnic in the middle of endless wine fields we drove along the 780-sq-km delta wedged between the Petit Rhône and Grand Rhône for a while, simply admiring the natural beauty around us and then stopped by a shack between bulrushes to watch a group of flamingos flit  across the setting sun. It was magical. Merci, Camargue pour les memoires!