Whilst I was filming in Seattle, my sister Nicola went to the Camargue on a photographic trip and I asked her to write about it. I hope you will enjoy her beautiful photographs and the description of her time there.
Having recently returned from Provence, I thought I’d add some tips from my stay in the Camargue which is about an hour’s drive (or 50 kilometres) from Tarascon. It is a stretch of low-lying land in the Rhone delta, dotted with farms and shallow marshy lakes. This area is well known for its white horses that have lived here for thousands of years. Originally wild, they are now reared by guardiens or cowboys who use them for herding their black cattle, especially the bulls that are used for bullfights. An iconic image of the Camargue is that of a group of horses galloping through shallow water with manes and tails flying.
The horses are quite small, but very tough, agile and resilient, and can carry the weight of a man. People come here for riding holidays or just to hire a horse for the day or a couple of hours. There are numerous websites offering a range of options to suit everyone’s wishes.
The horses all have white coats but their skins underneath are black, strictly speaking making them grey. The foals are all born dark brown or black, and gradually their coats become white as they reach adulthood. This is to protect them from predation when they are young as they are harder to see against the dark soil and vegetation of the are
I was here on a 5 day photographic trip in late March, organised by John Wright of Photographers on Safari. He is the wildlife photographer who led the trip. You can check out his trips and images on the website above. However, our local guide and fixer was a French photographer called Patrice Aguilar. He made all the arrangements with the local farmers to bring their horses to the designated places for us to photograph. Sessions always took place shortly after dawn and a few hours before sunset to guarantee the best light (the Golden Hour.)
He also leads his own photographic holidays to the region as well as to other areas around the world.
If you happen to be in the Camargue and intend to take photos of horses running through water, it can be a good idea to bring waders which will enable you to stand in the water if you wish. This can give greater impact to the images, particularly if you take a low down viewpoint (as in the second image above.) I brought chest waders (the shoe sizes on hip waders were too big for me) and they were invaluable. It meant I could crouch down in the water and walk through or sit on wet dewy grass without getting wet.
We stayed in a small hotel outside Ste Marie de la Mer at the Hostellerie du Pont de Gau. Double rooms with breakfast are 70€, although we paid an all inclusive price for the holiday including evening meals. The food is excellent, and local people remarked on this when we told them where we were staying. There are several menus at different prices, as well as an à la carte menu, and an extensive wine list. Breakfasts are the usual French style – orange juice, croissant, baguette with butter, jams and honey, sometimes natural yogurt, and as much tea or coffee as you like.
The rooms are quite basic but adequate with ensuite bathrooms. There is only one electric wall socket per room, unless you climb onto a chair and remove the plug from the wall-mounted TV, in which case you will have two! This is a bit of an issue if you have camera, phone and laptop batteries to recharge, but can be worked around. And don’t forget your European plug adapters!
There are no hairdryers in the bedrooms, so bring your own, or learn to live without. I had to ask for some extra coat hangers as we only had three when we got there, but these were gladly provided.
Soft white towels are provided in the bathrooms and two little individual soaps, but no shampoo, shower gel or conditioner. So remember to bring your own.
Next door to the hotel is the Parc Ornithologique de Pont de Gau. It costs 7€ to get in. It opens at 10am and last entry is at 4pm, but once you are in you can stay as long as you like. (You can also go in and out on the day ticket, but be back before 4pm.) The thing to do is to stay till around sunset when all the flamingos – for which the park is famous – suddenly take off in one enormous flock of honking and flapping of wings. They go off to another nearby lake, and then return the following morning.
Other birds there are herons, storks, ibis and cattle egrets, greylag geese, red-headed ducks, black-winged stilts and sandpipers, as well as birds of prey such as buzzards and owls.
There are also resident coypu that can be found swimming about in the water or feeding on the water’s edge. They are quite cute and are like beavers, only smaller, and they have long thin tails rather than flat rudder-like tails. They are not native to France but were introduced here from the Americas some hundred or so years ago for their fur.
If you are planning a visit, it is important to note that this is a marshy area where mosquitoes thrive, so don’t forget to bring your mosquito repellent and to apply it liberally. I took 100% Deet (bought at Blacks in the UK) which worked pretty well for me. Early mornings can also be quite cold so bring something warm to wear if you are planning an early morning photo shoot. And above all, have fun!
(Photographs not to be reproduced or used without permission of the photographer. firstname.lastname@example.org)