It’s flat. Very flat. And most of it is barely a metre above sea level. The Camargue is a precious wetland area, the delta of the River Rhône, and a national park. I stayed there for a few days in late May with a friend, leaving the SF to hold the fort here. If global warming comes to pass as predicted and the ice caps continue to melt, this area of France has only a few decades at most. Like Venice.
After our stop at the Viaduc de Millau, we headed on southwards. Skirting Montpellier was a nightmare but once we had got past it, it was plain sailing. We stopped first at Aigues-Mortes (lit. dead waters), a fortified town that is one of the gateways to the Camargue. It’s a picturesque and well-preserved place. But even in late May it was a tourist trap. We stopped to look around and drink a seriously overpriced cup of tea and a Perrier at a café in the main square. I snapped the statue of Saint Louis (Louis IX, who sailed from there for a couple of crusades in the Holy Land and was married to Eleanor of Aquitaine). Then we moved on to our destination.
Domaine de Cacharel is a former stud farm at the base of the Camargue, near the town of Les-Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.
The Camargue breed of horses is evident everywhere – herds of them graze on the wetlands. Bulls do, too, but we saw them only in the distance. My friend is a great fan of horses. I regard them as dangerous at both ends and uncomfortable in the middle. So I was quite happy for her to go off for a morning’s ride while I explored the area around our hotel. Domaine de Cacharel is surrounded by dykes and a measuring post shows how high the water has risen on occasions.
While we were there it was sunny but extremely windy and not very warm. This was a boon in some regards, since it kept off the mosquitoes. Nonetheless, my friend was seriously bitten while out riding. A conning tower at our hotel afforded a 360° perspective of the Camargue. And, with binoculars, you really can see a long way. This is a wildlife aficionado’s paradise.
Only a few kilometres from the hotel is Les-Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, situated right on the Med. This is the destination, two weekends per year, for gipsies from Italy and Spain, who, for some reason, make a pilgrimage there. Late May is one of their festivals. Our hotelier advised us not to go into town in the evening. We did, however, drive through on our final morning. At the risk of offending someone, I have to say that it is a town almost completely without redeeming features. It does appear to have an interesting church but there was no way we could have found a parking place. We moved on.
One of the highlights of our visit was a trip to the Parc Ornithologique at Pont de Gau, a couple of km from our hotel as the crow (or flamingo) flies but rather more by road because of the lakes and ditches. The park is very well laid out with various circuits around the lakes and information boards with explanations of the bird life and other wildlife. They have also constructed hides from which you can view the birds and animals.
Of course, pink flamingos are de rigueur, since this is the only place in France where they nest and breed; as are other bird species that you find only here. We also saw ragondins (coypu), beavers and plenty of other fauna and flora.
From our hotel we could see in the distance the outlines of Mont Ventoux and Les Alpilles in Provence. After only a couple of days, I found myself craving rolling countryside. So I don’t think I will ever return to the Camargue. But I’m glad to have visited.
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