The Camargue natural park is an amazing place to visit. Birdwatchers and anyone with an interest in nature will enjoy this place. A huge expanse of wetlands and a protected environment the Camargue is a fantastic destination for the family or for a nature lovers vacation.
Birdwatching and nature in Camargue
The area is home to more than 400 species of birds; its brine ponds provide one of the few European habitats for the greater flamingo.
The marshes are also a prime habitat for many species of insects, notably (and notoriously) some of the most ferocious mosquitoes to be found anywhere in France.
It is also famous for the its bulls (below) and the Camargue Horse, an ancient breed of horse indigenous to the region.
The reserve is the result of years of protection and intensive management to preserve the plants, animals, birds and insects that depend on the many habitats found in the National Park for their survival.
Read our Guide to Birdwatching in France
The area has been managed by the Société National de la Nature (SNPN) since 1927, but only became a National Nature Reserve in 1975.
Where is Camargue natural park?
The Camargue, one of 45 Regional Natural Parks in France, is located south of Arles, between the Mediterranean Sea and the two arms of the Rhône River delta. The eastern arm is called the Grand Rhône; the western one is the Petit Rhône.
Administratively, the area lies within the département of Bouches-du-Rhône. It covers parts of the territory of the communes of Arles – the largest commune in Metropolitan France, Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer and the second largest – and Port-Saint-Louis-du-Rhône.
A further expanse of marshy plain, the Petite Camargue, just to the west of the Petit Rhône, is in the département of Gard. Camargue was designated a Ramsar site as a “Wetland of International Importance” on December 1, 1986.
The main Visitor Centre for the National Park is situated at La Capelière. It is manned throughout the year and has an excellent 1.5 kilometre nature trail (part of which has access for the disabled) through a number of habitats. The walk has good information boards although not all of them have English language elements.
The Camargue – Western Europe’s largest river delta
With an area of over 930 km2 (360 sq mi), this is western Europe’s largest river delta. It is a vast plain comprising large brine lagoons or étangs, cut off from the sea by sandbars and encircled by reed-covered marshes. These are in turn surrounded by a large cultivated area.
Approximately a third of the area is either lakes or marshland. The central area around the shoreline of the Étang de Vaccarès has been protected as a regional park since 1927, in recognition of its great importance as a haven for wild birds. In 2008 it was incorporated into the larger Parc naturel régional.
Mosquitoes in Camargue
There are 3,500 species of mosquitoes in the world… including 49 on the French Mediterranean coast, but only a small number of them sting.
Male mosquitoes are harmless: only females bite, because after mating, the female desperately needs a blood meal to carry her eggs to mature.
Mosquitoes are abundant in Camargue from May to October, but there are effective ways to be protected against them.
How to protect yourself from mosquitoes
It is advisable to wear long and light coloured clothing: if the garment is thin, the female mosquito can sting through it
Avoid wearing perfume or other products with sweet odour that may attract mosquitoes.
Avoid walking at sunrise and sunset. This is when the insects are more active.
Protect yourself with a repellent.