|Author, Pat Middleton
continues her journey to find great waterway cruises for greatriver.com
The Rhone River Delta
Map of the Rhone River Delta
The distinctive white horses and wild bulls are everywhere in the marsh. Manhood (meaning bragging rights in the local pubs) is earned by working with
these horses and bulls. Many of the local attractions offer visitors an
opportunity to see the Gardians in action, prodding the bulls with their long
working sticks (one wouldn't want to lasso on of these wild bulls) and cage-like
stirrups that encase the toe so that Gardians can work stampeding stock in
difficult marsh areas.
Arnaud is a bull-breeder (or Manadier), one of only eleven old families in the Camargue who
can trace their families back to the Middle Ages. Since
the 16th century, his family has worked with the horses and bulls. With such
stature comes responsibility. For 18 years
he has been the Mayor of Stes.-Maries-de-la-Mer.
Gilbert is concerned about the Camargue and its fragile environment. When politicians vacillated
over whether or not to pass laws regulating the increased trucking of hazardous products
through the Camargue, Gilbert threatened to walk his bulls through the streets
of Stes Maries. The regulations were passed very quickly!
The white horses of the Camargue have always lived with the bulls in the wild
and it is believed that the bulls and the horses migrated together from Asia,
long before humans filtered into the Camargue. Though born dark, all the
Camargue horses are white when mature, and speculation is that white is a
natural mosquitoes repellent.
"Wear a dark jacket or sweater and the mosquitoes hover everywhere
around you," Stephanie noted. She is the wife of Gilbert, and works with
him on the Maas or ranch. She explains that the Camargue horses are very good
riding horses, and very serious about their work on the ranch. Until they are
taken out of the Camargue. Then they become restless,
instinctively wondering, she believes, "Where are the bulls? What work should I be doing
here?" The mares and young foal are always left wild to wander the marshes
for breeding. Only the males are used for riding.
The bulls of the Camargue are culled at two years of age. Each is tested in
the arena by local boys and graded for its fighting spirit. The bulls of the
Camargue are not killed in the ring, but instead learn to fiercely defend the accolades
which are attached to their horns. They might live as
professionals (like professional rodeo horses in the US) for 15 years,
participating in any one of the 800 bullfights scheduled each year in the
vicinity of Stes Maries-de-la-Mer.
At any time there might be
13 or 14 thousand bulls pastured in the Camargue as compared to perhaps 6
or 7 genuine champions in the entire history of bull fights in the Camargue. According
to Stephanie, the bulls are never bred for slaughter, but for spirit in the
arena. The rare champion is revered by locals and buried near
the farm house and perhaps remembered with a statue.
Our Hotel L'Etrier Camarguais was located just outside Stes. Maries de la
Mer. The thatched roof, and white stucco walls of the
Gardian huts dot the sparse vegetation of the salt marshes throughout the
Camargue. The reeds for the
thatching, called "roseaux," grow in the salt marshes and are extremely tough.
the Gardian theme, accommodations at The *** Hotel L'Etrier were "all American," including
a crystal clear Olympic-sized pool and comfortable, well-maintained rooms with
bathrooms. As we found throughout S. France, nearly everyone spoke English.
(Click on icon or photo for sounds of morning in the Camargue. For more
sounds of the Camargue, visit netbeat.com)
In fact, Françoise Bouzet, the owner and a Swiss national, lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, during
the winter months and the Hotel reflected the Arizona side of her life.
"Lumiers", paper bags over candles flickered around the pool area
at night and extensive collections of saddles, stirrups, and prints by
well-known western painters were displayed in the restaurant and lounge. During
dinner in the fine restaurant, the Hotel offered first class dining and folk
Our restored Gardian hut rested on the edge of a lagoon and we woke early to
enjoy flamingos, coots, gray herons, moorhens, avocets, and pied stilts just
outside our door. I should also mention the mosquitoes. MOSQUITO SPRAY IS
REQUIRED EVERYWHERE IN THE CAMARGUE REGION! Be sure to carry it with you! The
mosquitoes, though numerous, carry no diseases.
Continue to Part 3 of 5:
THE GYPSIES of Stes. Maries de la Mer