A Different French Landscape
06.01.2012 - 07.01.2012 9 °C
Following a drive along some dramatic coastline, we arrived in the flat, marshy lands of The Carmargue. Our hotel was a ranch-style place called Le Cacharel on the edge of the national park area about 4 km from the nearest town. There were plenty of horses and some other animals in the complex and the quietness of the season made for a very peaceful stay. Most businesses in the nearby town of Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer had shut for the winter but we eventually found a restaurant open for some good paella.
Apart from the owner, there was not a lot of English spoken amongst the hotel staff so I got to practice my French quite a lot. The owner's father had been a film-maker and must have been quite a Carmargue identity as there were numerous interesting photos and items of film memorabilia decorating the rooms and the dining and reception areas. They featured lots of men and women of wild appearance riding horses, fighting bulls and generally being fairly cool looking hombres.
The next morning, we went horse riding from the hotel. Being on these large grey animals took us outside our comfort zone a little but Grisout (my horse) and his companion were very patient with us and the "gardian" knew what she was doing as she rode along in front. My guy liked to stop and eat every now and again but we slowly made our way along some tracks, past a wading group of pink flamingos and through the marshes. The horses are obviously used to nervous riders as well as walking through the mud and water and we had a brilliant time. The gardian had little English and seemed impressed with my French so delivered all her descriptions this way. This required an exercise in concentration but I got the general idea and passed on what I thought she was saying to Sonia. Imagination has to play a part in this process but I think we discussed the differences in salt levels in the various bodies of water, the history of the area, the restricted fishing processes, the mating season of the flamingos, the way that the water levels are managed, Mt Ventoux and other distant geographical features, the small water animals that live in the canals, the differences between Carmargue and Spanish bulls, the personalities of our horses and the fact that the wind was pretty cold. It was a very enjoyable couple of hours.
After checking out, we drove on through the general area and found a Parc Ornithologique that we had been told about. It was an amazing place and we got to see the flamingos and many other water birds at close range. From here, we drove past lots of rice fields and many black cattle before taking a ferry across the main branch of the Rhone on our way to Marseille.