A few hours south of Bordeaux you pass through the Armagnac region, this sleepy and undiscovered part of rural France offers a quiet getaway from April to November. The countryside is full of vineyards, natural forests, sunflower fields, hidden lakes and pine plantations. There is hardly any need to ride on the roads except to admire the traditional local villages. The riding is at a fast pace on well-schooled and reliable horses.
The point to point trek is unguided and for experienced 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, your hosts are always welcoming and 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 CM of ROSS-ON-WYE on 04/10/2018
Pick up at Mont de Marsan Railway Station or arrive by car 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.
The first day of our trek riders head east. A disused railway provides plenty of opportunities for long canters. For a part of the way we follow the Grand Randonne route which makes 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.
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 with a swimming pool, owned by a French couple. Again about 5-6 hours of riding.
Today riders will make a big loop in the forest to the north and visit the little village of Barbaste, then back to the country house to sleep.
Riders continue on in the forest at first with some ideal opportunities for fast canters along the sandy tracks. Upon reaching the ancient village of Sos riders will turn north and make an extra loop along some particularly good riding paths and undulating terrain with lovely views. This evening guests again find a lovely French couple where the Madame of the house cooks a very good and welcome meal. Monsieur speaks some English and can communicate with hands and expression besides! Again 5-6 hours riding.
Today riders head back home, via a former railway track and we can enjoy lunch at a very old, ruined church lost in nature. There is a choice of long, medium or short option to ride your horses back to their field.
After breakfast a last goodbye as guests depart to the train station.
Please follow this link for a map of this itinerary: Armagnac Trail
The French - Theodore Zeldin
Bonjour Tristesse - Francoise Sagan
A Year in Provence and Toujours Provence - Peter Mayle
Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes and the Amateur Emigrant - Louis Stevensons
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.
There is a choice of 8 well cared for and loved horses. They are experienced trail horses and familiar with the terrain and area. They range from steady warm bloods to fast Arab X horses, all very well schooled. There are Thoroughbred and X, Arab and X, Camargue and X. The tack used on this ride is English and you will be provide with saddle bags for your picnic lunch, 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.
•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.
The weight limit for this ride is 14 st/198 lb/90 kg, please enquire if you are an experienced rider exceeding this weight.
There are a wonderful variety of accommodation and meals on this ride, as each night is spent in a different location. Every night's lodging has a different character and view ranging from a house lost in the middle of the woods to views over rolling French countryside. All are clean, offer hot showers and comfortable beds. Some include private bathroom facilities and on two nights have swimming pools. The food on the ride is varied and delicious. Dinners start with an aperitif, usually the local Armagnac, followed by a three course meal. They are home cooked by your hosts and give you a real insight into French home life. Your hosts usually join you 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. In most places your hosts will join you for aperitif and dinner. You are a guest in their home and have an opportunity to meet real people living on the land from all walks of life. You will get more out of this aspect if you speak some French, in 3 places your hosts speak limited English.
Vegetarian or other dietary requirements can be accommodated with advanced notice. Please contact Unicorn Trails with requests.
Please note that it is your responsibility to ensure you have the correct documentation in place for your trip. If Visa’s are required the requirements can change from year to year 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 on request.
Visa are not required for U.K. or other European nationals. In the UK the British Foreign Office gives travel advice on travel insurance, passport and visas, health and vaccinations, legal issues and emergency issues. They can be reached on 0207 008 0232/0233 or at www.fco.gov.uk.
The British Consulate in Paris is at 35 rue de Faubourg St Honore, 75383 Paris Cedex 08. Tel + (33) 1 44 51 31 00. Email: email@example.com.
The French Embassy in the U.K can be found at 58 Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7JT. Telephone: (020) 7073 1000. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
No special health precautions are required for visits to France, for further details please see your local doctor. We do advise taking plenty of sunscreen!
For up to date information on specific health concerns please contact the Medical Advisors For Travellers Abroad. Their website can be found at www.masta.org.
Voltage is the same as in the UK and most appliances such as battery chargers for videos, hair dryers etc. can be plugged in with appropriate adapters. These are available for purchase at most airports and travel shops.
Good quality film is widely available for purchase as well as batteries (normal, alkaline and lithium).
Riding pants - jeans or breeches
Riding boots, paddock boots or Riding sneakers (with heel)
Half chaps (optional)
Hard hat (recommended)
Riding hat with brim
Lipbalm with sunscreen
Plastic bags for wet clothing
T-shirts and shorts
All terrain sandals
Camera and film
Long sleeved shirts
Informal wear for evenings
Copy of your passport
For the ungiuded trail;
Small pocket knife
Items provided on both trails;
This is a 7 day/6 night programme with 5 days riding available weekly from April to October.
2019: Sundays from April to mid October, dates by arrangement
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Theodore Zeldin ‘The French’, Francoise Sagan ‘Bonjour Tristesse’, Peter Mayle ‘A Year in Provence’ and ‘Toujours Provence’, Louis Stevensons ‘Travels with a Donkey’ and Henry James ‘A Little Town In France’. For the equestrian traveller who would like to see what is possible on horseback visit www.thelongridersguild.com also a fantastic place to acquire your equestrian travel books is www.horsetravelbooks.com
With car rental - walking, wine and armagnac tasting and cultural visits to nearby towns and villages are all possible.
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.
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 puritanical. 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.