About South-Western Provence: Arles and the Camargue
Wedged into the base of Provence, the Rhône delta, also known as the Camargue, differs dramatically from the rest of France. Hilaire Belloc reckoned it came from Greece and the East, though in reality the vast watery expanse of saltmarshes and lagoons was created by the Rhône depositing thousands of tons of silt and sand into the Mediterranean.
The Camargue is a geological infant in a constant state of flux with shifting boundaries and a nomadic population. This is a region of semi-wild black bulls, hardy white horses that are born brown and then miraculously change colour in their third or fourth year, great pink clouds of wild flamingoes, and rugged herdsmen, the Camarguais gardiens who keep themselves very much to themselves until Arles’ 1st May Fête des Gardiens and the chance to indulge in some suitably macho rodeo-type exhibitionism. Gypsies also gather here to celebrate the feast day of their patron saint, Sarah, in the beach resort and excursion centre of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.
The Greeks passed through the region, but it was the Romans who left their mark with a magnificent amphitheatre at Arles, and the ancient city of Glanum, partially excavated outside dozy Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Arles is the largest town in the region and a most agreeable base with first-rate museums, shopping, festivals and corridas. Fortunately for the squeamish, most of the bullfighting is of the ProvenÍµcal bloodless variety, the cours de la concarde, which matches nimble Camarguais bulls with rosettes on their forehead against white-shirted razeteurs who attempt to snatch the rosette with a metal talon and are injured more frequently than the bulls.
To the north of Arles, the twin castles of Tarascon and Beaucaire are among the best places to visit. They guard opposite banks of the Rhône, and the jagged limestone teeth of the Alpilles rear out of the orchards and market gardens of the Petit Crau plain behind Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.
There are frequent train and bus services from Nîmes and Avignon (via Tarascon) to Arles for buses to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. Buses from Avignon serve Saint-Rémy (for Les Baux), and there are buses from Saint-Rémy to Tarascon. Buses and trains link Nîmes and Aigues-Mortes.