France is home to beautiful beaches, sizzling sunshine and fantastic food, all of which make visitors flock from far and wide to experience the culture. However, there is also the opportunity for people to discover something different, the likes of which can’t be found anywhere else in the world. The Camargue is home to over 360 square miles of Western Europe’s largest river delta, featuring extraordinary biological diversity, unique breeds of animals and over 400 species of birds, including pink flamingos. Over one million tourists visit the site every year to see the flora and fauna whilst also learning more about the production of salt within the area. Read on to learn all about this fascinating National Park and the unique features that await during your next stay in one of our luxury holiday villas in the South of France.
The ètangs are salt water lagoons that were originally sculpted by the wind to create an ideal environment for salt production, although have more recently been man-made to ensure the desirable conditions continue. It is here that the salt is produced, after being dried by both sun and wind in large expanses of space called “salins”. It is the largest salt production site in Europe, producing an impressive 1,000,000 metric tons of salt a year, with purposes varying from household food salt to chemicals and pharmaceuticals.
A Brief History of Camargue Salt
The production and trading of salt in this area has been carried out for two thousand years, with the product often transported by boat along the Mediterranean coast before heading inland by mule. This journey made by the salt is known as the ‘Route de Sel’ and it has experienced significant changes over time, from political disputes regarding the salt-production economy to wars in the area that posed a threat to its continuation. More recently, following World War Two, the northern marshes were drained and irrigated with fresh water, enabling the growth of rice, wheat, rapeseed and fruit orchards, most of which remain as working industries today. The Camargue was designated as a nature reserve in 1927 and granted National Park status in 1970. Its main challenge today is finding an equilibrium between the complex ecosystem and human activities such as tourism, agriculture and hunting.
Visiting the Camargue
Whether you want to know more about a specific type of salt production, such as the one in Aiges-Mortes which is used solely for food production, or you want to discover such a fascinating and diverse area of France, there are many ways to explore The Camargue. Riding horses is a fantastic way to see as much of it as possible while there is also an array of cycling routes that cater for varying abilities. Those hoping to hike their way around the park can consider a variety of trails and paths, each offering a different perspective of the park to the next. Three of the most popular circuits for walkers include the lake and pink flamingo path to the Sea Dike, the rice path around the reserve and the salt path around the salt pans. There are some salt companies that offer guided tours to the public, where you can gain an expert’s insight into the workings of the marsh and ask any questions you may have along the way. You can also visit the salt museum to discover the finer details of salt mining and what life was like for the salt workers all those years ago.
Animals at The Camargue
The Camargue is home to some unique breeds of animals and a plethora of bird species to look out for, attracting nature enthusiasts from far and wide to spot the animals in their natural, albeit unique, habitat. The Camargue bull is noticeably smaller than other breeds and are raised for their distinctive meat that is often served among gourmets. They can also be used in bull running, a traditional sport that dates back to beyond the 16th-century. Camargue horses are one of the oldest breeds in the world. They are thought to be closely linked with prehistoric horses after the remains of which were found elsewhere in Southern France. Standing at just thirteen or fourteen hands they are technically ponies and although coloured black or dark brown at birth, this changes to white when they are four. The Camargue is the only place in France to spot pink flamingos but there, the population is thriving. They have adapted to eat plankton and do so by sucking water through their beaks and expelling it over fine filters to retain their prey. It is this plankton-heavy diet that is responsible for their bright pink colouring. Other animals to keep an eye out for include sheep, badgers, beavers, tree frogs, wild boar, water snakes, pond turtles and any number of birds.
Here at Quality Villas, we’ve already looked at Made in France: Macaronsand Made in France: Tapenade so do feel free to catch up with other blog posts in the series. If you’d like to look into accommodation that is nearby The Camargue, browse the properties below or get in contact with a friendly member of the QV team today who would be more than happy to help.
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