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Barging in the Camargue | Cruising in France

Cruising in France

...Travel blog about river and canal cruise vacations on luxury barges and riverboats

 

Pink Flamingos, White Horses and Black Cattle

Written by Pierre on January 26, 2009
Summary:

La Camargue, the wetlands of the Rhône River delta on the Mediterranean - a rural and wild region with flora and fauna so different from anywhere else in France…

Pink flamingoesWhite horseBlack bull

The colorful title of this post captures the essence of the Camargue region, a lesser known part of southern France tucked between the ancient city of Arles and the Mediterranean. La Camargue is a lowland area shaped by the Rhône River as it fans out into a large delta before reaching the sea. This tiny part of France has a different feel to it. It is totally unlike the pastoral French scenery we are used to in Normandy, Burgundy or Dordogne, for example. As a wetland, it has flora and fauna that are truly unique. With the right timing, you will indeed spot pink flamingos feeding on shrimp, white  horses galloping in the wild countryside and black cattle being herded by the local “cowboys” (more on this in a minute).

And, it is an ideal spot for barge cruising on the slow waters of Le Petit Rhône starting near Arles - where the big river veers off on its way to Saintes Maries de la Mer - or the Canal du Rhône à  Sète from Beaucaire to Aigues Mortes all the way down to Sète, farther south on the deep blue Mediterranean.

On this trip, I joined up with an 18-passenger barge moored in Aigues-Mortes. This laid back, sleepy little town has a lot of history in its background. This is where, in the 13th century, St Louis - king of France - set sail on his way to the 7th and 8th crusades in the Holy Land. Aigues-Mortes was then a thriving port on the Mediterranean. But it no longer is, due to the accumulation of  silt brought by the Rhône River over the centuries…. Hence the name Aigues Mortes, which translates literally into “Dead Waters.” It remains a delightful place to visit today and is well worth the detour.

Cowboys in CamargueHerding cattle in Camargue

One of the highlights of this trip was my visit to a local “manade,” the soul of Camargue.  A manade is a ranch where cattle is raised, Texas-style, complete with its own French version of cowboys called “gardians.”  (The two pictures above give a pretty good idea.) Many of these manades offer rides through their property to go see the cattle up close and personal and show the Camargue way of life. It is a lot of fun to ride in a flatbed trailer pulled by a tractor, sitting on bails of straw and shooting pictures of the cows, the horses (with an occasional egret here and there) and with luck, as I said, a flock of funny-faced, skinny-legged flamingos. True, it may not quite come to the level of a wild-life safari in Africa, but it could get close if you’d let it. Try teasing one of those bulls and you’ll find out - these creatures are very territorial! After all, they’re raised for the local bullfights - a bloodless version of the sport in which the objective is to snatch a rosette tied between the horns of the bull. Unlike other types of bullfighting, the bull is the star of the show.

Camargue really is a gem of a place… rural, wild and completely different from any other place I’ve seen. A wonderful place to commune with nature!

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