The Camargue is a region in southern France on the delta of the river Rhone and Mediterranean coast. Rich in faun and flora, this unique part of France has retained a long history of tradition, pride and a certain way of life.
As the estuaries of the Rhone approach the sea, a massive area of marsh land is formed. The often flooded terrain has been gradually sculpted and almost mastered by man, with dykes, canals, sluices and locks controlling the levels of water where the height above sea level is very low. Since 1927 these wetlands have become a nature reserve covering 13000 hectares and protecting the wild life. There are more than 270 birds, with the pink flamingos, 30 mammals, 12 species of reptile such tortoises, 500 varieties of flowers and plants. More information about the park.
In these humid wetlands, man mastered the production of salt, and the harvesting of reeds, grapes for wine but also rice.
There are vineyards dotted around between the rice fields and marshes, the red, white and rosé wines are called Les Vins des Sables “The Sand Wines”.
With the lands that are below sea-level and the construction of dykes, the Camargue area has specialized in the production of salt. Hundreds of plots of land are carefully flooded with just the right amount of sea water. The water then evaporates to leave a crust of salt. One of the specialities is the Fleur de Sel “The Flower of Salt”, where only the top layer of salt is raked and collected.
Reeds are harvested from the marshes and used for the traditional thatched roofs in the region, on the top there is a ‘bent’ white cross which was used to anchor the roof via a rope tied to a nearby tree or on the ground as there can be strong winds.
As you travel through the country side, you’ll notice strange green pastures amongst the marshes and fields which have no horses or bulls. These fields are dedicated to growing rice. The first attempts in growing rice began in the 14th century, after decades of attempts in controlling the level of water and preparing the soil. The rice can be of various colours, black red or white and the production of rice from the Camargue now amounts to almost 1/3 of the national consumption.
The “Guadian” who rides the white horse, herding the black bulls have become an integral part of the landscape.The Manades are traditional farms where the horses and bulls are breed in semi-liberty. To have a farm worthy of the name Manade, it must have at least five horses or bulls, the word “Manade” is derived from the French word “main” which means “hand” and of course 5 fingers.
The Camargue horse is sturdy, rapid and adapted to the marsh terrain where their hooves are constantly soaking in water. The bulls have horns pointing upwards and are much lighter weighing only 400 kilos compared to the Spanish bull who has downward pointing horns and weighs about 600 kilos.
A very important point to remember, is that in the Camargue bull-fighting is not a blood sport and there is no killing of the animal, in fact it is the bull who becomes the star. The Course Camarguaise is a traditional race, where the bulls are released in the streets, the young men attempt to out run the bulls before arriving in the arena. Once inside the stadium, the Raseteurs attempt to grab a ribbon or ring which is attached to the bull’s horn using a small claw. The most famous arenas are in Nimes and Arles, but also smaller towns like Les Saintes Maries de la Mer.