If you went through the pony mad phase as a youngster but are now feeling a little timorous, or get hot under the bridle at the thought of riding the range and sleeping under the stars, there is a solution for you, without having to trot around a ring with a rosy-faced instructor barking at you.
If Guardian journalist Kevin Rushby can overturn his pre-conception that all equines are biting, kicking, foul tempered beasts, (after a break with his wife and gung-ho six year old daughter in the Alpes-Maritimes) http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2010/mar/20/france-provence-horse-riding?INTCMP=SRCH - so can you.
The Alpes-Maritimes has it all; and much more excitement lurks behind the hedonistic strip which is the French Riviera. Denis Longfellow, http://www.horseandventures.com/ a native Californian, has lived in “06” for the last 30 odd years, and has shepherded a variety of animals around this fantastic countryside during this time. He now has a troupe of about 25 horses which spend their time between Sainte-Agnès and the Mercantour National Park further to the North.
In the sleepy village of Sainte-Agnès, it always pays to keep your eyes peeled, as there is sometimes more than the hairpin bends to contend with!!
At about 1000m above the Med and Menton, the village has immediate “kerb appeal” for walkers, cyclists and riders and is the highest hanging village on the Mediterranean. Despite its proximity to the coast and “honey pot” villages such as Eze, Sainte-Agnès has maintained an unspoilt character. No five star hotels and villas here.
The said “perils” to traffic - the horses - are often grazing in the fields around the village and are rounded up when they are required to earn their keep. The saddling up process takes place in the lower village square, and the prospect, interspersed with lycra clad sweaty cyclists, and would be horse whisperers, is quite a scene!
During the winter, Denis usually just offers rides at the weekends, plus courses during school holidays. However, if you have a group of six or so, he will set up a tailor-made trip.
Don’t be nervous as you eye up your half ton of horse flesh, the team is obedient, sure-footed and nice natured. The saddles are comfortable, and hackamore bridles are used, preventing novices from tugging too much at the poor mount’s sensitive mouth, while allowing that great “John Wayne” sensation. Denis is on hand to give instructions, but be prepared to “get on with it”. This short video, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BDdxT09kqyg
an extract from a recent programme - Des Racines et Des Ailes on FR3 – gives a good taste for what to expect!
The low lying hills around Saint-Agnès are ideal for horse riding and are laced with forestry tracks and pathways including the Grande Randonnée (GR) 51; but resist the temptation of turning your steed onto the super groomed greens of Monte Carlo golf club – it could be a very expensive five minutes of anarchy!!
Between the beginning of October and the middle of June, the weather is usually pretty good, (although – November 2011 – we have just had four solid days of rain and astonishing storms). There is only one “funny” – in the form of sea mist in the spring time, which adds to the atmosphere but does little to dampen the spirits.
With a solid animal doing most of the hard work for you, although do not imagine that riding out with Denis is merely just sitting aside your mount!, this is the most wonderful way for nature lovers to enjoy a different perspective.
While you may not see all the minutiae on the ground, you are free to enjoy the movement of the horse, and take a good look around you. And there is no shortage of things to look at – 360 degrees of splendour – from the Mediterranean glittering in the distance, to the stunning massif of the Mercantour to the North.
As the sun sets to the South, riders can reward themselves with chilled glass of rosé in the Michelin starred view (but non Michelin priced good food) at Le Righi restaurant, and exchange tall tales.
Your “sea legs” gained, consider taking the three day ride (sometimes more) from Sainte-Agnès to Le Boréon, which is Denis’ summer base. The ride is arduous, peppered with great picnics, and super home made food in the evenings, but a real adventure. You will be astounded by the fitness of the horses, and your own ability to hang on in there.
The summer season is in Alpine terrain in the Mercantour National Park, which the horses hasten to get to, for all the lush grass they can feast on. This is after all a “transhumance”, the traditional movement of stock to pastures new during summer months.
Visitors can enjoy short rides around Le Boréon, or take off on a four day trip up and over the Mercantour ridges, into Italy. Denis’ chalet is located just next door to the Alpha wolf centre http://www.alpha-loup.com/accueil.php and the picturesque village of Saint Martin Vésubie. http://www.vesubie-mercantour.com/
Information & Contact Details
Denis is in Sainte Agnès from the end of September each year to the middle of June. In the summer months he stays in Le Boréon valley above Saint Martin Vésubie, where visitors can stay in his chalet or yourtes. In addition to day rides, and the “must do” bi-annual Transhumance between the two sites, riding courses and tailor made trips are organised throughout the year.
Tel: 00 33 (0)622 295 886
Places to stay and eat
Le Righi – good home made food and a great view
Mr and Mrs DUJARDIN
Avenue du Château
Tel: 00 33 (0)4 92 10 90 88
Le Saint-Yves Hotel – family run hotel with traditional fare
76 rue des Sarrasins
06500 Sainte Agnès
Tel: 00 33 (0)4 93 35 91 45
O à La Bouche – restaurant above the Alpha wolf centre – well cooked food
Tel: 00 33 (0)4 93 03 33 77
Chalet Longfellow – chalet for up to 13 people during the winter – summer accommodation in the chalet and yourtes.
MERCANTOUR ACCOMMODATION AND HOLIDAYS
Spacebetween Berthemont les Bains
Tel: 00 33 (0)4 93 03 48 57
Christian Lorenzetti Valdeblore
Tel: 00 33 (0)6 22 068 63 93