Wednesday, October 2, 2013

More France: The Camargue

On Bastille Day, we went to the Camargue, the area just south of Arles.  It's the largest river delta in Europe, with the two arms of the Rhone River emptying into the Mediterranean.  It's about 360 square miles of wetland, salt marshes, and brine lagoons from which salt is harvested.  The Camargue is home to more than 400 species of birds and the brine ponds are home to pink flamingos (we were there at the wrong time of year - only saw a few).  The area is also famous for the Camargue Bull and the Camargue Horse, and some ferocious mosquitoes.  

We drove through the wetlands on crazy bumpy sand roads, and then ended up in the sea-side town of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. The town has an interesting history.  From Wikipedia:
The three saints Mary Magdalene, Mary Salome and Mary Jacobe, whose relics are the focus of the devotions of pilgrims, are believed to be the women who were the first witnesses to the empty tomb at the resurrection of Jesus. After the Crucifixion of Jesus, Mary Salome, Mary Jacobe, and Mary Magdalene set sail from Alexandria, Egypt with their uncle Joseph of Arimathea. According to a longstanding French legend, they either sailed to or were cast adrift - either way they arrived off the coast of what is now France, at "a sort of fortress named Oppidum-Râ". The location was known as Notre-Dame-de-Ratis ( becoming Ratis, or boat) (Droit, 1963, 19); the name was later changed to Notre-Dame-de-la-Mer, and then in 1838 to Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.
The town is a pilgrimage destination for Roma (Gypsies), who gather yearly in the town for a religious festival in honor of Saint Sarah. Dark-skinned Saint Sara is said to have possibly been the Egyptian servant of the three Marys, or by another version a local woman who welcomed them on their arrival.
Our visit coincided with an equestrian festival, with hundreds of horses parading around and doing fancy horse things.  After lunch, Lily took a dip in the Mediterranean, and  then we drove out of the town and rented horses for our own ride through the wetlands.

This area was isolated and stark in a good way.  It felt a lot like southern Spain.

All of the photos are here.

Salt pond.

Wild horse.