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4x4 Safari of the Camargue from Arles

Spotting Camargue horses and flamingos on a jeep safari

featured in Activity reviews Author Stephen McGurk, Provence Reporter Updated

We meet at the back of the tourist office in Arles where 3 white safari jeeps were already parked with the canopied roofs wide open.

There are a few other people waiting around and they come up to me explaining about the booking they have made for the day. I had a feeling I might be mistaken for the actual safari guide, as in an attempt to look as “Safari” as possible I had worn khaki trousers, a green checked shirt and my wide brimmed hat. My plan had worked.

Eventually Alain, our true tour-guide for the day arrives on the scene. “Your name Meissuer?” We shake hands and he sees the rolled cigarette in my hand. “You smoke” he states, “Good!”

I decide to jump in the back of the jeep where the bench seats along the windows give me almost a 360 degree view. An Australian couple who are travelling around Europe for ten-weeks occupy the front seats giving me a lot of space in the back. We set off with the morning sun beaming through the open roof and get to know each other’s story by the time we reach the Camargue.

a jeep on a trail in teh camargue

Alain, 50, an ex-pilot for a flying doctor speaks five languages and has travelled and lived all over the world - although my accent is still a bit of a mystery to him [Irish]. Alain is authentic and knowledgeable about all things Camargue and the patches on his rough clothing are a map of his life as a pilot. He speaks with authority about the bull tradition and the Corridas of the Camargue and the games that are played with the bulls where boys attempt to hook a piece of fabric which is tied between the bull’s horns.

He captures our attention with tales of “The Famous Mendoza” a prolific bullfighter who often comes to the region and he gives a sly wink when he reveals a piece of insider information. “The most expensive bulls are kept closest to the farm” he educates. He explains that the land can be as cheap as €1 per 1m² of paddy field and that he owns a .44 magnum just like Clint Eastwood. With each fact that he unveils, he says “Don’t forget it” which quickly becomes his catchphrase for the day.

La Camargue is a 100-hectare delta covering the area between the Rhône and the Petit-Rhône and reaching down to the Mediterranean Sea. Rice, alfalfa and wheat are grown in the marshland along with other rotational crops depending on the subsidies available to the farmers. The alfalfa grown here is exported to Saudi Arabia to be used as horse feed. The area is also home to Camargue bulls, the indigenous majestic white horses, flamingos and other wild birds and also to “The Gardians”.

“The Gardians” are a brotherhood who rear the regions cattle for bull-fighting. They are a proud brotherhood and adhere to set of guidelines which have been passed down through generations. They ride the white Camargue horses and carry a trident when they are working the bulls.

bulls in a field in the camargue

Life continues at a slower pace in this region; tomorrow is the perfect time to complete a task if today doesn’t seem suitable for any reason.

Through single lane roads and dusty tracks we go in search of the wildlife in the area. We drive past a few vineyards and Alain screws up his mouth when describing how the wine of the area tastes. The safari itself is four hours long; although a little less time would probably have been enough as apart from a few pit stops you’re more or less inside the jeep for the duration of the trip.

We venture as far as the Mediterranean coast which borders the Camargue and Alain teaches us about the founder of “The Gardians” who was buried here along with his horse. We get close to very dangerous looking bulls and white Camargue horses approach us to say hello.

camargue horses in a field

The crescendo to the safari is the pot-hole dodging drive along a dusty road past flocks of flamingos standing in shallow water. Some break off from the group and circle overhead opening their huge wingspan and exposing the sunset-coloured feathers hidden underneath. A quiet descends over everyone in the jeep as we enjoy this moment.

A safari with Camargue Découverte costs €45 for a 4 hour trip. Trips usually take place with a minimum of 3 people, but it may be possible to join onto another group.

You will need to bring your own food and water.


Map of the surrounding area