When you feel that enough is enough, it is inevitable to start looking for a place to hide away from the madden crowd, from the hammering noises of the city, from the everyday routine, from all the troubling troubles. If you have your own list of perfect shelters for the days in which the storm comes, certainly add the Camargue to it.
This splendid wild corner of Provence is the place where the Mistral wipes away one’s every worry, where the sky is deep enough to make every trouble drown in it, the scent of flowers and the salty sea breeze cancel every sorrow, at least for a while.
So, if you have to run from something, now you know where you can run to.
The Natural Regional Park of the Camargue, founded in 1927 and classed as a nature reserve in 1975, is an island of uncontaminated nature that embraces more than 900 square kilometres of moorland, swamps, sandy beaches, sunflower and rice fields. Here white horses, wild and domestic, black bulls, pink flamingoes and other numerous bird and animal species become the unique symbols of the whole area. A place that challenges the imagination of a city resident and donates a brand new definition to being free and feeling peaceful.
An important part of the territory of the Camargue is inhabited and cultivated. The local agriculture is prosperous and famous all over France and in the world thanks to its excellences such as salt and rice. The local population preserves quite a unique lifestyle with its guardians, or cowboys, wearing typical black felt hats, village feasts accompanied by music and petank tournaments, noisy weekly markets and gipsy women offering you their fortune-telling and palm reading services.
The people of Camargue, proud of their ancestral customs, promote the guardian culture in many ways, keeping faith to the the tradition of bull-related shows, such as Courses Camarguaises, or bullfighting, in which a bull is never killed but cherished as a true star. The most spectacular performances of the kind are held at the Arena of Arles, the gateway city to the Camargue.
There are many places to see in the Camargue and many things to do. A bit as everywhere. But if you have only, let’s say, a couple of days to devote to this wonderful place, these are some of the most essential ones, in my opinion, obviously:
1. Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer
It is a charming tiny seaside town for those looking for a quite and pleasant vacation by the sea.
There are plenty of sand beaches here with cool and very salty, regenerating water.
When the sun is high and too hot, take a stroll in the city centre visiting its amazing Cathedral dedicated to the two Saint Maries, the protectors of all those in the sea. The city of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is full of colours, sounds, scents and tiny shops where a souvenir of every kind can be found.
One more thing you have to know about Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is that on the days when Mistral is blowing hard, it is one of the worst places to be at. You will not be able to enjoy your time by the sea, but will definitely eat some kilos of sand and will be literally bombarded by sand grains. So, flee!
This is a true gem of the Camargue, the place of the reunion with the nature in the absolute triumph of its beauty and magnetic charm. Following its peaceful and silent trails of the site, one can admire numerous bird species living in the park as well as plants and other wild animals, including the iconing white horses of Camargue.
One of the most conquering views of the Park, though, is that of flamingoes. Their performance is a totally unique one: the way they move, the way they communicate with one another, the pink of their feathering against the blue of the summer sky. I had never seen flamingoes fly before! Moreover, it’s a show you can watch from behind the scenes feeling yourself a participant of a mysterious rite. Such truly unforgettable experience!
If you still consider birdwatching a boring hobby, the Park is the place that can easily help you change your mind. It is also a wonderful place to take some great pictures and have a picnic enjoying some quality time outdoors.
3. Salin de Giraud
One more very special and unique place to visit on the territory of the Camargue. An expanse of the sea salt covering more than 140 square kilometres, disturbed only by the wind and bursting with all shades of red thanks to the presence of a particular alga in the sea water. That is where the famous Camargue salt is born.
The easiest way to explore the Camargue is by car (or in a camper): so that you can move around the bigger flexibility. Nevertheless, the territory offers quite a choice of means to live the Camargue experience to its best and its fullest, for example, a horse or a boat ride that allow to reach some of the most remote and picturesque corners and beaches of the park.
The life in the Camargue flows at the speed of the Rhone‘s delta waters. It adjusts its pace to the changing seasons and mutable weather conditions. Here the nature is the only reigning sovereign that allows us humans to admire its beauty, come closer and make our fortune out of its treasures. If you have a chance to do so, do not miss it. So, run! Run from the mediocrity, from the chaos, from anything you wish to escape from even for a while, run into this civilized wild, so authentic, though, so easy to understand and accept. Run into the wild of Camargue.
Photos credit: Machs Gut (c)