Middleton continues her journey to find great waterway cruises for
The Rhone River Delta
Map of the Rhone River Delta
Visiting the Camargue
at the Mouth of
the Rhone River!
...Deserted Mediterranean beaches glow white along a warm sea as the last
authentic French steam paddleboat puffs up into the mouth of the Rhone River.
Brochures taut "Dude"
ranches and, yes, cowboys, and bull fights.
Dark-skinned women bedecked in jewelry stroll in long colorful skirts and white
blouses beside a windowless 9th century church. Brooding Roman arenas, medieval walled cities. Soaring cathedrals and
dreamy pink flamingos. In the Etang (or lagoon) de Vaccares we
hear the bill clacking of chimney storks...
I first saw the Rhone's grand valley when we flew
over the Mediterranean shore on our way to Milan, Italy--a broad alluvial
valley bordered by cascading limestone bluffs. This was the valley of a truly great river
stretching northward past Arles,
Orange, Lyons, Geneva, Lac Leman and into the Swiss
Alps.. The Camargue is its delta--50 square miles, formed of silt
carried from the Swiss Alps, through rich top soil to the sea. A fragile lacework
of sea and sand, a rich treasure of bird life, and unique human cultures born of
isolation. I felt even before landing that I knew this place well....
Map of the French
capital city of Arles was a celebrated Roman port city, and sits on a stony hill
at the point of the triangle. This is the center of Vincent Van Gogh's colorful Provence. The spongy triangle of river delta (noted in pale yellow on the map)
is bordered by the sea along its broad foot, and embraced by the two arms of the Rhone River
(the Petit Rhone and the main channel) along its right and left edges.
Here, on this damp spit of salty earth that slopes gradually upward to the fresh
bath of the Rhone waters, have flourished wild white horses, bulls, and the
Gardians and the Manadiers who manage them, as well as sailors, gypsies, tourists and
We spent our first night at the ***Hotel L'Etrier Camarguais in rural Saintes
Maries-de-la-Mer, and a second night at the **Hotel Calandar in Arles, just a
block from the Roman Arena.
It was not enough.
We needed another day to spend at the French version of a "dude
ranch" where we might have ridden the white horses with the Manade (or
bull-breeder), Gilbert Arnaud and his Gardians among the famous bulls of the
Camargue. ...And another day to enjoy the uncrowded beach at Stes. Maries de la Mer.
A day to meander the shops along the beachfront, the Musee Camarguais, the Ornithological
Park, and for visiting the salt pans.
The gypsies and the Gardians lend great interest to the
Camargue, introducing a bizarre cultural melding of the American west,
Dutch Netherlands, and
Continue, Part 2 of 5