On a recent trip to Provence, I visited the Camargue: Europe’s largest river delta, half an hour south of Arles. A nationally protected region since 1927, the Camargue is home to 400 species of birds, wild white horses, flocks of flamingos, and black bulls with turned up horns.
It’s also home to salt flats, marshes, resorts, and seaside villages. Narrow dirt roads lead to horse farms, lighthouses, and traditional Provençal guest houses. Here are a few highlights of my stay:
Parc Ornithologique Pont de Gau
At this family-run bird sanctuary, egrets gather in trees, storks nest in thatched roofs, and hundreds of pink flamingos float, feed, and chatter—all just meters from the nature trails. I stayed until just before sunset to watch flamingos take to the air in raucous groups. An amazing experience at any distance, but being so close to the birds made it a thrill. A great place for kids and photographers.
A bit off the beaten path is L’Estrambord, in the town of Le Sambuc (pop 530), where chef Eric Lanaudier’s ingredients come from just down the road. My starter of telinnes, triangular sand clams hand-dug a mile away and served shelled and coated in a creamy garlic sauce, was a revelation. The tellines were followed, most agreeably, by spaghetti with local scallops and extra virgin olive oil made at the edge of town. Definitely worth a detour.
Mas St Germain
At the edge of Vaccarès pond is Mas St Germain, a 500 acre organic farm/B&B. The property’s traditional Provençal accommodations make a good base for exploring the countryside and learning about the region’s agricultural heritage. Owners Laure Vadon and her family breed gentle white Camargue horses (the perfect mount for seeing the farm and exploring wildlife in the adjacent wetlands) and raise black Camargue bulls for the traditional Capea—bullfights without picadors, where skilled men called raseteurs snatch ribbons hung between the bulls’ horns. Guests, who stay in independent cottages or spacious guest rooms inside the main 17th century building, can be involved in as much of the farm work as they would like.
L’Auberge Cavalière du Pont des Bannes
It’s all about relaxing at L’Auberge Cavalière du Pont des Bannes, an airy resort compound that borders a tranquil pond. Rooms are both authentic and luxurious—some have traditional thatched roofs and their own decks overlooking water—and everything you need is at your fingertips: swimming pools, tennis courts, spa, restaurant, bar, and riding school. A lovely getaway for couples and families.