The Camargue & BeyondPosted: September 26, 2011
Where coastal meets cowboy, ritz meets ranch. Add pink flamingoes, white horses, horned bulls, salt planes, rice paddies, husienda and a mediterranean feel. France? Oui! The Camargue! France!
Just south of Arles the landscape morphs into a flat salt pan to the sea, and it really does encompass all of the above. We rub shoulders with the glamour and the glamourous walking the streets or laying on the beach at Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer, before heading to our “husienda ranch” to ride the famous white horses of the Camargue.
Never before have we seen a sign warning people from bulls and horses!!!
The horses are hardy and bred for the cattlemen who breed the Camargue bulls – cowboy country, French style. Horseback riding is probably the best way to indulge in the terrain of the Camargue, getting on to the salt pans, almost touching the Flamingo and Camargue bulls! It’s a brilliant experience in France. ( Thanks Susanne for suggesting it!)
From the sandy salt planes we head north west, towards and through the Parc Naturel des Grands-Causses. The landscape is different again! Rugged, rolling, dry. We feel we could be in Arizona or Australia as we cross the “desert rouge”, rock and rich, ploughed soil, a bright red. We climb narrow winding roads and enjoy spectacular views. Antonio and I are both delighted and surprised and thoroughly enjoy the drive.
Stopping at villages a lot more like Spain and Italy – set on hills, filled with stone buildings, church bells and spires, small communal squares, fountains spouting water 24 hours a day, outdoor wash houses, shutters on windows, afternoon siestas! Even the tunnel system of building that we have not seen since Taponneco! It’s relaxing and fun.
Our reward at the end of our 3 days drive is to arrive at the country house of Gilles, Muriel, Orancie & Odelie, friends of our “international” friends in London, Ray & Iaskara.
Muriel and Gilles live in Toulouse and their country home is in the village that Gilles was born and raised. As he says to us, “his roots are here – very deep and wide roots!” Their hospitality was heart warming. A tour through the local villages and local country roads – we are glad he was driving!!
The following morning we walk to another nearby village, Montirat, and unbeknowingly arrive as one of the locals (great friend of Gilles we discover) offers to take us on a tour! Its a special weekend in France when all the churches and museums are open and free! We just timed it well. Bernard has excellent English and gives us a idea of life right here 1000 years ago. In its heyday there was up to 1000 people living in the village. 10 years ago it was zero! Today, about ten. Three of the population are English or American. Like the cavalry, riding in with their dollars and pounds, bringing life back to the villages. We end the tour at the church, over 600 years old – the church we later discover, where Gilles and Muriel were married!.
We loved our time spent with Muriel and Gilles, at their country house and with their daughters. Sunday lunch was superb and included locally grown vegetables and cheeses……. plus a delicious homemade apple tart from Gilles mum. Later, Gilles and the girls made work on an old table they are covering in mosaic and Muriel took us for a walk to the garden belonging to the farm over 100’s of years. More fresh figs for Antonio! We meet Gilles family everywhere……. it’s life from the days when 50 hectares was a BIG farm that supported families with 12 children. Gilles mother had 11 siblings, many still living here and we meet uncles and aunts and cousins, still so much a part of this soil. Warm and wonderful, it has been a perfect end to this visit to France and we look forward to seeing them as we make our back in Winter!