Riding on the hills

A few hours south of Bordeaux is the Armagnac region. This sleepy and undiscovered part of rural France offers a quiet getaway from April to November in countryside is full of vineyards, natural forests, sunflower fields, hidden lakes and pine plantations. There is hardly any need to ride on any roads except to admire the traditional local villages. The horseback riding is at a fast pace on well-schooled and reliable horses.

The point-to-point trek is unguided and for experienced horseback riders only, who are confident and capable of looking after horses unaided by a guide.

It is recommended that riders are able to speak a few words of French for this trail as in rural France few locals speak or understand English. Accommodation varies from gîtes to chambre d’hôte in rural farms, with hosts who are always welcoming. An aperitif of the local Armagnac is never far away.

Please Note: The opinions expressed in these reviews are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Unicorn Trails Ltd. These reviews are "directly from the horses mouth" and unedited. Unicorn Trails may make additional comments for clarification clearly identified in red.

Review received from RS of Albuquerque on 10/11/2023

Ride Summary
What was your overall impression of the holiday
Overall impression
Unicorn Trails sales staff

Riding tour leader

Additional Comments
Horses and Tack

Additional Comments
Meals

Accommodation

Miscellaneous

Was this trip accurately described to you beforehand?
YES
Please give more details to explain your response:
Was there anything you should have known and were not told? NO
Please give more details to explain your response:
What could we do to improve this ride?
How would you rate the difficulty of this ride out of 10 where 1 is very easy and 10 is very advanced?
0
Please explain why you scored it as you did:
As a unguided ride, you can choose your own difficulty, so n/a
Would you recommend Unicorn Trails to your friends?
YES
Please give more details to explain your response:
We are so lucky to find this unguided ride! I hope you will add more. Trip of a lifetime.
May we use you as a reference for other people wishing to go on this ride?
YES
Any other comments:
We hope you can add more unguided rides! We are eager to take them.
Unicorn comments: Thank you for your feedback. Glad you had a great time! :)

Day 1
Arrive at stables by 5pm. Welcome drink, introduction to the horses. Discussion and explanation of the route with the map. Drive to Gentiane (5min drive) where guests enjoy an aperitif and then dinner.

Day 2
The first day of the trek riders head east. A disused railway provides plenty of opportunities for long canters.  Follow the Grand Randonne route for a while. This makes up part of the Pilgrims route to Santiago de Compostella. Riders end the day near the village of Montréal du Gers after about 5 hours of riding.

Day 3
Today riders will head north. There is the opportunity to visit the bastide of Fourcés and Villeneuve de Mézin along the way. The terrain is full of rolling hills with lovely small paths. Riders end the day at a country house in the forest. (approx 5-6 hours of riding)

Day 4
Today riders will follow a large looped trail into the forest to the north and visit the little village of Barbaste, then back to the country house to sleep.

Day 5
Riders start the day continuing through the forest. There are some chances or fast canters along the sandy tracks. Upon reaching the village of Sos, riders will turn north and make an extra loop along some particularly good riding paths and undulating terrain with lovely views. Spend the evening and have dinner in a comfortable guest house. The owner's command of English is not good, but can make themselves understood with mime and a lot of hand gestures!  (Approx. 5-6 hours riding)

Day 6
Today riders head back home via a former railway track and enjoy lunch at the ruins of an old church. Depending on weather and the group, there is a choice of long, medium or short option to ride the horses back to the field.

Day 7
Breakfast and say goodbye before transferring to Gabarret to catch the 8.29 bus to Marmande.

Please follow this link for a map of this itinerary: Armagnac Trail

Please note that for unguided trails it is necessary for the group to have good map reading skills and be able to read a compass.
It is also very important that the group has a certain degree of horsemanship, you will be required to ensure the well being of your horse at all times.
If either of these factors are compromised your host reserves the right to send along a guide with the group.

Please note: All itineraries are given for your guidance only and it may be altered on the ground and in accordance with the prevailing conditions by the organising team.

Horses & Riding

There is a choice of 8 experienced trail horses that are familiar with the terrain and area. All are well cared for and loved. They range from steady warm bloods to fast Arab X horses, thoroughbred and X, Arab and X, Camargue and X. All horses have been well schooled and use English tack. Riders will be provided with saddle bags for picnic lunches, water bags etc The terrain varies from open rolling hills alongside arable land to long tracks in shady woods with sandy ground. It is perfect for long trots and canters. There are well marked routes and maps to follow for unguided riding.


Rider requirements

•Comfortable spending up to seven hours a day in the saddle.
•The riding is at all paces depending on riding ability. A lot of ground is covered and there are many opportunities to trot, canter and gallop.
•Must be over 12 years of age and be capable of controlling a horse at a walk, trot and canter.

Weight limit: 14 stone (90 kg)

Please note that for unguided trails it is necessary for the group to have good map reading skills and be able to read a compass as well as having a few words of French.

It is also very important that the group has a certain degree of horsemanship, you will be required to ensure the well being of your horse at all times.

If either of these factors are compromised your host reserves the right to send along a guide with the group. This may incur an extra cost.

Weight Limit

The weight limit for this ride is 198 lb/90 kg, please enquire if you are an experienced rider exceeding this weight.

As each night is spent in a different location, there is a wonderful variety of accommodation and meals on this ride . Every night's lodging has a different character and views ranging from a house lost in the middle of the woods, to vistas over rolling French countryside. All are clean and offer hot showers and comfortable beds. Some include private bathroom facilities and there are swimming pools at two venues.



The food on the ride is varied and tasty. Dinners start with an aperitif, usually the local Armagnac, followed by a three course meal. They are home cooked by the hosts and give you a real insight into French home life. The hosts will usually join the group round the table. Lunches are usually a picnic with sandwiches and some fruit. Breakfast is usually in the traditional French style - coffee/tea or hot chocolate served in large bowls, orange juice, French bread, toast, butter, jam as well as cheese, hams and often eggs.



The accommodation is in individual rural houses with French hosts. The horses stay in paddocks outside the house. There are a limited number of rooms in some houses. No single supplement is possible as riders may have to share if there are more than three people on the ride. Accommodation may be substituted for home stays of a similar quality if the ones usually used are not available. As a guest in their homes, riders have an opportunity to meet real people living on the land from all walks of life. Riders will get more enjoyment on the holiday is they speak some French, and in 3 places the hosts speak very limited English.


Vegetarian or other dietary requirements within reason can be accommodated with advance notice. Please contact Unicorn Trails with requests before booking.

Documents - Visa and Consulate Info

Please note that it is your responsibility to ensure you have the correct documentation in place for your trip.

NB: Be sure to check the COVID status of the country you plan to visit including entry procedures and requirements while travelling.

Passport and Visa requirements can change regularly depending on diplomatic relations. Please request information from the appropriate Consulate in your home country.

Unicorn Trails will assist with any questions you have or supply any necessary supporting documents as required by the consulate should you need a visa.

In the UK the British Foreign Office gives advice: https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/france

In the USA: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages/France.html

In Canada: https://travel.gc.ca/destinations/france

Climate Summary

The best time to take part in the trek is between March and October. The climate is warm in the spring and autumn and can be hot in the middle of the day in summer.

Climate Chart

Health

COVID: Be sure to check the latest COVID regulations for travelling in any country you visit.

Please refer to your country’s latest health guideline for travel in France and contact your own GP for up to date advice on vaccinations and prophylaxis prior to travel.


Please take along sun cream and anti-allergy medicine for possible insect bites.

The emergency phone number in France is 112. If you need to contact other emergency services, call 15 (medical), 17 (police) or 18 (fire).

Electricity

In France the supply voltage is 230V. If the appliance is a single voltage rated appliance, it will need to operate at the same voltage as the supply voltage of the country i.e. 230V. If this is not the case it should be used alongside a voltage transformer or converter to allow the appliance to work safely and properly.

Mobile, WiFi and charging

Good quality film is widely available for purchase as well as batteries (normal, alkaline and lithium).

Packing List

Riding pants - jeans or breeches
Riding boots, paddock boots or Riding sneakers (with heel)
Half chaps (optional)
Hard hat (recommended)
Riding hat with brim
Riding gloves
Swimsuit
Beach towel
Lipbalm with sunscreen
Insect repellent
Sunblock
Sunglasses
Plastic bags for wet clothing
T-shirts and shorts
Mobile phone
Camera and film
Long sleeved shirts
Binoculars (recommended)
Informal wear for evenings
Copy of your passport
Lightweight rainwear

For the unguided trail;
Compass
Mobile phone
Small pocket knife

Items provided on both trails;
Saddle bag
Water bottles


Programmes

This is a 7 day/6 night programme with 5 days riding available weekly from April to mid October.

Departure Dates

2024: Sundays from 7 April to mid October.

Pricing
No single rooms available (on some or all nights). Riders must be prepared to share with someone of the same sex.


No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description £
20247d/6n5double pp965
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description
20247d/6n5double pp1,099
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description US $
20247d/6n5double pp1,269
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description SEK
20247d/6n5double pp13,255
Recommended Reading

The Road from the Past: Traveling through History in France - Ina Caro



Theodore Zeldin ‘The French’,



Francoise Sagan ‘Bonjour Tristesse’,



Peter Mayle ‘A Year in Provence’ and ‘Toujours Provence’,



Louis Stevensons ‘Travels with a Donkey’ and



For the equestrian traveller who would like to see what is possible on horseback, visit www.thelongridersguild.com. An excellent source of equestrian travel books is www.horsetravelbooks.com  


Other Activities

With car rental - walking, wine and armagnac tasting and cultural visits to nearby towns and villages are all possible.

Other Information

It is advantageous if you can speak a little French - you are in the countryside and your hosts and locals are most interested in visitors, especially on horseback.

Other Country Information

The French wrote the book on la vie en rose and gave the world champagne and camembert, de Beauvoir and Debussy, the Tour de France and the Eiffel Tower. It is a country steeped in history. Staggering monasteries and castles dotted all over the country are a reminder of a turbulent and often violent past, especially in the Carcasonne region where the Gnostic Christian organisation the Cathars held fast against a crusade launched in the 11th century by an angry and vengeful Catholic church for over twenty years. Despite their vow of non-violence they had a strong support base, including the Knights Templar, and their name often pops up in the legend of the Holy Grail.

The French character has undoubtedly been influenced by their past, today they are a proud and patriotic people famed for enjoying the finer things in life and displaying a great generosity character in their willingness to share their country with the millions of visitors they receive each year.

Food is very important in French culture, almost a passion. Families eat dinner together late in the evening and their diet is usually very healthy, packed with home grown fruit and vegetables. You will hardly ever see anyone eating on the street; if you do chances are they're not French!

France is one hour ahead of GMT and they use the metric weights and measures system, so kilometres and kilograms instead of miles and pounds. There is approximately 1.6 kilometres in a mile and 2.2 pounds in a kilogram. The international dialling code for France is +33.

Travel Summary

Meeting-point (getting there):
At the stables
Transfer:
2024: Catch the train from Bordeaux to Mont de Marson. From Mont de Marson catch the bus to the stables by 5pm (the bus waits for the train on Sundays). (subject to change)
Flight Guide:
London - Bordeaux approx £45 pp return. Please see "getting there" for flight information
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