Monday was pleasant in an everyday sort of way. We needed petrol, and even that is an event in a strange town in another language (I listened to Peter trying valiantly to maintain some small talk while the guy filled the car), and then headed for Les Baux again to get the lowdown for the life drawing class that Peter will join this week. Just parking in a different spot gave us a whole set of new views and the discovery of a pilgrim path. More selfies and panos! We set off on the few kilometres down the road to check where the class would be held, and ended up in yet another picturesque town called Maussane Les Alpilles. In contrast to many of the ancient villages, it has been opened up, renovated and made more accessible, and with the ubiquitous dappled shade from the plane trees, felt very welcoming. We parked easily in the station park and went into the first creperie we found on the main road.
Galettes are savoury pancakes with a choice of protein and vegetables - Peter had everything from prawns to cucumber - and crepes are generally sweet, most popularly with lemon, local honey
or jam, and chestnut cream often on the list. No cream or ice cream! We hadn't been there long before we connected with a New Zealand couple biking their way across Provence and enjoyed a catch up in English. It’s funny how when Aussies are overseas, Kiwis suddenly become friends rather than rivals. Then the skies opened again, and we felt sorry for them on their bikes as we made our escape in the car to drop into Aldi on our way home. Even a simple day is enjoyable and we never quite know where we will end up.
But on Tuesday it was time for another major excursion and the weather app said that the sun was down south. So my choice was to go towards the sea, to the Ornithological Park at Pont de Gau. For Aussies, nothing is very far, and now that driving has become less of an adrenalin rush, an hour trip south didn’t seem daunting. We only missed one exit, causing a 10km getaround, and found ourselves driving through what looked like another country! The Camargue is the name for the enormous Rhone delta when it reaches the Mediterranean, and it is a
flat wetland and a national park. It is known for its wild white horses, although we mainly saw stable after stable of white horses for hire to do “promenade cheval”, horse riding. I guess we were unlikely to see wild brumbies beside the main road!
The other striking difference from the Saint Remy area was that the vast fields of sunflowers and vineyards gave way to acres of salt production (Camargue salt is famous) and wet rice production! Obviously there is plenty of water. Ironic for us, as we haven’t eaten a grain of rice since we left home and are really missing Asian style food. (We found two Asian restaurants in St Remy on Trip Advisor, but the reviews were so bad - “tasted like sock juice” - that we decided to enjoy French food while in France. Bigger cities do have good Vietnamese food). Marked by a simple bus stop, the bird park is surrounded by Spanish looking motels and what Peter described as frontier country. We had arrived.
It was a most wonderful day - just soul renewing, peaceful and idyllic in every way. Beautifully laid out, the park has hundreds of water birds across
60 acres that can be observed very close up without disturbing them. Most dramatic of all are the flamingos - les flamants roses - hundreds and thousands of them in the water, dancing, flying, foraging, sleeping on one leg, lazily attacking one another and creating an amazing combination of the fluid curves of their necks with the awkward angles of their knees! Then when they flap their wings, they reveal the startling dark pink of their underside feathers and the huge breadth of their wing span as they take to the sky. Totally mesmerising!
We spent several hours enjoying it all and wandering along the wide, well kept paths, peering through the hides and rushes or sitting at the edge. I never expected to see this in France! We can thank a remarkable man called Alan Johnson, a respected ornithologist, who began to build islands and structures in the Camargue for the birds to nest and mate, and the colony grew. He developed banding and records and became a world renowned expert. A good example of “If you build it, they will come”!
A glass of Camargue organic apple juice in the open air cafe beside the pools
topped off a memorable day. Cool breeze blowing, nowhere we need to go in a hurry, just peace and beauty - apart from when I ended up in the toilet queue with a class of primary aged children!
Because we were so close to the south coast, we couldn’t resist a quick trip, so went to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, which looked like what it is - a beach resort town with a Spanish feel. Peter couldn’t believe he had ended up at the beach without his bathers, so we just enjoyed a wander on the promenade, which goes for miles.
Peter's inspiration for his Peninsula to Provence exhibition seems to have broadened from landscapes to include wildlife! How could he not paint these glorious creatures? He also can’t help doing his favourite -portraits - and has done some great French faces.
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