After driving up into the mountains of Provence, the open flat lands of the Camargue were quite a contrast. This marvelous area contains everything from rice fields to ranches for the bulls raised here for both bull games and the ubiquitous taureau dishes served in every restaurant. The Camargue is also known for the salt flats, from which a terrific culinary product is produced and sold throughout France. (We learned to use it sparingly, as the flavor is really intense compared with regular sea salt.) The small light grey or white wild horses also inhabit the Camargues, and are said to be one of the oldest known breeds. The drive through this area was so scenic and the terrain and plant life so varied, we felt as if we’d driven to another country. But it’s just another side of wonderful Provence. At La Capelìere we walked the nature trail and enjoyed the shelters built at various points where we were able to stay hidden while using the high-powered binoculars to spot ducks, grey herons, and hundreds of flamingos. Apparently, the flamingos summer here, but some of them enjoy Provence so much that about one fourth have now taken up permanent residence, and no longer migrate. I can understand that inclination. We didn’t see any of the wild boars that roam this area, but we enjoyed walking through the preserve at on a short hike that included different environments: forest, wetlands, salt marsh, and lagoon. We had a perfect day for this excursion, warm and sunny but not too hot. By October, the mosquitoes were no longer a problem, and we stayed to enjoy another of those great picnics with wine we had bought on our Cote du Rhone tour the previous day, along with wonderful cheeses and bread we bought in the small bakeries and cheese shops in the town of Arles that morning.
As we were heading away from the marshes to visit Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer, the little beach community on the west ernend of the Camargue, I mentioned to Ray that we hadn’t seen any wild horses. Then we rounded a curve in the road and there they were—lots of them. We were able to get very close–they were not the least bit people shy. Gorgeous creatures.
Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer was a quirky little beach resort with kind of a counter-culture vibe—probably because it is a mecca for the Roma community. (a.k.a. gypsies) It reminded us a little of some New England seaside communities. Definitely not the French Riviera crowd at this resort. We were so lucky to have this mild fall weather, when the beaches are still warm enough to enjoy in mid-to-late October. We are so lucky for a lot of reasons!!!