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Camargue special

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The Camargue has a romance and a haunting appeal matched by few other areas. A flat, windy, barely inhabited land of tall, swaying grasses, this lonely, bewitching place puzzles, astonishes, excites and even alarms the unaccustomed eye. In all its immense area the highest point is an imperceptible 'peak' just 4.5 metres (15 feet) above sea-level, a vestige of some former dunes.

Nature Reserve
The Camargue was designated as a botanical and zoological nature reserve in 1927 and 1970, helping to maintain its natural beauty. Spring and Autumn are the best times for seeing the birds, the bulls and the horses of Camargue. Bring a bird book, binoculars and camera ... and some mosquito repellent.

Cultivated Camargue
The upper Camargue has been cultivated since the Middle Ages. The alluvium soil in the Rhône delta is excellent for crops, but must be prepared and maintained. The land had to be drained, and needs to be protected by low dikes. Salt content, which increases during summer evaporation, is reduced by washing down the soil.

Rice cultivation is done on 3-ha plots that are submerged from April to September, and harvested during September and October. Over 30,000 ha (120 square miles) of rice was grown in the early sixties, down to 10,000 ha today. Other crops include large fields of wheat, maize, rape and forage, intermixed with orchards, market gardens and even an occasional vineyard.

Salt Marshes
The southeast corner of the Camargue, near Salin-de-Giraud and the Grand Rhône are the salt marshes ("salins") of Salin de Giraud. Another salt marsh, the Salins du Midi, is located in the southwest corner, west of the Petit Rhône. In the salt marshes you'll see long lines of salt "mountains" drying in the Provencal sun, and the checkerboard salt-pans.

Salt production in the Camargue began in Antiquity, by both the Greeks and the Romans, and continued through the Middle ages. Salt was transported along the Mediterranean coast and then inland on the "Routes du Sel" (Salt Roads), up through the Vaucluse (see Fort de Buoux) or the mountains of the Alpes-Maritime across the Col de Tende into Piedmont.

Derek and Richard interview Patrick, of the Salin de Giraud

A mountain of salt waiting to be packaged and delivered to the shops.

A working lunch! Derek interviews Richard among others over lunch.

The Pink Flamingoes.

Now the emblem of Camargue - the only place in France and one of the few around the Mediterranean where they nest - the flamingo population here can reach 20,000 couples grouped into flocks. In the park they live sheltered from outside perils. They suck in water through their powerful beaks and expel it over strainers that catch the plankton that is their major source of food. Flamingos build raised nests out of mud.

A bust of Van Gogh, who spent time in Arles in the Camargue.

History and Origin of the Breed

The Camargue is one of the oldest breeds in the world. The area where the Camargue is bred is contained within a triangle in the south of France. Montpellier is to the west, Tarascon to the north and Fos to the east, passing through Salon de Provence, an area which thus encompasses the "Ile de Camargue ", the plains of the Gard and the Hérault, and part of the Crau. In 1928 the Camargue Regional Park was established to protect the horses and cattle of Camargue from human encroachment. The climate of the Camargue is harsh, being either scorchingly hot beneath a fierce sun or whipped by icy winds blowing from the Alps.

The Camargue, often called "the horse of the sea," has existed in this region since prehistoric times. Some suggest it is a descendant of the now extinct Soutré horse, whose bones were found in the southeast of France yet its exact origins are still shrouded in mystery. Through the centuries many armies have passed by the Camargue, including the Greeks, Romans and Arabs. The horses brought with these armies influenced the Camargue over time. It has even been suggested that the Camargue has had some influence on the early breeds in Spain as armies took them back home.

The horses of the Camargue run wild in the marshlands in small herds consisting of one stallion, his mares and progeny. The fillies are usually caught and branded as yearlings and colts thought to be unsuitable for breeding are gelded at three years old. The breed is strictly protected today. Breeding is semi-wild but under supervision of the Biological Research Station of la Tour du Valat. Because of their somewhat isolated environment, humans have been able to observe the social interactions and lifestyles of wild horses. The Camargue has contributed greatly to human understanding of equine behavior that might have otherwise never been researched.

The Camargue is a rugged horse and breeds very true to type -- to the extent that it can be difficult to tell one from another. This horse is lively but has a good nature and when trained to ride is used to manage the bull herd in the delta as well as provide visitors the opportunity to explore the region by horseback.

Breed Characteristics
The Camargue horse is born black or brown and turns gray with maturity. They stand between 13 - 14 hands. They have a large and square head with a straight or slightly convex profile. The eyes are large and expressive and the ears are broad and short with a broad base. The neck is short and muscular, deep at the base, the withers are pronounced, the back is straight and short. The croup is short and narrow, the chest wide and deep. The shoulder is rather straight and quite short; the mane and tail are long and thick. The legs are extremely hardy with clean joints, a long forearm, and very good hooves. They are not shod.

The Camargue is an even-tempered horse, lively, agile, brave and very hardy. It is capable of enduring bad weather and long periods without food, as well as travelling long distances. Its infallible instinct and broad, steady hooves mean that it is perfectly adapted to its watery environment. The Camargue is particularly suited for riding.

Another Camargue Horse

The herds of bouvines, or native black bulls, also live wild. Until the 19th century, the pure Camargue species was simply domesticated for farm work or killed for meat, but since then has been cross-bred with Spanish bulls and periodically rounded up to perform in bullfights; it was Napoleon III's Spanish wife, the Empress Eugénie, who popularized the idea of the fighting bull. The bullfights of Languedoc and the Camargue, called courses à la cocarde, involve trying to pluck coloured ribbons from the animal's horns. The spectacle has perhaps less grandeur than the Spanish corrida, but the bull is not killed in the course. For Spanish-style bullfights, which are also popular here, larger bulls are imported from Spain. Such local traditions and customs are part of the Camargue's appeal. The herds, whether of bulls or horses, are called manades, the ranchers are manadiers and the men - Camarguais 'cowboys' whose work revolves around herding and branding - are known as gardians. Traditional gardian dwellings, or cabanes, dot the landscape: long, low, whitewashed houses, with a cross raised at one end of the roof. But perhaps best known of all the Camargue's attractions is its Gypsy population. Swarthy black-haired Gypsies - the women clothed in vivid, multi-coloured long skirts and adorned with gaudy gilt bangles and bracelets - throng the commercialized lanes of Les Stes-Maries


In pensive mood! Travelling back from the Chateau d'If

Outside the house of Nostradamus in San Remy.

The amphitheatre in Arles, 2,000 years old and still in use

Knock, knock. Who's there?
An unusual door knocker in Arles

They even have butterflies in the Camargue!

Waiting for the boat home!

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