This circular horseback riding trail explores the Chinon and South Touraine, in the Loire valley, riding at a good pace past its picturesque medieval chateaux, vineyards and the ancient fortresses of rural France. The landscape is varied, with rolling hills, forests, rivers and French villages, each one unique. This equestrian vacation includes a visit to a vineyard for wine tasting and the Chateau of Chinon. Sense the history of this area made famous by Joan of Arc, who embodies the national spirit of France aboard Arab, Berber and Spanish cross horses. Accommodation is in comfortable gites and includes a night in a monastery. Luggage is transported by vehicle. 

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Day 1
Arrive in Usseau in the afternoon. Meet the host and fellow riders over dinner and settle in for an overnight stay in the gîte on-site or in a nearby guesthouse.

Day 2: Richelieu
After breakfast, ride across the hilly landscapes of the North of Vienne. Picturesque mansions and chateaux are dotted across the hillside and the area has light sandy soil, perfect for growing melons and asparagus. 
At noon, stop for lunch in the small medieval villge of Faye la Vineusee.
In the afternoon we will ride northwards to the city of Richelieu, named after its famous cardinal, where we will have dinner and spend the night.

Day 3: Chinon
After breakfast, we ride through the narrow streets and across the square of Richelieu, passing the covered wooden hall, on out of the city northwards to the Veude Valley.
Lunch at Fontaine de Jable in the shade of poplar trees. 
In the afternoon, we ride towards the Chateau de Riveau and then join an old railway line to canter in the shade of the poplars. There is a short break in the small village of Riviere to see the beautiful church and then we ride on to the gite in Chinon in the afternoon and have dinner together later. 

Day 4: Winetasting and Bouchard Island
After breakfast, if you would like to, visit the Chateau de Chinon before we set off with the horses at about 10.30am. After riding across the town to the trail with views of the whole valley. This region is famous for its wine production. 
At noon we meet at a local vineyard for wine tasting and a cellar visit, then afterwards have lunch in Cravant les Coteaux.
In the afternoon, we visit Ile Bouchard where an apparition of the Virgin Mary appeared in 1947 in the church near the school. This quaint, quiet town is situated on the banks of the Vienne and if the weather and season permit, we can ride down to the river's edge to let the horses soak their feet. After this, we ride via the Priory of St Leonard and on to our accomodation at the former commandery. 

Day 5: The Abbey of Bois Aubry
After breakfast, the morning ride takes us over the plateau to the south, on sunken paths and through woodland and past numerous rural hamlets and villages.
Lunch is near Tour St Gelin where we can relax alongside the Mocrate Fountain covered in slate.
The afternoon ride takes us towards Bois Aubry, an abbey where a Gaulish Orthodox community live here at one with nature. Yul Brynner's ashes are buried here. 
Our accomodation and dinner tonight are near Luze.

Day 6: Over hills and back to Usseau
After breakfast, we ride across the hilly landscape, passing the Chateau de la Tour de Marmande, a former border surveillance tower (Poitou/Touraine), approx 30 meters high. We then descend into the valley to ride through the village of Marmande and then on to the small town of Mondion, with its 12th century church, for lunch nearby. 
After lunch, we ride through sheltered forests with quite mediterranean vegetation and pass the Chateau de la Motte d'Usseau perched on its promontory, before arriving back at Usseau, late in the afternoon.

Transfer to the TGV (train) station at the end of the day. There is the option to stay an extra night, payable on site.

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

The trail covers between 30-40km per day so the pace is reasonably quick, although there are sections of walking where riders can enjoy the beautiful surrounding countryside. Some sections of the trail are steep, meaning a slower pace but once the ground allows, expect plenty of canters.



The horses are mainly Arab, Berber and Anglo Arabs which live together as a herd all year round. They are of slight build and of a well balanced gentle and responsive nature, making them the ideal partner for this type of trail. For maximum comfort on the rides, purpose-made trail saddles are used and these are equipped with small saddle bags to carry your essentials in for the day.



Please note that riders are expected to get involved with grooming and tacking their own horses each day - although help and guidance is on hand is needed. Expect four to six hours a day in the saddle, so it is important to be as riding fit as possible.


Rider requirements

All riders should be at least intermediate level; happy and in control in walk, trot and canter, able to mount and dismount unaided and competent riding on steep terrain. You should also be riding fit and able to cover between 30-40km per day. The pace is varied, on steep sections the group will ride at a walk but will get faster as soon as the ground allows you to go forward.
The minimum age for this trail is 10 years old and children must be competent riders. Riding hats are compulsory and a selection are available to borrow although we recommend taking your own to ensure the best fit.

Weight Limit

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

Spend the first night of the ride at the host's base in Usseau. The accommodation is simple gîte-style rooms with shared bathrooms. During the trail riders will stay in small local hotels, guesthouses, gîtes and a night at a spartan monastery with bunkbeds and shared facilities, where the horses will stay in their herd in a nearby field. 



Breakfast is provided at each hotel/guesthouse and is usually a classic continental breakfast of bread, jams, pastries and cold meats and cheeses. Lunch is a picnic and is varied, it could be a salad with mixed vegetables, cheese etc or some hot food. The hosts try to offer various local products as much as possible. Dinner is usually served in the guesthouse or in a small restaurant. 

Drinks include tea, coffee and water as well as two glasses of excellent french wine per person at lunchtime. Alcoholic drinks or sodas are not included in the hotels and restaurants at dinner but can be purchased.



The ride finishes at around 17:30 on Day 6. There is an option to spend another night in Usseau at a local guesthouse or gite, and depart the next day after breakfast. The extra night can be paid for on-site, directly to the host.


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 Poitou-Charentes region, located in the south west of France is renowned for having one of the most pleasant climates in France along with the French Riviera. Winters are really mild and thanks to the oceanic climate, summers are hot but not muggy. Poitou-Charentes is lined along its western side by the Atlantic Ocean and benefits from 2,400 sunshine hours a year making it the hottest and sunniest place of the whole Atlantic coast. However, there is a difference between the coast with its warm and gentle weather and the hinterland of Poitou-Charentes where the climate is more continental, so either dryer or damper than on the coasts. The entire region of this corner of France is a verdant one, getting just enough rainfall which, blended to the long hours of sunshine, enable the successful wine and liqueur production like the famous Cognac wines and liquors. The temperature is mild during winter months and there are also cooler spring and autumn months whilst summer is pleasantly warm.

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

There is electricity in each evening's accommodation for charging phones and camera batteries. Mobile reception is widely available and most overnights offer wifi.

Packing List

- Riding Helmet - we strongly recommend that you wear a properly fitted riding helmet of the current standard which is PAS015 or BSEN1384 (One can be provided, but we recommend you bring your own)
- Gloves
- Jodhpurs - jodhpurs, breeches or other comfortable trousers (jeans may rub and can also be quite hot)
- Riding Boots - it is important to have correct shoes or boots for horse riding. Jodhpur or ankle boots with a rubber sole are recommended but sturdy shoes with a definite heel are acceptable (such as walking boots)
- Chaps
- Long-sleeved shirts
- Warm jumper/fleece
- Sports bra for women
- Comfortable clothes for the evenings
- Comfortable shoes for the evenings
- Waterproof clothing - jacket and trousers or slicker
- Warm night clothes
- Towel
- Sunglasses
- Sun cream
- Personal Items - toiletries, any medicines you require and please be sure to take insect repellent
- Refillable Water Bottle - it's very important to drink a lot of water when it's hot, especially when doing physical activities

Provided by hosts
Riding Helmet- range of sizes available to borrow on-site

Programmes

6d /5n programme with 5 riding days . Available on set dates throughout the year.

Departure Dates

2024: 7 April; 23 June; 13 October.

Pricing
No single supplement is charged if the rider is willing to share with someone of the same sex, and a sharer can be found.
Recommended Reading

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

If you want to explore the area before or after your stay we recommend visiting Poitiers, the regional capital of this medieval city, a picturesque hub and a lively university city. Enjoy the café life of Place Mar Leclerc or Place Charles-de-Gaulle, wander through ancient cobbled streets with half timbered buildings which are now cool boutiques, bien sûr, and take in its great churches. The 11th century Notre-Dame-la-Grande church is thought to be one of the oldest in France.

Wildlife

France is home to richly diverse wildlife. Thanks partly to the French Revolution and partly to the controversial European Common Agricultural Policy, much of the French countryside remained fairly backward in terms of agricultural progress during the twentieth century, a land farmed in traditional ways by smallholders practising diversity. This perhaps left much of French agriculture less productive than the big agribusiness concerns of North America or even Britain, but it also left many parts of France's rural environment more intact, and its wildlife less affected.
Some species inevitably died out in the wild, such as bears and wolves, but others, such as wild boar, chamoix, martens and red squirrels, peregrine falcons and hen harriers, have survived and are now protected - though not threatened - species. In areas that have been spared the ravages of industrial-scale agriculture, insect life and plant life remain rich and abundant. And while it is true to say that wildlife diversity is not all that it used to be in many parts of France, there are other areas, specially in the hills of the southern half of France, where wildlife thrives.

Other Information

Additional nights can be added on after the trail, staying in local gueshouses in and around Usseau. These can be paid for directly on-site and organised by your host.

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 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):
Usseau, France
Transfer:
2024: From Tours or Poitiers-Biard airports, approx €60 per person, payable on site. Complimentary transfer from/to Châtellerault TGV station (1h45m from Paris) if required. (Subject to change)
Flight Guide:
London to Tours (TUF) or Poitiers Airports (PIS) from £30 return
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