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Sounding curiously like an obscure form of cheese, the Camargue is actually a little heralded region in south central France that I feel most people know terribly little about.
Sandwiched between the University towns of Montpelier and Nimes, the Camargue is a vast, windy area comprised of shifting wetlands that make up the delta region of France’s famous Rhone River, and is actually the largest river delta on the entire European continent.
Seemingly forgotten and famous for very little, one thing the Camargue is known for is its high concentration of pure white horses and abundance of wild flamingos. Apparent in seemingly every pasture within the wetlands, the notoriety of the horses is confirmed by the fact that every town in the Camargue that I visited had at least one bar called “The White Horse”.
While the majority of the Camargue region is devoid of anything resembling a real town, the positive rising out of this is that it is incredibly easy to do all of your shopping at rural roadside stores. While I have always been a fan of country stores, the owners of the roadside stands in the Camargue will greet you at your car with a free glass of wine and small bits of smoked meat. 10 o’clock in the morning? Don’t mind if I do! I’m in the Camargue!
Aside from the white horses and the gratuitous wine and meat, the Camargue is also well known amongst French tourists for the seaside town of Saintes-Marie-de-la-Mer, which curiously enough hosts an annual pilgrimage for Slovak and Hungarian gypsies who come to honor their patron Saint Sara the Black. Aside from the ubiquitous Gypsies, the town offers mediocre windswept beaches that are good for sunbathing and little more, although the town promenade features some great creperies and more than a few perches to grab an afternoon coffee and gaze out at the shimmering Mediterranean.
While the marshes and beaches of the Camargue seem to draw all the attention (of what little attention there is to pass around), move inland enough and the Rhone River is able to collect itself into a single entity again and serves as the main irrigation source for large swaths of vineyards, the majority of which are centered around the town of Saint Gilles.
Any time you go wine tasting off of the traditional wine tasting map, the experience is always somewhat comical. This may come as a surprise, but not a lot of vineyards whole heartedly support the concept of a bunch of liquored up foreigners trodding on their fertile soil and demanding to taste their wines. While all of the wineries proclaim that they are “open”, what that in fact means is that they are working in the fields and if you want to try any of their wine you need to ring a bell on the door and then awkwardly wait for a farmhand to come and reluctantly pour you a glass. Awkwardness aside, the landscapes and of course the wines make the entire process worth your while.
Finally, if you’re exiting the Camargue via the town of Nimes, be sure to stop in at the center of town and check out the 2000 year old Roman Colosseum seated stoically in the center of town. A poor man’s version of the real deal in Rome, the architecture and grand scale of antiquity is humbling to say the least.