Although there are many ways to explore the Camargue, France’s sprawling area of protected marshland, my personal recommendation would be to see it on horseback. That is, if you’re up for that kind of thing.
Because the Camargue is designated as a botanical and zoological nature reserve, it seems fitting to try to see it all the while respecting nature and the wildlife all around. I love riding and I’d been wanting to go horseback riding for ages, so this was the perfect opportunity, and for me, the perfect way to see the Camargue. If riding on a big animal’s back is not your cup of tea, you have many options: jeep safaris, organized tours, and my second choice for seeing the area, bicycling. With many areas of the Camargue being off-limits to motorized traffic plus the advantage of such a flat terrain, you’re good on bike. Hills will NOT be a problem. Hiking’s also a good choice but you must be in enormously great shape to cover a lot of ground, and to run away from charging wild bulls. Just kidding.
photo from Les Arnelles
Looking for places to rent a horse to ride will not be a problem; they are everywhere. Just check out the place and owners a bit and examine the health of the horses. We visited three places before choosing Les Arnelles. The people working there were great, the horses were well taken care of, and since we had specific areas we wanted to see, they let us customize our ride.
If you plan on taking photos on horseback, I’d recommend bringing a small camera that you can use easily with one hand. I made the mistake of bringing my large camera, which is a little too clunky and heavy to use with one hand (carrying reins in the other hand), which is why I took very few pictures. Also, along the way, I lost my lens cover while we’d been galloping for a stretch. Doh!
NOTE: Don’t forget the mosquito repellent! Also try to bring some binoculars.
13460 Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer France
Tel: +33 (0)603 892 379 | +33 (0)686 601 515 | +33 (0)490 978 286
Website: Les Arnelles
tags: france, camargue, horseback riding camargue
Posted in Bouche-du-Rhone, environment, nature, photos, Provence, sports, tips, travel tip
Before we get into Pink Flamingos, the non-John Waters and non-plastic-lawn-decor-in-Florida versions, let’s talk about the Camargue.
The Camargue is a vast, triangle-shaped stretch of isolated roads, fresh and salt water ponds, salt flats, rice paddies, tall reeds, and nationally protected plains in the south of France (below Arles) – about 360 square kilometers / 930 square miles between the Mediterranean Sea and the two arms of the River Rhône delta. Approximately a third of the Camargue is either lakes or marshland, with the central portion of the Camargue being a protected haven for wild birds. The area is home to over 400 different species of birds. It’s also the main habitat for the famous Toro Camargue (The Camargue Black Bulls) and Le Camargue (White Mane gray horses called Camargue Horses in English), but by far, there’s only one species of birds that steals the main stage here: the pink flamingo. People from all over the world flock to France just to see them.
Camargue’s pink “greater” flamingo, the “Phoenicopterus Roseus” officially, is the largest species of flamingo. Their plumage is pinkish white with black and crimson wings and their unusually shaped pink and black beak acts as a sieve designed to separate mud from food. They honk rather ungracefully and sound similar to the honks of geese. They are very sociable animals and fly in large flocks, and will not breed unless there are huge numbers of flamingos around them, which finally leads to the point of this post!
The best time to see flamingos according to experts is during their reproduction process. Oui, mating season! When is that? In the Camargue, it is recommended to see the flamingos during the winter months, any time between November and March. However, THE most ideal time to visit is actually in January and February according to the Parc Ornithologigue, (where we saw the flamingos) just 4 kilometers from the center of Saintes Maries. 10,000 flamingo couples gather around to do their thing. This is apparently amazing to see, from what we hear if not for watching an incredible amount of flamingos in one place at the same time, but also for a peeping tom chance to become a voyeur to witness their sexual activities en masse. Another great opportunity is to watch the pink flamingos take off in flight, all together. This happens at sunset. So, ultimately, the very best time to see the flamingos in the Camargue is in January or February when the sun sets. You can easily spend a few hours at the Parc Ornithologigue beforehand. Just make sure to time it right.
The non-breeding flamingos hang out in the Camargue a good part of the year so you will be sure to see some during most of the year, but their numbers will vary depending on what time of year you visit. Go during sun set!
A Last IMPORTANT NOTE: The Camargue is also home to some seriously vicious mosquitos. They are gargantuan and relentlessly evil. So please be prepared to use repellent. Lots of it. Everywhere. Even if you are wearing thick clothing, they will bite you through jeans. If you happen to forget yours, you can ask the people at the entrance for repellent. They will kindly let you use theirs for free.
Parc Ornithologique de Pont de Gau
13460 Saintes Maries de la Mer
Tél : 04 90 97 82 62
Admission: 7 €, 4 € (10 year-olds and under)
Open all year. Hours: Vary so please contact them for hours.
tags: france, camargue, pink flamingos, best time to see pink flamingos, Parc Ornithologigue, mating season, bird watching
Posted in Bouche-du-Rhone, nature, photos, Provence, tips, travel and places, travel tip