Horse riding holiday France
Horseback vacation France
Riding through Mercantour National Park
Riding the Via Alpina
Horse riding holiday near Nice
Horseback vacation near Nice
Trail riding in France
Adventurous horse riding holiday in France
Horse riding in the French Alps
Horse riding in Mercantour
Horseback vacation in French Alps
Horse riding holiday Mercantour
Horse riding in remote France
Horse riding in French mountains
Horseback vacation in /french mountains
Horse riding along the Via Alpina
Horseback vacation in wild France
Mountain horseback trail in France
Riding through the Alps
Horse riding in France
This point to point trail follows the ‘Via Alpine’, an extensive route which stretches from the Mediterranean to the Adriatic Sea, crossing 8 countries along the way and following the curving chain of the Alps. This particular trail travels along the section through the Mercantour National Park, from Saint Dalmas le Selvage to Estenc. Pass through traditional villages and hamlets that have stood for centuries in this wild place as you ride up to the reaches of the High Alps. It feels like you’ve stepped back in time as you discover the heritage of ancient pastoral farming on the mountain slopes, and the scenery is simply stunning.

Accommodation is in a variety of hotels, guesthouses and B&Bs. This ride operates in reverse on alternate dates.

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 SC of Balmain on 25/09/2019

Ride Summary
An absolutely fabulous holiday! Our guide, Scott, created a lovely atmosphere of camaraderie for the group. The horses were surefooted, healthy and good natured. The picnic lunches Scott organised were delicious with varied food offerings and wine. The accommodation was varied and interesting, from cosy refugio dorms in the mountains to the luxury of Terme Reali Valdiari and its thermal swimming pool. Our trek on horseback was a magnificent way of experiencing the majestic views of the mountains and lakes, and the wilderness of the Mercantour National Park.
What was your overall impression of the holiday

Unicorn Trails sales staff
Professionalism     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Friendliness     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Speed of response     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Efficiency     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Knowledge     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Other(please specify)     (   ) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Riding tour leader
Professionalism     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Horsemanship     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Pacing of Ride     (   ) Excellent     (X) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Concern for Safety     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Leadership     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Friendliness/availability     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Knowledge of local Culture     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Knowledge of local Flora/Fauna     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Concern with Environment     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Language skills     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Additional Comments
Scott was very friendly and created a lovely atmosphere of friendship for the group. We had complete confidence in his leadership and his relationship with the horses. The picnic lunches Scott organised were delicious with varied food offerings and wine. Accommodation was varied and interesting, one of the hotels was quite luxurious.
Horses and Tack
Condition of Horses     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Condition of Tack     (   ) Excellent     (X) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Performance of Horses     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Additional Comments
The horses were surefooted and even tempered and lovely to ride. They know the mountain trails well as they roam freely on the mountains for many months of the year when they are not working.
Meals
Meal Quantity     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Meal Quality     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Meal Punctuality     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Accommodation
Camping Equipment     (   ) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (X) N/A
Hotels/Lodges/Inns     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Hygiene standards     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Miscellaneous
Transfer arrangements     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Other office staff     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Other ride staff     (X) Excellent     (   ) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor     (   ) N/A
Weather     (   ) Excellent     (X) Good     (   ) Fair     (   ) Poor
Was this trip accurately described to you beforehand?
    (   ) NO     (X) YES
Please give more details to explain your response:
Although I knew there would be some hiking down the steep mountainsides where the horses would not be able to to have riders, there was a lot more walking than I expected. The several hours of walking on a couple of the days was a challenge and very tiring. However it was satisfying that I was able to accomplish all the hiking down quite steep and rough paths. The mountain views were breathtaking. The ride was varied with different types of terrain encountered and lovely picnic locations enjoyed. The week long ride was a wonderful experience.
Was there anything you should have known and were not told?     (X) NO     (   ) YES
Please give more details to explain your response:

What could we do to improve this ride?
It was fabulous and doesn't need improvement. Less walking would suit me, but to get the wonderful views and experience the mountains you have to climb to the top - which entails walking down the steep descents.
How would you rate the difficulty of this ride out of 10 where 1 is very easy and 10 is very advanced?
6
Please explain why you scored it as you did:
Some of the ascents are quite steep. The rider needs to be comfortable with heights and climbing steep paths on horseback. Also on many of the descents there was hiking on foot down quite rough and steep paths which was quite a challenge, requiring some physical fitness.
Would you recommend Unicorn Trails to your friends?
    (   ) NO     (X) YES
Please give more details to explain your response:
I would recommend Unicorn Trails because the rides we've booked through Unicorn Trails have been wonderful. Excellent English speaking guides, horses in good condition, standard of accommodation and meals usually very good. We've been on several week long rides booked through Unicorn and have been very happy with all aspects of the rides and service.
May we use you as a reference for other people wishing to go on this ride?
    (   ) NO     (X) YES
Any other comments:
We'll look forward to another riding holiday!
Unicorn comments: Thank you for your feedback. Glad you had a great time! :)

Day 1
Arrive at the riding centre in the afternoon. Enjoy dinner with your fellow riders and plan for the week ahead.

Day 2
Setting out at 9am from the ranch, the trail today weaves between the Val d’Entraunes and Saint Dalmas le Selvage along a traditional route through the Sanguinière valley. The reddish stone boulders of the area give the valley its name, which means ‘blood-tinged’! Today is spent mainly at a walk as you get used to your horse and admire the wonderful plant life around you. There may be some opportunities for faster riding in the Alpine meadows. Crossing the Braïssa pass and descending into the larch forest of Sestrière gives you an idea of the adventures to come. Dinner and overnight at the Ancient Hotel or similar. Approximately 6 hours riding.

Day 3
Setting out from the alpine village of Saint Dalmas le Selvage at 1,500m, the route joins the GR5 to negotiate the forests of the Anelle passing more easily as you steadily climb the mountain side. You then join a track of the Saint Etienne de Tinée and ride into the valley of Demandols which is covered in bare pastureland. There are some opportunities for some trots and canters before reaching the ski resort of Auron. Riding the tricky path to the authentic hamlet of Roya you get an incredible panoramic view of area. Dinner and overnight at a local guesthouse. Approximately 7 hours riding.

Day 4
After breakfast you mount up and ride over a small bridge crossing the Roya River. The Via Alpina then ascends again through the Sallevieille valley. The path here can sometimes be very rough and you might need to dismount and lead the horses for a short distance where the footing is loose. The Crousette pass overhead can be quite intimidating, but the ascent is rewarded with a stunning view of Mount Mounier in all its glory. You follow the path towards the Moulines pass where the scenery suddenly changes to vast unspoiled plains, a different world to the terrain you have just crossed! Take a few minutes to look around the village of Vignols before riding on to Longon. The contented cattle grazing in the fields will give you an idea of the peace that awaits your overnight stay in the refuge here. Approximately 7 hours riding.

Day 5
Today you will be heading away from the central area of Mercantour, through the magnificent forest of Fracha to the mountain village of Roure. The panoramic views make this a good place to stop and have lunch. The trail then descends towards Tinée valley, looping back and forward across the steep mountain side. This takes you to the centre of Saint Sauveur sur Tinée, and then there is just one more steep path to Rimplas where you spend the night. Approximately 6 hours riding.

Day 6
Leaving the village in the early morning, your path enters the Valdeblore Black Forest. You will be looking down onto the rooftops of La Bolline village as you climb towards the high ridges on the edge of the Alpine massif at 2,000m. For the rest of the day you will follow trails along these high paths, with mountains on one side and the sea on the other. Your destination today is the Granges de la Brasque, an imposing but surprisingly calm former military site which is now home to a herd of donkeys! Tonight you will be sleeping in tents within the grounds. Approximately 7 hours riding.

Day 7
You start out along the traditional cattle driving route today to a fort on the pass with excellent views across a forgotten valley. As you descend it feels like you are discovering this land for the first time. Forest tracks lead you to the edge of the village of Venanson and then to the lake in Le Boréon to finish the tour. Approximately 7 hours riding. You will get back to the ranch at approximately 18:00. It is possible to book an extra night's accommodation on half board.

Please note that this itinerary runs in reverse on alternate dates.

 

Transfer2019: There is a direct bus from Nice Airport (Ligne D’Azur N°730) to the village of Saint-Martin Vésubie which costs around €1.50, free pick up from the bus stop. From Nice Airport or train station, €65 each way or Menton train station, €35 each way. Car hire is also an option.

 

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 focus here has always been to allow the horses to live the most natural life possible. The horses are raised in open pasture and they mature in the wild with their compatriots. They are not stabled, nor fenced into small paddocks, but instead, graze and wander free, at one with nature.



The horses are a mix of breeds, temperaments and ages, including Merens, Spanish, Portuguese, Arab and Pottoks. There are natural leaders among the group of course and the young learn from the behaviour of their elders. The horses are trained with simple hackamore bitless bridles. Most saddles are Portuguese military types, there are also some English saddles. 

As this is a point to point trail, your horses will be carrying your belongings. You will be provided with a 'banana'  saddle pack (located at the back of the saddle) of about 18 litres where all your personal belongings have to fit (toiletries, change of clothes for the night, etc.). Please bring a 'Sheet bag' (a kind of single duvet cover - https://www.decathlon.fr/drap-de-sac-polyester-gris-id_8382711.html) and not sleeping bags because they won't fit in the 'banana bag', a towel will be useful. You can put your daytime clothes (sunscreen, telephone, etc.) in the horses' saddlebags. Riding hats and half chaps are also available to borrow.

There is between 5 and 8 hours per day of riding/walking. The rides are on rolling country and high alpine terrain. On steep ground, riders will need to dismount and lead their horses, so walking boots are more practical than flat soled riding boots. Half chaps and riding hats are provided. A decent weight of jeans or jodphur is recommended. Riders should bring a waterproof coat, as the weather can change very quickly in the mountains. All of the guides are well qualified, speak French, English, Italian and sometimes Sapins and Portuguese. Safety briefings will be given where appropriate.


Rider requirements

Riders of all levels are welcome. A reasonable level of fitness is required, as the rides are full days with 7/8 hours either riding or leading your mount, and with significant ascents/descents (around 2 hours/day walking during descents only). Riders must be able to mount and dismount unaided.

Help to catch, groom and saddle are welcome but not compulsory.

Weight Limit

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

Accommodation is in hotels, guesthouses, refuges, hostels, and B&Bs, depending on the route. Private rooms are available for a supplement when possible (hotel or B&B). Guests should be prepared to share rooms and bathroom facilities on this ride.



Generous picnics and meals use local and/or organic products. Special dietary needs can also be catered for. Please note that accommodation is not included the night of Day 7, after the ride has finished. This has to be booked separately, although your sales consultant will be able to help you with this.


Vegetarian or other dietary requirements can be accommodated with advanced notice. Please contact Unicorn Trails with requests.

Documents - Visa and Consulate Info

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.

General information:

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: webmaster.paris@fco.gov.uk.

The French Embassy in the U.K can be found at 58 Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7JT. Telephone: (020) 7073 1000. Email: presse.londres-amba@diplomatie.fr.


Climate Summary

Due to the different altitudes and landscapes covered on this ride the climate can vary quite a lot. Temperatures will be cooler in the mountains and there will be a higher chance of rainfall. The following is based on climate data for Saint-Dalmas-le-Selvage. During the months June, July, August, September and October you will experience pleasant weather with a nice average temperature. Most rainfall (rainy season / monsoon) is seen in October and November. On average, the warmest month is July. On average, the coolest month is January. October is the wettest month. This month should be avoided if you don't like too much rain. July is the driest month.

Climate Chart

Health

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.

Electricity

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.

Film and Camera Equipment

Electricity in available most nights to recharge batteries, as well as Wifi. Mobile phone reception is limited.

Packing List

As this is a point to point trail, your horses will be carrying your belongings. You will be provided with a 'banana'  saddle pack (located at the back of the saddle) of about 18 litres where all your personal belongings have to fit (toiletries, change of clothes for the night, etc.). Please bring a 'Sheet bag' (a kind of single duvet cover - https://www.decathlon.fr/drap-de-sac-polyester-gris-id_8382711.html) and not sleeping bags because they won't fit in the 'banana bag', a towel will be useful. You can put your daytime clothes (sunscreen, telephone, etc.) in the horses' saddlebags. Riding hats and half chaps are also available to borrow.

Good quality walking boots with a deep heel - due to the terrain and the need to walk leading the horse at times it is recommended you choose walking boots over riding boots. There is a range of boots available to borrow on site.
Riding helmet - there are a range of sizes available to borrow on site
Jodhpurs, comfortable jeans or thick cloth trousers.
Waterproof clothing - jacket and trousers or slicker
Long-sleeved shirts
Warm jumper/fleece
Sports bra for women
Comfortable clothes for the evenings
Comfortable shoes for the evenings
Swimsuit - a swimming cap is also obligatory for the thermal baths if you visit them. The ride can provide one for you if desired.
Toiletries
Warm night clothes
Towel
Sun cream
Insect repellent
Camera and spare batteries/charger
A knife is not mandatory but useful to cut the bread and cheese during picnics.
A sheet bag (https://www.amazon.com/Cocoon-COCO-01-Cotton-TravelSheet/dp/B001DX803W)
Earplugs are useful for people who need silence to sleep as some night we might sleep in the same rooms

Programmes

This is a 7 day/6 night programme with 6 days riding on set dates.

Departure Dates

2020: 27 Jun; 11, 18 Jul; 15, 22 Aug

Pricing

Single rooms may not be available on some or all nights. For those nights when a single room is available, supplements will apply. Please enquire for availability at the time of booking if you prefer a single room.

No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description £
20197d/6n6double pp925
20197d/6n6single supplement per night 23
20197d/6n6extra night half board53
20207d/6n6double pp985
20207d/6n6single supplement per night 23
20207d/6n6extra night half board58
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description
20197d/6n6double pp1,025
20197d/6n6single supplement per night 25
20197d/6n6extra night half board60
20207d/6n6double pp1,095
20207d/6n6single supplement per night 25
20207d/6n6extra night half board65
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description $
20197d/6n6double pp1,245
20197d/6n6single supplement per night 31
20197d/6n6extra night half board69
20207d/6n6double pp1,325
20207d/6n6single supplement per night 31
20207d/6n6extra night half board75
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description SEK
20197d/6n6double pp11,565
20197d/6n6single supplement per night 285
20197d/6n6extra night half board659
20207d/6n6double pp12,309
20207d/6n6single supplement per night 285
20207d/6n6extra night half board715
Recommended Reading

Novels - Etoile Errante, JM LE Clezio - Un Sherpa dans le Mercantour https://books.google.fr/books/about/Mercantour.html?id=q4nFPAAACAAJ&redir_esc=y&hl=fr - Jean Sicardi Brumes du Mercantour https://books.google.fr/books/about/Les_Brumes_Du_Mercantour.html?id=m6CuQwAACAAJ&redir_esc=y - Mercantour Patrick Merienne (https://books.google.fr/books/about/Mercantour.html?id=q4nFPAAACAAJ&redir_esc=y&hl=fr) Guides - Topo-Guide Mercantour : https://books.google.fr/books?id=C_LyWemnY98C&printsec=frontcover&dq=Mercantour&hl=fr&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwik_tTz--jYAhVNDewKHTN2CfwQ6AEIKDAA#v=onepage&q=Mercantour&f=false - Caroline Audibert : La sente étroite au bout des Alpes: Carnets de voyage dans le Mercantour : https://books.google.fr/books/about/La_sente_étroite_au_bout_des_Alpes.html?id=8LCMtgAACAAJ&redir_esc=y Press : - https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2010/mar/20/france-provence-horse-riding - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BDdxT09kqyg&ab_channel=VincentPougnaud


Other Activities

On some rides there will be access to hot springs which is included in the price.

Wildlife

There are several species of mountainous goat and antelope including chamois, ibex and mouflon as well as red deer and roe deer that can be spotted in the undergrowth lower down. Marmots, ermine, hares and wild boars, partridges, golden eagles and buzzards, numerous species of butterflies and even Italian wolves can also be found within the National Park

Other Information

This ride is not suitable for non-riding companions.

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 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.

Travel Summary

Meeting-point (getting there):
Ranch near Saint-Martin Vésubie
Transfer:
2019: From Nice Airport , €65 each way payable on site or from Saint Martin Vesubie bus station 1.50€ each way. See sample itinerary for more options.
Flight Guide:
London to Nice(NCE) from £91
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