After of day of city sightseeing yesterday, we decided to head out on our bikes and experience some nature.
The Rhone River flows through Arles and drains into the Mediterranean Sea. The Camargue is a national park at the river delta. It is pronounced “Caw Marg” but the pronunciation “Caw Mar Goo” is stuck in my head. Whenever I say that to a local, they look at me with a most perplexed look.
The Camargue is only 35 kilometres from Arles, but it feels a world away culturally and geographically. In one, you see Roman ruins and a city almost devoid of green space. The Camargue is almost 930 square kilometres of flat lands, scrub bush and tidal basins.
The Camargue is habitat for a large number of plants and animals. Specifically, it is the home of vast flocks of pink flamingos but they must be somewhere else these days as we saw very few!
The main sources of income are the cultivating of rice, raising bulls for consumption and for bull fighting (in France and Spain) and the harvesting of salt. (Supervalu actually sells Camargue salt in lovely decorative containers for about $8.00 for two ounces. I’m thinking that there are a large number of middlemen making a lot of money on this, before it hits the shelf at Supervalu.)
The other main source of income is tourism. Even in the fall, the town of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is busy with tourists. There are hundreds of condos and hotels in this small seaside town.
The Camargue is interesting because it has a strong Spanish influence. It is seen in the architecture, the cuisine and the clothing of the indigenous local people. We were surprised to find wonderful paella offered in many of the local restaurants. Typically, they have huge, flat pans of paella warming on their patios, visible from the street and served American-sized portions out of the community bowl. Flavoured with saffron and plump with chicken, shrimp and mussels. Delicious. Well worth an 85 kilometre round-trip ride!
We met a young man at the tourist office who is cycling on his own. He started just two weeks ago in Cologne, Germany and has covered 1400 kilometres. He carries a bed roll and all his provisions on his bike. He had a five pound bag of carrots tied to his pannier. He says he carries five litres of water at all times because he doesn’t know, for certain when he will be able to refill his bottles. Tonight, he will camp on the beach. By comparison, I feel like a wimp or at least, pampered.
After our lunch, on the way home, we stop at the Château d’Avignon. In the midst of this somewhat desolate area, there is a fine country home constructed in 1880. We run into the cyclist again, here, about two hours and 15 kilometres after our first meeting. Just one of those funny coincidences. I wish we had asked him his name.
Just one more…….Something for my dog-loving friends. The French answer to dogs at the beach.