Wild Horses, Bulls, and the Gypsy Spirit
One of France’s most enchanting hotels lies on a 200-acre working ranch in the heart of the intriguing region known as the Camargue, along France’s southern coast. A microcosm of the area’s wild, rugged scenery, the ranch is both a government-protected bird sanctuary (known for its flocks of pink flamingos) and the final frontier for the gardians, some of the last cowboys in Europe.
You can ride out on one of the 300 snow-white Camargue horses or help the herders gather the stocky black Camargue bulls, which are raised for races. At the heart of this wilderness stands Le Mas de Peint, an unassuming 17th-century stone farmhouse. Its spacious, uncluttered interior reflects the delightful style and restraint, relaxed simplicity and luxury’ of Camargue tradition.
Antique pieces enhance the cool common areas and ten spacious guest rooms. There are plumped, overstuffed armchairs dressed in natural fabrics; the crisp linen sheets are embroidered with the branding symbol of the ranch; and a young chef works sophisticated wonders from produce grown on the farm.
Try to visit the area at the end of May, in order to witness the annual Gypsy Pilgrimage in honor of their protectress, Sarah. During this festive Grand Pelerinage, the village of Stes. Maries-de-la-Mer vibrates with the color and rhythms of more than 20,000 Gypsies (some from as far away as Hungary and Romania) as they sing and dance in homage to the servant girl believed to have come from Egypt, the alleged ancestral home of today’s European gitane race.
The legend goes that Sarah accompanied Mary Magdalene, Martha, Mary Jacobe, and Mary Salome, all followers of Jesus, in A.D. 40, when they where exiled from ancient Judea. Their boat, without sails or oars, miraculously arrived on the shores of the town that now bears their names, and whose local church is said to hold their bones.
Although never canonized, Sarah became the object of adoration of all Gypsies. On May 24, the day dedicated to the Saintes Maries, guitars appear and flamenco bursts out wherever more than two or three Gypsies are gathered. Their soulful music accompanies the wooden statue of Sarah in its annual procession to the sea.