Thursday, 26 January 2012
If you like big Nature and big adventure for your holiday experience - you could not fail to be entranced by this great short video - (edited by Moovr.fr) from a French TV programme "Des Racines et des Ailes" which concentrates its programming on innovative people who are making their living in positive ways in the countryside. Astonishing to see the natural beauty of the landscape just behind the French Riviera and a one-off guy who enables you to enjoy all this from the back of a horse. Denis Longfellow is a characterful Californian who has lived in France for thirty odd years and loves his troupeau, his winters in Sainte Agnes and of course his summers in Le Boreon, near Saint Martin Vesubie, in the Mercantour. If you are fit and confident there is no reason why you can't join Denis on his exploits in the Alpes-Maritimes. This is not a a dull plod on the back of a de-motivated riding school pony - but a horse riding holiday that you will never forget.
Excellent to see this great reportage about the hanging village of Sainte Agnes - just behind the Italianate town of Menton on the French Riviera. The winter base of spacebetween's horse partner Denis Longfellow, the village is stacked full of charm (and lovely people as the video shows!) and it remarkably unspoilt - given its proximity to the coast - about 4 miles as the crow flies but a windy (full of bends not wind!!) climb to about 1000m. It is justifiably renowned as one of the prettiest villages in France, and makes a perfect centre for a walking, or riding holiday, rolling hills with excellent views down to the Mediterranean to the South and the magnificent Mercantour National Park to the North. What a place to be!!! Finish the day with a mooch around Fred's lovely stained glass shop and a traditional meal (no frozen ready meals here) in either the Hotel Saint Yves - a family run friendly hotel and resto, or the Righi - with a Michelin star view and great value prices.
Contact spacebetween for more details - details of their holiday week is here http://www.space-between.co.uk/walking-holiday-france-ste-agnes.html plus there is also the possibility to rent a house for up to 10 in the summer months.
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
How to find out more?
Tel: 00 33 (0)4 93 03 48 57
Contact: Liz Lord & Mel Jones
We are just offering our final places for our winter walking holidays in the Mercantour for the winter season 2011/2012.
It is great to see that snow shoeing is gaining in popularity - and you don't have to be a super fit hard nut to enjoy the sport either!!! The crazies might be interested in snow shoe running events - yes really - but for most mere mortals - snow shoes are an excellent way of getting out in the white stuff with minimal effort.
Snow shoes - used by Man for centuries used to be tennis racquet type affairs - formerly crafted from wood and animal gut - which attached to the foot allowed hunters and keen beans, the chance to move around in the snow, without sinking in too much. Today, and fortunately, the equipment is more sophisticated. The cheaper end of the market does recreate the tennis effect, but these shoes, with rubber attachments are best avoided as you slide around like nobodies business. Best to stick with a reliable brand such as TSL - these wonder items - can be adjusted to fit your boot size and have attachments around the toe and the ankle area. Wearers are armed (or footed!) with a studded base, and a super evil front "claw" which can be kicked into snow on steep inclines, It is best to leave the base plate loose from your foot on ascent, or even engage the natty "heel" which raises the back of your foot and puts less strain on your calves. Coming down hill - and to prevent balling up of the snow (surprisingly heavy!) - it is best to attach the base plate so there is no flapping around and you can floof (spacebetween trademark verb!) downhill - scree running style with less danger. This also avoids the risk of making an unside down "v" with your snow shoe - not recommended at all!
What we at spacebetween particularly like about snow shoeing is its suitability for all ages, sizes and fitness levels and the opportunity it gives to get off piste and into the wilderness. In the Mercantour , we have little shortage of that!!! Starting out in at say 1700m in a snow free zone, it might seem a pest to have to strap the blighters to your ruck sack but once you are in the snow - you will be grateful indeed. It's also useful to pack a pair of rubber over shoes into your sack for areas of little snow but some ice - these are cheap, compact, and easy to pack away.
You quickly gain confidence in your snow shoes and just need to remember to walk a little like a duck (legs slightly apart), so you don't fall over your feet. Sure it's quite strenuous exercise but you can take it all at your own pace. Poles are a great boon, allowing you to get into a rythmn, nordic walking style, plus offer a bit of support for difficult traverses.
Minded to act to get away from grey skies in the UK and into some great walking terrain - well give us a shout.
It’s hard to imagine even today what drew early Man to this remote valley in the Mercantour – the Alpes-Maritimes’ natural treasure trove.
They leave a truly incredible insight into their unique culture which can really be brought to life with a visit accompanied by a local guide. (Many of the most interesting carvings can only be explored with a guide).
Over the years the valley was left to enjoy its isolation as many considered that the valley was a place of ill omen. The combination of frequent violent thunder storms (attracted to Mount Bego) and the eerie carvings, creating much fear through the vivid imagination of early inhabitants.
In more rational times in the late 19th century, Englishman Clarence Bicknell made the first detailed study of the carvings (The French dispute this of course!). Over the course of twenty one years he documented over 12000 carvings. Subsequent studies have “unearthed” many thousands more. The images are simplistic in their nature, depicting animals, weapons and tools, geometric shapes, figures, and abstract forms.
To say much more about their meaning would be to spoil the fun of an evocative day out in the Merveilles!! Go and see for yourself!
Just under three quarters of visitors to the Mercantour come to explore the Merveilles valley – yet it remains surprising that most Anglo Saxons don’t seem to be aware of this (proposed) World Heritage Site.
Until recently the valley was only accessible on foot. This can be done from either – the west – from the Gordolasque valley (from the Vésubie) or from the Minière valley – the east (from the Roya).
From the east, despite the fact that visitors can enjoy an hour or so in the very interesting Tende museum, the walk is easier but less exciting, especially when the silence is broken by the 4x4s, now (fingers crossed – not for much longer) allowed to ply their way up the valley.
No point in donning your boots at the moment as there will still be two metres of snow up in the valley. The best time of year to go is in June or July when the sight of the wild flowers is enough to make even a grown man weep, or in the autumn when colours are starting to turn.
If you want to stay over, avoid the Merveilles refuge at any time of year, and instead either wild camp, (six or more people can stay in a teepee – contact us about this!) or head to the Fontanalbe refuge.