Whisper the words South of France and most people’s minds may travel to St. Tropez: sandy beaches, bikinis; movie-stars and film festivals. But this summer, I had the privilege of discovering another flavour of southern France: the beautiful and captivating Camargue. 

La Camargue is situated to the west of Marseille, between the arms of the Rhone estuary. Lagoons, sandy bars and reed-covered marshes make it home to a variety of fauna, wild horses, bulls, birds, and flamingos!

Our party booked a boat tour of the many canals of the Camargue. Camera in hand, I was ready for the sightings of flamingos among the reeds. They were, alas, nowhere to be seen.  We were also told that they are, unfortunately, not pink anymore. Flamingos feed on shrimps and algae. It is the carotenoid in their food which gives them their characteristic pink colour. As the shrimp population is now nearly devastated by water pollution, so the pink shades of the flamingos have become white or grey. What a pity! Yet another casualty of modern civilisation. 

Carmague still holds romance, though. Picture wild hordes of white horses galloping through the marshes, manes floating in the wind—a perfect imagery of freedom!  These ivory-coloured horses are called Camarguais. They are typically short and stocky, and feed on reeds. They are the traditional mount of the gardians (Camargue cowboys).

Here, bulls are not killed in corridas (bullfighting games). They are typically sorted by the gardians, with the feistiest ones are set aside for the games, where they will test the strength and agility of the young men who take part. The game consists of a wild race of the bulls through the city streets. Young men are to capture the “rosettes” placed on the head of the bull; a bloodless fun. After the corrida, the bulls are led back to their (semi) wild life with great fanfare. When you book the boat tour, you’ll get to visit with the gardians, join their families, and feast on paella with flowing sangria, music, and dancing by an open fire. 

For many, Camargue keeps its wild reputation. In contrast to other destinations South of France, it remains largely off-the-radar. Accommodation ranges from hotels to simple campsites. These economical camps are usually well equipped for families and groups. However, bringing or renting a car will give you better options for exploring.

Travel tip: Where there is water and heat, there are mosquitoes. Don’t forget to pack repellent. (Link: Learn about ecological and safe ways to protect yourself against mosquito bites.)

Other fun things to do in the South of France: 

  • Visit Nimes, whose famous Roman arena is still used for summer concerts. From spring to autumn, enjoy outdoor cafes and a chilled atmosphere till way past sundown in the pedestrian-only city centre. 
  • Check out Arles, seemingly still haunted with the spirit of its most famous resident, Vincent Van Gogh. This charming region will no doubt waken the artist in you, too.
  • Kitesurf on the windy Mediterranean coast. Provence offers water-sports enthusiasts 600 km of coastline! 
  • Mountain bike around this vast terrain—dry trails and warm sun attract bikers from all around the world to explore on just two wheels.
  • White-water rafting down the rapids of the Southern French Alps! The Hautes Alpes and Alpes de Haute Provence regions are not only gorgeous, but provide great thrills for adrenaline junkies.
  • Souvenir Shopping: Bring home some nougat sweets, Provencal fabrics and linen, collectible art from street galleries, or Fleur de Sel de Camargue (Salt Flower), a hand-harvested sea-salt that smells of violets when dried.