To break a long journey in the car from Germany to southern Spain, we decided to stop over for a couple of days in the Camargue. We have visited Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer many times before and it has become one of our favourite watering holes in southern France. The week before Christmas turned out to be extra-low season and we struggled to find even an open restaurant in the evenings! A visit to the Wednesday market in Arles was fascinating, but hope of taking photos of horses and wildlife was rather hampered by gloomy light and frequent rain showers.
Although nearly all the horses from riding stables were turned out, it took us a while to find some that were happy to pose for us. This little herd included a handsome chestnut and they took turns to come to the fence and be petted.
One horse especially caught our eyes - he was definitely a very pretty boy and he knew it! He made sure that he showed himself from his very best side at all times.
While chatting up these horses, we were surprised to see an apparently endless flock of literally thousands of cormorants flying along the shore of the main lagoon. We had never before seen so many cormorants in one massive flock!
It started drizzling, so we abandoned the friendly horses and headed on along a small track around the lagoon. When the rain eased off we came across a second herd of horses, this one comprised several adults and just as many youngsters. White (properly referred to as grey) horses are born black or brown and only slowly turn white with age. The youngsters in this group were a wonderful mix of colours and were very curious when we both climbed down into a deep ditch and back up on their side to get some better photos of them. Fortunately, it hadn’t rained enough to make the ditch too wet...
The group had a magnificent stallion with them; we immediately christened him “The Dude”. He was quite striking with his noble head fringed by a long mane.
The other horses wanted to have their photos taken too, but we were all the time drawn back to the Dude, who happily posed for some nice portrait shots.
Maybe intimidated by the big boss, the youngsters kept their distance and soon went back to feeding and playing silly games with each other.
Rain stopped play again and unfortunately this was the last herd we came across while it was dry. We decided there and then to return to the Camargue one day in spring or summer to have another crack at taking photos of the white horses. Both the light and the vegetation should offer better opportunities then.
Summer is also the bull-fighting season in the Camargue. The French version of the bullfight has little in common with the Spanish version, in which the bull is provoked, tortured and killed. In the Camargue fights rosettes are tied between the bull’s horns and teams of contestants compete to take these in the most spectacular and daring way, often involving vaulting over the bulls back and menacing horns. When French fighting bulls prove to be exceptionally fierce individuals they are extremely treasured and enjoy a long fighting life as bull heroes. Seeing these powerful guys turned out in the marshes it was clear that they are a force to be reckoned with!
In a quiet moment we did a bit of experimenting with the photos taken during this trip and found the portraits of the Dude looked especially pleasing in a sepia monochrome tone.
After an experience on the first night that would have put Fawlty Towers to shame, we had two amazing meals in very different restaurants on our subsequent nights, but there was little choice at that time of year. Despite the gloomy weather we enjoyed our short stay in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, but next time we’ll return in warmer, greener months!