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Seeing cowboys, flamingos and rice fields in a single holiday? It's possible, and you do not even have to leave Europe! You can find all this in the south of France, in the Grande Camargue. This region is also called the 'wild west' of France. With such a variety of attractions, it is hard to choose, so here is a list of 'must-do's', or as the French say, the incontournables.
Worldwide visitors come for the great and unique variety of birds that the Camargue is famous for, including flamingos. A good place to see these special animals is the ornithological park of Pont de Gau: a nature reserve specifically for bird lovers. The park is open daily until sunset. Don't forget your binoculars!
Cowboys that ride the famous white Camargue horses are known as 'guardians'. They also guard the characteristic black bulls of the region. Some guardians now works as tour guides for tourists who want to take a ride through the Camargue, on horseback of course. The region is easy to visit on horseback, and organised tours are offered at various levels.
For cyclists, the Grande Camargue is a must. The tourist office in the town of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer offers cycling routes, for example to the lighthouse Phare de la Gacholle. You get there via a ten kilometre long car-free embankment with stunning views over lakes, marshes and salt flats. Upon arrival at the lighthouse you will find a small information centre.
Are you, in addition to nature, also interested in the culture and history of the region? Visit the Musée Camarguais. This small but interesting museum has been housed in an old sheep barn since 1979 and was renovated in 2013. You'll find interactive installations, games, video and contemporary art about the Camargue. You can continue your visit to the museum outside with a walk between the irrigation canals, rice fields and marshes.
The church in Saintes-Maries-de Mer is, as the name suggests, an important centre of Marian devotion. It is also a popular pilgrimage site for gypsies, because of the image of their patron the Saint Sarah. If you visit the church, make sure to climb up: from the roof you have a wonderful view of the city. You do not have to wait for the annual pilgrimage to visit Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. You will find nice shops with local produce, a rich history, museums and a beautiful sandy beach there.
Have all these activities worked up an appetite? Open the menu to find the many local dishes that you can find in the Camargue. For example, the typical red rice, which is produced in the region. This rice has a nutty flavor and goes well with the local meat dishes, such as meat from the Camargue bulls. Finish off with a fine wine from the region.