Wild and Remote, the Camargue of the Rhône
France never ceases to surprise with its extraordinary range of landscapes and experiences. One such destination is the Camargue, a natural wetland region between the Mediterranean Sea and the two arms of the Rhône known for ranching, white horses and a specialized breed of bull. Our three Rhône river cruises bring guests into the Camargue for a unique ranch experience – and we thought we provide a look at life in the region, from the wild natural world to its longstanding, deep and unique cultural heritage.
Gardians and Bulls of the Camargue
Bullfighting is a tradition in southern France, as it is in Spain, but with a difference: in Spanish corrida the bull is killed; in Camargue-style bullfighting, known as la course camarguaise, the bull is merely annoyed. Camargue bullfights are actually athletic contests in which white-suited, agile “razeteurs” try to steal a riband from between the bull’s horns without being gored. After fifteen minutes of chasing around the ring, the bull is sent back to the pasture for a two-week rest. The black bulls of Camargue are aggressive, quick, and smart. The ones who learn the game are dangerous adversaries. Yet rarely does anyone get hurt.
The stark contrast in bullfighting styles in these neighboring cultures is not hard to understand. Both have ancient roots in Roman games and rituals, but in Spain bullfighting evolved as a sport played by the aristocracy, an extension of dressage in which noblemen perfected their horsemanship and martial skills; the star of the show is the matador, a warrior with a sword. The course camarguaise evolved from farm games with ranchers and gardians (similar to the North American cowboys). In Camargue, bulls are the stars, and the best performers can become celebrities on the bullfight circuit, with top billing and product endorsement contracts, and end their careers with a long easy retirement. Both fighting traditions respect the bull. But in Camargue, the ones who fought well are remembered, their names and dates emblazoned on monuments and memorials at ranches, roadsides, and bullrings.