Ramblin' On with Pat Middleton

The Gardians of the Camargue 
© Pat Middleton 
Part 2 of 5

Author, Pat Middleton continues her journey to find great waterway cruises for greatriver.com travelers!

The Rhone River Delta
The Camargue
Lausanne, Switzerland

The Camargue
Les Gardians



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.

Gilbert 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!

horses.GIF (19718 bytes)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.

hut.GIF (27789 bytes)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. 

Except for 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, duringfrancoise.gif (51067 bytes) 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 guitar entertainment.

guardianhut.GIF (17816 bytes)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


[ Camargue Overview ]  [ Map of Camargue ]  [ The Gardians ]  [The Gypsies
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