Tuesday, November 12, 2013

France's Camargue Region

The final stop on my 2013 equestrian tour of Europe was to the Camargue region of Provence in southern France. The sturdy little white horses that originated in the Camargue marshes, known simply as Camargue horses, are raised for riding horses and as stock horses to work with the bulls the region is also noted for. They say they originated in the marshes, but my money says they came from Spain or Portugal. They have a decidedly Iberian or Lippizan look to me. I love their compact size, and despite being a small gene pool, they remain hardy and correct with almost indiscernible differences between individuals.
The bird life is vast in the Camargue, with dozens of species along with flocks of flamingos that have taken up residence.
And of course, the Camargue also produces the world's most prized gourmet sale, fleur de sel or "flower of salt," which is harvested from the Camargue's marshes.
The black fighting bulls are distinct to the region. The fields are full of large herds of them, beautiful to behold. On a walk from the 1700s farmhouse I stayed in, down the lane past their pastures I enjoyed pausing to look at them. Of course every ear and eye was turned toward me, as they are alert and wary and have been trained since youngsters to consider humans as sparring partners. When I stared too long, they all began lowing in their throats and advancing toward me. They are used for bullfights but with a wonderfully humane twist. The bullfights do not involve killing the bull. Instead, a medallion is fastened to the horn of the bull. At the end of the "fight" whichever possesses the medallion, the man or the bull, is the winner. If it's the man, he receives the prize money. If it's the bull, its breeder receives the money. Bullfights were over for the season, but I was lucky enough to arrive in town on a weekend when there was a special festival of bringing the bulls onto the beaches of Saint Maries de la Mer for a herding exhibition.
White horses, black bulls and pink flamingos! Ah, the fantastic color scheme of the Camargue.

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