Europe’s largest river delta, the Camargue, formed where the River Rhone meets the Mediterranean, is 930 sq km of major wetland.
Its western plain around Aigues-Mortes is known as the Little (Petite) Camargue. This area of windy, reed-fringed marshes and salt ‘etangs’ (lagoons), is a haven for wildfowl and seabirds including marsh harriers, bitterns and pink flamingos. Nowhere is more than 4.5m above sea-level.
In drier areas, sea lavender and tamarisk grow, and small native white horses and the famous black bulls graze, herded by ‘gardians’ or Camargue ‘cowboys’.
Gypsy traditions are strong and human influences are seen in rice paddies, drainage ditches and salt pans. Walking, cycling and horse riding are the best ways to get close to nature here or by boat or Land Rover safari.
This unique environment is protected as the Parc Naturel Regional de Camargue in neighbouring Provence. The ‘De la Camargue a la Crau’ cycle trail from Aigues-Mortes passes through the park as does the GR653 walking trail from Montpellier to Arles. Do take some anti-mosquito protection for yourself as unfortunately they can be a problem.
Forests cling to the rugged scenery and deep river gorges of the Cevennes rising around its peaks. Once a remote and inaccessible Protestant stronghold, the area today has its wildlife and heritage protected by the Cevennes National Park set up in 1970.
Visitors can explore marked routes for walkers, cyclists, canoeists and horse riders. The charming towns of Anduze and Vigan make good starting points. Follow the ‘Stevenson Trail’ chronicled by the nineteenth century Scottish writer in his ‘Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes’ which forms part of the GR70. The main Park Information Centre in Florac is open all year across the border in Lozere - tel: (00 33) 4 66 49 53 01. Check www.mescevennes.com for details of events in the Park during the coming year.
Visit the largest stalagmite in the world (30m high) found in the Aven Armand Cave in the Mejean Causse, also in Lozere. A funicular takes you 100m underground through the limestone to a fairy-tale forest of 400 stalagmites with strange forms and names like Cauliflower and Jaw of the Tiger. Open every day 28 Mar - 11 Nov.
Snow covers the summits of the highest peaks in Gard for 6 months of the year and skiing on Mount Aigoual (1567m,) the highest peak in this part of the Cevennes can begin at the end of November.
The resort of Prat Peyrot, just 1½ hours from Nimes, offers a wealth of winter sports fun for the whole family, from a school for downhill and cross-country skiing during the season to 14 downhill slopes with ski lifts, 60km of cross-country trails and toboggan slope at Esperou.
The latter village has bars, hotels and restaurants, mountain bike and equipment hire - even a petrol station. See www.pratpeyrot.info for information on snow conditions and slope opening times.
Be sure to visit the Mont Aigoul Observatory to see the work of meteorologists in this mountain weather station on a site of outstanding beauty.
La Concaliere Cave is one of the most beautiful and visited cave sites in Europe. A guided tour through the 1200m gallery takes you past eccentric shapes of stalactites and stalagmites mirrored in smooth underground waters ending in a Neolithic and Bronze Age presentation.
Return by little train through the garrigue landscape and look for the dolmen and a drystone hut known as capitelle. Open all day 1000 - 1800 1 July to 31 Aug; 1000 - 1200 and 1400 - 1700 15 March to 30 June and holidays in Sept.