The Appeal of the Camargue – Wildlife, the Knight’s Templar & the Wild West
Tuesday, 31 May 2011
At first the Camargue doesn’t sound so appealing. Originally a marshy wasteland, good for nothing except the extraction of salt – it is now a productive agricultural region, hosting an abundance of amazing wildlife and attracting one million travellers each year.
Ever since the Knights Templar established themselves here, a subtle human influence upon this unruly land has allowed it to blossom into one of the loveliest natural settings in France. Yet despite the years of taming by the human hand, there is still the feeling that things are wild and uncontrolled here. From the mysterious shifting colours of some of its signature wildlife* to ancient legends and relics, the Camargue captivates those who venture here
This French version of the Wild West is relatively young, despite that the cowboys and bullfighting seem to be such a concrete part of the local culture. Less than one hundred years ago, the region re-invented itself. Farmers transformed themselves into Camargue cowboys, reviving the local economy and creating a new cultural lifestyle for the region.
The bulls themselves have roamed the area since the time of the Romans but have become especially popular since bullfighting was cultivated in the region. Those who wish to turn their passion for the bulls into a profession can study the art of bullfighting in the region. Arles is home to a bullfighting school where about thirty young students learn the basics of bullfighting each year.
One of the main attractions on the area is the protected wetland and marine area, called the ‘Parc naturel régional de Carmague’ (the Regional Nature Park of the Camargue).
More than 400 species of birds make this area their home, including flamingos. About 10,000 flamingo pairs live in the lagoons of the delta. There is a pink pigment in the plankton which they eat – it is this delicious snack which gives the birds their striking pink colour.
Most of the park is closed to traffic, so the best ways to get around are by bicycles or horseback tours. We particularly recommend the horseback option – because you won’t be riding just any horse! The Camargue is home to the Camargue horse – they are a species unique to the area and the the only known descendents of prehistoric horses that roamed Europe during the Palaeolithic period. Horses are available for the day from stables along highway D570 between Arles to les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.
Speaking of Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer – we definitely recommend that you pay this town a visit during your stay in the area. It’s like Mediterranean seaside resorts were 70 years ago; quiet and gentle with unspoilt and uncrowded beaches. It will be interesting particularly those interested in History or Christianity.
According to legend, this is the cradle of Christianity in Western Europe. It is said that three Marys – Mary Magdalene, Mary Jacobé, Mary Salomé – and Sarah, their servant, sailed to this town after the crucifixion of Jesus and settled here, bringing the story of Jesus with them.
Relics of the Saints can be found in the church. The town has become a major destination for pilgrims and each year there is a big festival in celebration and memory of the women.
For those who are of a secular inclination, it is still a charming town to visit. In the early twentieth century it became a literary and artistic centre, with visits from creative people such as the writer Ernest Hemingway and the painter Picasso. The film industry took advantage of its natural beauty, using it as the setting for various films.
The best times to visit are in Autumn and Spring, as you will avoid the worst of the tourists and mosquitoes. Autumn is an especially good time because the bird population swells as birds fly south to Africa for the impending winter.
You can experience the region’s beautiful scenery via film – these movies were both set in The Camargue:
‘Crin Blanc’ (‘White Mane’) – a 1953 children’s film which won the Cannes Film Festival’s Grand Prize
‘Friends’ – Filmed in 1971, with a soundtrack featuring Elton John
* Shifting Colours? Some of the wildlife here changes colour! The Flamingoes lose their pink hue and fade to white if they don’t eat enough plankton and the famous White Camargue horses are brown or black when born, gradually becoming white after a few years.
Where to stay?
We have several fantastic luxury holiday villas nearby. Please visit our website and browse our holiday villas in Provence. If you would like any assistance in choosing a charming villa for your holiday, please don’t hesitate to contact us!
Contributions by Katarina Byrne