… A leisurely ride on the Petit Rhone …
… as August rolls on … the hottest time of the year in Provence, referred to as “la canicule” has everyone running for shade and cool places, and it’s the time when your mind turns to water … lots of it! Whether it’s the pool, the beach, a river is immaterial. We decided it was time to visit the Camargue that we had heard so much about. Early one morning, we pointed la petite coccinelle (as our little new Beetle convertible is known as in our village), in the direction of the Camargue.
The drive from Sablet to the Camargue takes you through some very well known spots such as Nimes and Arles, which is the last big town before you enter the Parc Naturel Regional de Camargue – in the Rhone River Delta.
This area with its large grassy fields is home to “taureau” ranches and riding stables – for the well known white horses of the Camargue. We passed lots of open air stands selling local pottery and other local artifacts, but there was one pottery stand that caught my eye and we made a note of it so we could stop by on the way back.
After an hour or so, we arrived at Saintes Maries de la Mer, although busy and crowded at this time of the year, a very pretty little town with a usual population of about 2,000 people which no doubt swells by several thousand at this time of year. This little town is on a little spit of land surrounded by “etangs” (bays), at the very entry to the Rhone Delta.
We were lucky to find a parking spot near the Place des Gitans where we stopped for a cool drink and to take a look at their statues of famous Camarguaise bulls – black in color with their distinctive up swept horns . The bulls not only regularly feature on restaurant menus in this area – they are also the stars of the “Courses Camarguaises” which is the Provencal version of bullfights.
Unlike their Spanish counterparts, happily the Provencal bulls are not hurt as a part of the “bull game”, instead the object of the Courses Camarguaises is for the Toreador to remove a small bow from the bull’s head.
By now the temperature was climbing, (although it was still much cooler than the temperature we had left), and it was time for a short drive of a few kilometers down the D38 from Saintes Maries de la Mer, to the docking point for our paddle boat – the Tiki lll.
There was something instantly refreshing about the sight of the cool, pale blue water where fishermen stood by the rocks, their lines cast out. After a few minutes, waiting at the dock where a cool onshore breeze offered relief from the hot August day, the paddle boat Tiki lll rounded the corner, making its way back loaded with sightseers.
Not too long afterwards, we were making our way across the gangplank and onto the paddle boat. For the next couple of hours, we cruised up and then back down the Petit Rhone.
Past the the grassy marshlands full of birds feeding, horses coming down to the water to quench their thirst on a hot day, the houses and private docks of the people who had come down to this area to help to preserve the Parc Regional Naturel de Camargue many years ago, on to the area where we paused to watched the elegant Gardien on his white horse, bring his charges down to the riverbank to graze on the indigenous and plentiful grass – salicorne, and quench their thirst at the river. From there, we quietly made our way back to the dock that we started from, enjoying the cool breeze coming off the water.
It was now well past lunchtime and notwithstanding our best intentions of stopping back in Saintes Maries de la Mer, it was by now very very busy and we opted for one of the open air restaurants a little further out in along one of the Camargue roads that prominently advertised its “Taureau”.
One more stop, at the Pottery Stand that I had seen earlier for some brightly colored coffee mugs for Maison des Pelerins and two pretty flower pots, and then back to Sablet.