Tag: abrivado

tour south france

Tour South France for White Horses on the Beach

When I heard there were going to be white horses racing on the beach at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, I couldn’t wait to get there. I sent a note to my photographer friend, Alan McBride, and suggested he join me with his fancy cameras. It was an event neither of us should miss!

tour south france

Abrivado Saintes-Marie-de-la-Mer


Not knowing what we were getting into, Alan and I determined a meeting place near the seaside town so we could drive together for photos and a story. All we knew from the online promotion was that there was an Abrivado taking place somewhere near Saintes-Maries-De-la-Mer. Since it’s a small town we felt confident that we couldn’t miss hundreds of horses and riders.

Wrong. The town looked deserted.

“Let’s head out the beach road,” Alan suggested, hoping we hadn’t missed it all. (I might add here that neither Alan nor I speak or read French. It’s very possible we’d misunderstood the promo.)

There on the road to the beach we began to see a few people on horseback and others walking.  A few cars were parked towards the far end of the beach road. Apparently we were headed the right way. We followed the traffic of people, horses and vehicles which was increasing as we walked along. Boldly I stopped several “pilgrims” to ask: “Do you speak English?”  Then to query “Where does the event start?” The only answer I got in return was a hand signal “straight ahead.”  So there we went – straight ahead down the road that paralleled the beach.

About this time I was getting concerned about taking photos to show off the event. “If the horses and riders come from in front of us, and the sun is shining on the water like it is now, how can you take pictures straight into the sun?”  Alan seemed nonplussed. “OK,” I said to myself. “He’s the pro. He must have a plan.” We kept walking along with the others.

By the time we were a good mile or so down the road, the numbers of observers increased significantly. Apparently they had gotten the information to approach the event from another vantage point. Never mind. We were on the way … hopefully not too late. Along with the others, we crossed a gully of water and climbed a slight sand bar to get closer to the sea. Once on the beach we saw there were gatherings of kindred folk who had set up viewing spots. As much as I would have liked to join them for a tumbler of wine, we kept walking. Our intent was to get to a point where Alan could take the best shots.

“Are we there yet?” I asked, repeatedly. We kept walking.

Then … straight ahead … we saw and heard a “crack” of light and fire… and hundreds of horses, riders and people were lined up.  They headed our way!

To my surprise there were bulls in between the horses and riders. What was I thinking? An “abrivado” Of course there were bulls! 

As the through of horses, bulls and humans passed, it was exhilarating. “When do they run through water?” I shouted to Alan.

That’s when he made his move.  He’d observed there was another group of horses and riders and bulls at the “starting line.”  Another running of the bulls was ready to take off. In an instant, Alan disappeared. I looked back and watched him head for the beach road.  Up and over the sand bar. Through the water, then to the side of the road.  I ran to join him just before … behind me …the sight I was waiting for… horses in the water! The riders on horses were rushing the bulls through the gully. Splash! The herd followed en masse. They headed for a pool of water at the end of the road.

Oh that I had only known the rules of the game … the course of the Abrivados But … who cares!?? Could there be anything better than this?

I’m not certain how many “runs” were made that morning along the beach at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. Almost as quickly as it started, it was over. The movement of people, beasts and vehicles headed back the way we started — towards town.  Soon we were in a “traffic jam.” Rather than fight the crowd, we did what any story-teller and photographer would do. We watched and took advantage of the photo opportunity.

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Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this tour South France and the telling of the Abrivados at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. Thanks so very much to Alan McBride for making our day so memorable with his amazing vision and his artful photography.

For more about the white horses and the Camargues:

7 Reasons You Should Go To The Camargue

Back to the Camargue: The White Horses

A Most Unusual Place for a French Vineyard


Uzes Fete Votive

Summer’s in Full Swing in the South of France: It’s Uzès Fete Votive

There’s lots going on and plenty of people around to enjoy Uzès Fete Votive.

Uzès Fete Votive

A summer event that everyone looks forward to attending is Uzès Fete Votive. A few posts ago I was raving about the Fete and saying how happy I was that it was coming back to Uzes soon. The long weekend event I remembered had been spectacular. In fact, I wondered how this year’s activities could equal the previous ones. Sad to say, I was disappointed with the attraction I enjoy the most– the Procession of Pégoulade — the parade down main street.

But who wouldn’t be excited about this? As good as it gets!

Uzes Fete Votive

Abrivado in Uzes for Fete Votive 2016

What is a Fete Votive?

Uzes Fete Votive

St. Theodoret Cathedral n Uzes

Fete Votives are celebrations with long traditions in many villages throughout the south of France. The festivals were customarily held at the end of harvest time. Today you see signs announcing various Fete Votives anytime during summer and fall. The event honors the patron saint of the town. In Uzès the patron is Saint Theodoret of Antioch — the saint for whom the beautiful cathedral that stands majestically in the town is named. (The story of Saint Theodoret looks like something I’m going to explore for a future post. Stay tuned ….)

When Fete Votive comes to town, you know it’s here when metal barricades are set up alongside the main street, Boulevard Gambetta.  Running the bulls and horses is one of the first events — sponsored by various Abrivado clubs from the area and from as far away as the Camargue.  The town awards coveted prizes to the clubs that are the best animal handlers.

While an Abrivado looks like a mad rush of animals, riders and young men who follow behind grabbing at the bulls, it’s pretty much orchestrated and managed. There are stories, however, of bulls that break into the crowd — or spectators who get in the way of the “stampede.” Note: bull’s horns are covered with leather protectors, but just the force of a bull is enough to keep me out of the way! (Except to take photos, of course.)

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Uzes Fete Votive

Steak tartare at Ma Cantine

Uzès Fete Votive Fun with Friends

Activities for the Fete Votive seem endless. To be honest, I go to just a few. Getting together with friends for the Abrivado and the parade that follows is my own sort of tradition. This year, dinner at Ma Cantine was our place to be. The cafe is located right alongside Boulevard Gambetta. My friends and I didn’t miss a thing!  Ma Cantine offers house specialties during Fete Votive that include their freshly hand-chopped steak tartare. It’s not one of my favourite dishes, but plenty of visitors and locals love it. Add a bit of hot sauce and crispy fries on the side and my friends who tried it were in heaven.

Procession of Pégoulade

After dinner and close to dark it was time for us to leave Ma Cantine and join the crowds waiting for the Procession of Pégoulade – a parade that starts at the Cathedral and ends at the bottom of  the Boulevard. This year ‘s parade had a “back to the future” theme with a “robotic” float — ‘Turbulence Steampunk.” It was a ambidextrous steam engine with psychedelic lights and loud, booming music. Along with the float were “blowers”in belle époque costumes who ran in front and around the float shooting streamers of coloured paper and confetti at everything and everyone in sight.Behind the “blowers” were ladies wearing flowing silk dresses who were walking effortlessly on stilts. They thrilled admirers by stooping over to paint elegant designs on the faces and arms of any who stepped forward. The Fete Votive procession, with fewer and less grand floats than previous years’, was still an amazing sight to see as the process glided down the boulevard, silhouetted against the ancient buildings of Uzes.

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So … the challenge “how will they top the past years’ Procession of Pégoulade?” is answered. But there’s always next year.

Maybe you’ll be here to see it for yourself!

For photos and sounds from previous Fete Votive parades in Uzes, click here.


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