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.
© Atout France/Pascal Gréboval
Administratively, the area lies within the département of Bouches-du-Rhône, and covers parts of the territory of the communes of Arles - the largest commune in Metropolitan France, Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer - 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.
© ATOUT FRANCE/Fabrice Milochau
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.
© ATOUT FRANCE/Pascal Gréboval
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 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. The area has been managed by the Société National de la Nature (SNPN) since 1927, but only became a National Nature Reserve in 1975.