Have you seen the Camargue episode of Wild France with Ray Mears and want to experience the wild side of the Camargue region? We invite you to see France’s cowboys, the ‘guardians’, and find yourself amongst the region’s famous pink flamingos. Find your boating adventure here.
The Camargue is a region in southern France between the Mediterranean Sea and the Rhône River delta, it has all the usual things you would find on a holiday to southern France, plus some extras. Read on to find out why the Camargue is a boating destination like no other!
1. Flamingos flock there
Around 540 species of bird live in France and three quarters of them can be spotted in the Camargue, including pink flamingos!! In the early 1970s, a group of greater flamingos arrived on the Aigues-Mortes salt marshes and established a breeding population. There are now believed to be 10-15,000 of these large pink birds in the area, making this the largest colony of flamingos in the western Mediterranean.
The island on which they choose to nest belongs to the Salins Group, Europe’s leading salt producer who work in partnership with research groups to protect the area. They have won several prizes for their work and have pledged to “acknowledge the ecological value and the exceptional cultural heritage of their rare or endangered habitats and species on a European scale and promised to protect them.”
2. White horses roam freely
The Camarguais is a breed of horse native to the area. They are one of the oldest horse breeds in the world and have been bred for work by the cowboys of the Camargue (more on them later).
The horses are known for being small (up to 14 hands) but strong enough to carry grown adults. They are white/grey in appearance and live semi-feral among the marshlands. They can also be seen on the beaches and running through the waves.
3. There are cowboys!
Alongside the white horses you’ll find cattle grazing. The cattle are dark brown/black with upward sweeping horns. Some of the bulls are selected to be used for bull-fighting, either in France or sent to Spain. Whereas the rest as used for breeding or beef.
Several events take place each year in which the cattle need to be moved from one part of the wetland they graze on to another, some times through the town. The cattle are moved by cowboys (known as the Guardians) on their white Camargue horses, these events are known as Gaze and Abrivado.
Gaze is when either the horses or the cattle need to be moved to a new pasture across water. The Guardians must help them to cross the lake or river.
Abrivado is a bigger event and can be compared to the running of the bulls in Spain. Each year more than 200 Guardians from all over the province gather together to move the bulls from the beaches to the arena in the town. Using a traditional method that has been used since before trucks or carts were invented, the riders band together in a diamond formation to herd the bulls along the 6km route from the beach through the town.
The abrivado is the run-up to the main event in the bull-ring, which unlike in Spain, is not a fight to the death bull fight. In the event, known as the “course libre” or “course camarguaise”, the objective is to snatch a rosette from the head of the young bull. The Raseteurs who are in the arena with the bulls, train from a young age to be able to out run and out-manoeuvre the bulls. Once the event is over, the bulls are herded back to their pastures by the Guardians.
4. The sea is pink!
Aigues Mortes is the gateway to the Camargue. The ancient city walls are still standing and here you can see where the city made its money. At the foot of Aigues Mortes, the water appears pink and beneath the water lies salt plains the size of central Paris.
At the edge of the Mediterranean sea, a succession of pools are separated by dykes and fed into by the canals – producing 300,000 tons of salt per year. These salt producing waters have allowed the region to make its fortune and the biodiversity of the area to flourish, the salt works alone is home to over 200 species of bird
So what makes the water appear pink here? The colour is caused by a microscopic algae. The majority of the salt that is produced is bright white; however, the fleur de sel, the thin layer of salt that forms on the surface keep this colour. This pink salt can only be harvested for one month a year and used to be reserved for the salt works owners and harvesters, but can now be purchased by the public.
5. Rice grows there (and it’s red)
20,000 hectares of rice paddies produce more than 100,000 tons of rice each year in the Camargue region. Farmers flood their fields with water from the Rhône and the salt is washed out of the soil, this combined with the long daylight hours allow rice to thrive here. The red rice grown in this region is unique and has a nutty flavour and is slightly chewy. It is particularly good as part of a meaty dish!
Are you looking for a holiday with a difference? If these 5 facts about the Camargue has got you thinking of heading to southern France then click here for our Camargue cruises. There is still so much to discover there, we just don’t have time to write it all!