La Camarge, the wild Wild West of Provence October 01 2017, 0 Comments
Wild, Romantic, Mysterious, the Camargue is the Wild West of Provence. With its black bulls, white horses and pink flamingos, the Camargue is unique.
The area is huge and is a complex lacework of back roads, lakes, canals, and sandspits. This month Calisson by Gilles takes you to the Wild West of Provence. Fasten your seatbelt and let’s go for a road trip.
The Camargue is a favorite destination for RV’s and campers, which can be seen almost everywhere. Driving conditions are easy: the roads are straight, wide and in good shape. The landscape is flat and visibility endless, you won't get many difficulty driving.
Biking is also a good option if you do not mind fighting the wind which sweeps the area 300 days a year ! The wind is called Mistral and is very strong and cold. What's the good point about it ? No pollution and a clear and deep blue sky that you will see only in Provence.
If you plan a run with a motorbike or a quad be sure to get your tank filled of petrol before riding this area; no gas stations ! Nature, wilderness are the key words here. By the way, at this time where technology is everywhere do not expect signal on your cellphone.
The Camargue survival kit should include sunblock, a hat, mosquito repellent, binoculars and walking shoes. Once you get these, you ready to go.
The two towns you should visit :
Saintes Maries de la Mer
Saintes Maries de la Mer was a fishing village, built on an island in the heart of the Camargue, where the Rhône joins the Mediterranean sea. The city enjoys a wonderful location, on the sea and in the Camargue, and the atmosphere is always festive.
You can visit Saintes Maries de la Mer all year round. Summer has the warmest weather, the crowds, the activities and the music events. Off-season has the feeling of the sea, with long empty beaches, the cry of the seabirds, and relaxing solitude. The gathering of the Gypsies in May is an exciting and famous period.
The center of Saintes Maries de la Mer has some nice squares and several long streets reserved for pedestrians, and many, many shops, cafés and terrace restaurants. It can get very crowded in the Summer.
We suggest climbing to the top of the fortified church. The climb to the top is already an adventure, with 53 narrow steps but the amazing 360 degree view across town, country and seaside is really worth it.
If you are coming to the Saintes Marie de la Mer and want a memorable trip, come May 24th. You will see and experience thousands of men on white stallions, wearing black hats and carrying lances, providing a guard of honor for a statuette wrapped in gold cloth; Musicians playing flamenco guitar and squeeze with Eastern Europe melodies out of accordions; the crowd heading towards the sea.
The small seaside town of Les Saintes Maries de la Mer hosts the Gitan (Gypsy) Pilgrimage. The legend of Saint Sara accompanying Saint Marie-Jacobé and Saint Marie-Salomé when they arrived here from Palestine dates back to the 16th century. The pilgrimage is a unique opportunity for all Gypsies across Europe to come together and affirm their faith, their culture and have fun.
Aigues Mortes :
Aigues-Mortes is a walled Medieval town sitting at the marshes of the Camargue, and is considered as a model of a 13th century military architecture. Let’s jump in Middle-Ages time ! The town looks today pretty much like it did centuries ago. It is surrounded by a wall with four corner towers and a dozen of fortified doors.
Parking: There are parking lots all along the wall at the north side of the town. Park your car, get a ticket and pay at a kiosk before leaving; simple and efficient. The only vehicles allowed inside the walls are those of the residents with appropriate access. You won’t be polluted by cars when walking within Aigues Mortes.
Inside the defensive ramparts, the town is tight with linear streets. Many streets of Aigues-Mortes have shops of all kinds. Many of them are made up for tourists, nevertheless you will be able to book a room in a Medieval hotel or have a meal within the numerous restaurants. A very charming city which deserves to be visited.
The city was built by St Louis, king of France, as a starting point for the crusades to free
Do not miss the visit of the tower of Constance. The defensive tower became the prison of many protestants. The most famous is Marie Durant who spent 38 years in the tower. She was an inspiration to many protestants. You can still see carved on the stone the word “Resist” that is attributed to her.
Wildlife – Nature:
The Carmargue is extremely exotic, with tall marsh grasses where pink flamingos, black bulls and white horses roam freely.
Our advice is to go for a Horseback tour. There are many locations offering guided tours of the Camargue on the white Camargue horses. The tours leave frequently and are flexible to the flow of tourist. You won’t even have to book before going and can go directly to the ranches to book for it.
Another interesting activity we would suggest is to visit the bird nature reserve (Parc Ornithologique de Pont de Grau), located 4 km north of Saintes Maries de la Mer. There are great numbers of resident and migratory birds and wildlife. Flamingos are there by thousands in early Spring, and many hundreds the rest of the year. You will see storks, herons and water birds.
An invisible border divide Provence between the Italian-influenced area to the east of the Rhône and the Spanish-accented region to the west. Cross the river into the Camargue and you will notice it instantly. A strong Spanish flavor dominates the food, the music, the traditional costumes, the language and, especially, the culture of bull games.
The proud emblem of the Camargue is the black bull. The history of this region has been built around the black bull. The Camargue bull (or "biou" in local) is smaller than his Spanish cousin. He is light, fast, fierce and intelligent, all qualities which make him ideal for bullfighting. Traditional corridas where the bull is killed at the end, are widely held in Provence. The most important fights are held in the ancient Roman arenas of Arles and Nîmes, but most towns have their own modern bull ring. Bullfighting is illegal in France except in those regions where it is a long-established local tradition. In 2016 bullfighting gained the status of the nation's official cultural heritage.
There is also a bull game called "course Camarguaise”; at the game, players called “raseteurs” encourage a bull to chase them around an arena. The object is to detach a trophy (usually a ribbon or rosette) from the head of the animal.
Camargue bulls are raised for fighting. But animals not selected for the bull games will end up on a plate. Camargue bull meat must come from non-fighting animals only. You can buy it at local butchers in the form of steaks, burgers or saucissons secs (a salami-style sausage where the bull meat is likely to be mixed with pork).
Best of all is “gardiane de taureau”, a rich, slow-cooked bull stew, ideally served with Camargue rice and Costières de Nîmes wine. Most restaurants in the region serve it.
The Camargue is an adventure. Imagine yourself at the end of the day driving back from Camargue, your head filled with pictures and memories that will last a life time. Just stop and park your car for a last time, enjoy the beautiful sunset over the sea and taste a Calisson by Gilles “en famille” !
About The Author:
Gilles Cailleaux is the Owner & Master Confectioner at By Gilles, an online French candy store based in Orange County, California. They sell traditional French confections called Calissons from Provence. Gilles is always ready to share his 25 years plus experience of candy making and baking with everyone and want to hear about your experience with his calissons. Gilles and his team are sensitive about taste and harmony. They prepare your packages with special care and attention.