and fun in Camargue, France
ARLES, France - In the weeks leading up to our
first trip to Provence, we pored over guidebooks,
reacquainting ourselves with images immortalized
by Cezanne and popularized by the films ''Jean
de Florette'' and ''Manon of the Spring.'' We
fully expected to see fields of lavender, Roman
ruins and old men playing petanque, and to feast
on hearty stews redolent of garlic, tomatoes
No one told us about the pink flamingos. Much to our surprise - and delight - we encountered thousands of them, wading, feeding and flying in formation over the shallow lagoons of the Park of the Camargue, a half hour's drive south of Arles.
The Camargue, a wind-swept river delta bordering the Mediterranean Sea, is one of Europe's most important wetland sites, a nesting ground for pink flamingos and home to hundreds of other species of birds and other wildlife. The park - an intricate patchwork of salt fields, rice farms, ranches and swamps - is protected by the French government, which has built a network of information centers, nature trails and observatories through the marshes and lagoons.
From the vantage point of comfortable blinds, we peered for hours at flocks of water fowl, marveling at the ability of the flamingos to retract one long, spindly leg beneath their bellies and balance on the other. No matter how many of the exquisite creatures we saw, we only wanted to see more! You might say they blew a serious hole in our Provence itinerary.
When we were still planning our trip from home, we had planned on staying five nights in Arles, hoping to use it as a base to explore other towns and villages in the southern part of Provence. A medium-size city rich in Roman ruins and history, Arles has no shortage of its own attractions: excellent museums, a vibrant outdoor market on Saturdays, an international photography festival in the summer.