Spreading across the Rhône delta, and defined by the Petit Rhône to the west, the Grand Rhône to the east, and the Mediterranean to the south, the drained, ditched and protected land known as the Camargue is utterly distinct from the rest of Provence. With land, lagoon and sea sharing the same horizontal plain, its shimmering horizons appear infinite.
The whole of the Camargue is a Parc Naturel Régional, which sets out to balance tourism, agriculture, industry and hunting against the indigenous ecosystems. When the Romans arrived, the northern part of the Camargue was a forest; they felled the trees to build ships, then grew wheat. These days, especially since the northern marshes were drained and re-irrigated after World War II, the main crop is rice.
The Camargue is split into two separate sections by the large Étang du Vaccarès, a lagoon that’s out of bounds to visitors. Most people focus their attention on the western Camargue, home to the sizeable town of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, and also commercial attractions such as wildlife parks and activity operators. It is possible, however, to take a quick look at both the western and eastern halves of the Camargue within a single day.