The Ile de Camargue ("Camargue Island") is a vast plane between the Rhone River and the Mediterranean Sea. Between La Petite Camargue ("Little Camargue") to the west and La Crau to the east, no point of the delta reaches more than 4.5 metres above sea level.
The relentless fight between the Rhone River and the Mediterranean Sea, combined with the exploits of Man, have formed, through the ages, a mosaic of exceptionally rich landscapes.
To the north, Man has made his mark by devel-oping agricultural activities. The construction of the seawall in 1859 made it possible to contain rising sea levels. Then finally, ten years later, the embankment of the Rhone limited the swell-ing of the river which used to regularly flood arable land. Bit by bit, cornfields, asparagus fields, vineyards, and intensive rice farming replaced the primitive Camargue landscape.
To discover the authentic Camargue of the gardians (bull herdsmen specific to the Camargue region), you must go further south. The sansouires (salt flats), étangs (small salt water lakes) and marshlands dominate the landscape, despite more and more of it being used for agricultural, salt, urban development and touristic purposes. The protection of this natural space, however, determines the diversity and ecological balance of the Camargue's fauna and flora and existing natural pastures which are vital for the tradition of breeding the Camargue Bull and Horse.
Sunset over the Camargue
The Faraman lighthouse in the Camargue
Landscape of salt meadows and glasswort in autumn colours
The emblematic bull of the Camargue
Vaccarès lake in the Camargue
Pink flamingos in the Camargue
Herons in the Camargue
Dunes on the Espiguette beach
Kite buggy on the beach of Beauduc in the Camargue
Created in 1970 and run by a foundation, the Regional Park runs a global initiative for the protection of spaces and species, and for the support of traditional economic activities. It comprises 86,300 hectares across the communes of Arles and Saintes Maries de la Mer. The facilities put in place for visitors, such as observation towers, information boards, themed trails, and guided tours, will enable you to discover the rich Camargue fauna and flora.
The Camargue National Reserve was founded in 1927 by the Societe Nationale de Protection de la Nature (National Society for Nature Protection). Classed as a Nature Reserve in 1975, this vast space spreads from the Étang de Vaccarès in the north, right down to the sea, but public access is limited to the seawall and the beach.
These protection efforts are motivated by the fact that the Camargue is a real animal paradise, espe-cially for birds. More than 300 species have been documented here, the Camargue being one of the main European relay points for migratory birds.
The Camarguais (people from the Camargue) strive to promote the gardian culture by holding demon-strations which revive ancestral customs all throughout the year. Spurred on by the "Fé di Biou" (provençal for "the faith in the bull" symbolising all bull-related activities and the immense respect held for this animal), they have a fanatical taste for bull-related spectacles, including events such as the bandido, abrivado, ferrades, courses camarguaises...
The Camargue is made up of several towns steeped in exceptionally rich history:
Arles, the gateway of the Camargue, is a cheerful and colourful town with plenty of hustle and bustle dur-ing market hours. It is also home to many Roman remains which bear witness to its past splendours. Arles, at the heart of the Rhodanian Provence, is proud of its traditions and way of life. It is a lifestyle to which everyone here is passionately attached and determined to continue throughout coming generations
Aigues-Mortes, the town of St Louis, is an exceptional jewel of medieval military architecture. Its fortified surrounding wall stands tall and proud in the middle of tranquil lagoons. Inside its walls you will find an array of restaurants serving all the finest regional dishes. There are also numerous little shops selling typical souvenirs as well as items and produce from the region, such as herbs, salt, lavender, soap and much more. The many delicious ice-cream parlours also deserve a visit, perhaps after stopping by the very popular sweet shop for a sample of the hundreds of finely made sweets, chocolates and biscuits, all beautifully wrapped and covering every square inch from ceiling to floor. Go on, give in to temptation!
Les Saintes Maries de la Mer, is the capital of the Camargue's passionate gardian. This picturesque little city, famous for the pilgrimage made every year by the gypsy people in devotion to Saint Sara, can be very lively. Every Monday and Friday (except during holidays), in the Place des Gitans, there is a big weekly market selling local produce and arts and crafts. In the town centre, just a few steps away from the town's famous Church, hidden in the winding cobbled streets, there are plenty of little shops selling both typical souvenirs and traditional regional produce as well as the all important equipment for the Camargue gardi-ans, such as hats, shirts, boots, knives, and much more.
In the Camargue, holiday makers from across the world can find everything to satisfy their sun, sea and leisure needs. Long fine sandy beaches, marinas, and pleasure ports all offer a large variety of sporting and cultural activities, such as water sports, tennis, golf, casinos, cinemas, festivals, concerts, and exhibitions; everything under one entirely natural roof. Such places are the towns of Le Grau du Roi, La Grande Motte, Port Camargue, Carnon, and Palavas les flots.
Parc Naturel Régional de Camargue - Mas du pont de Rousty - 13200 Arles
+33 (0)4 90 97 10 82http://www.parc-camargue.fr/