The Tradition of Freedom

A rather grandiloquent title for a blog post, I know, but I have taken it in direct translation from the website of the supporters of the Piémançon beaches. You probably won’t have heard of the beaches: indeed, nor had I until Jo and I were struck by the unusually large number of motorhomes passing us close to the coast in the Camargue on the last day of April. Turning our binoculars to the horizon at the far end of the road, we could see a large gathering of caravans and windows glinting in the sun. Paying no heed to the sat nav’s entreaty that there was nothing to see here, we drove to the far end of the truly remote D36D in the midst of the Camargue’s network of lagoons and joined the other campers.

On arriving, we were wary of the rough-looking groups of permanent travellers and their assorted ancient lorries, but I managed to find a small knot of repectable-looking Germans to ask what was going on. As it turns out, the vast, flat beaches of Piémançon are opened by the authorities – albeit reluctantly – between 1st May and 30th September as (what the aforementioned website refers to as) “the last wild campsite in Europe“. An area near the end of the road is reserved for family-friendly camping, whilst in the distance to the east, sheltered from casual visitors, a naturist section is a temporary home to those who (according to their website) visit year in and year out.

As a one-time visitor, I was most impressed by the community spirit of the gathering group, sharing excitement about being allowed onto the beach the following day. The police, it turns out, are even prepared to spend hours clearing the beach of campers right up to the day before the official start of the season. The visual spectacle of a series of cars towing caravans in varying states of roadworthiness through the standing pools of water on the sand was pretty memorable, as was seeing some of the four wheel drive vehicles shuttling back and forth, as if to revel in the fact that they were finally off-road.

I asked, seeing the shore road lined with spectators watching the regulation-breakers, whether many just couldn’t wait until the next day and whether they were deliberately provoking the authorities.

With a shrug, a member of the German group said, “well, that’s the French for you”.