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Camargue (FR)
 

Wet & Wild: The Allure of the Camargue


Sandwiched between the two mouths of the Rhône as it reaches the Mediterranean, 346,000 acres of marshland, pastures, dunes, salt flats and lagoons make up the Camargue. Made unique by its inhabitants, the area is a colourful mix including black bulls, flocks of pink flamingos and the infamous white horses. A resilient community of French cowboys (gardians) tend, on horseback, the imposing black bulls that roam free and are used in traditional bullfights (or more correctly, bull games).

The marshland; Camargue trail ponies; the village of Saintes Maries-de-la-mer.

In an area where everyone is brought up with horses, there's no shortage of treks, but it pays to choose carefully. Arrive in the pretty but commercial centre of Saintes Maries-de-la-mer, and you'll find a string of outlets offering horseback tours. If time is limited, you'll get a taste of the region on one of these short reconnoitres but to experience the depth of the Camargue, you will be better served by a longer trip.

The wild expanse of the Camargue is apparent immediately. But it's an evocative remoteness that captures heart and imagination. Look one way and your gaze may be met by that of a black foal as he plays beside his flowing-maned, white-coated mother. Look the other and you will witness a group of flamingos lift gracefully into flight. The area is home to up to 40,000 of these exotic birds at nesting time and is one of the most important ornithological sites in Europe, attracting up to 100 different migrating species. And all around the wetlands, flanked by sand dunes, high reeds and wild grasses, give an atmosphere of being in a world apart. Sandy beaches offer good canters while paddy fields and vineyards remind you of a local population trying to grow what crops they can in a formidable environment.

You'll find riding in the region all year round but May and early September are best for birdlife while bullfights take place in May (along with flamenco dancing) and August. The area has hot, dry summers and warm wet winters. Summer winds are cooling but the Mistral from the north can be fierce and lingering in winter.

Riding in France

 
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