This trail through the Vienne region of South Western France explores the variety of landscapes, medieval towns and many rivers of this scenic area. Well known for great food and wine and for its Romanesque riches, you'll ride through medieval villages and towns like Chauvigny with its five fortresses, the famous spa town of La Roche Posay, Angles sur l'Anglin, St Pierre de Maillet and Saint Savin sur Gartempe with its great Romanesque frescoes in the abbey church. Taking advantage of the unpopulated and rustic landscape along the different rivers: la Vienne, la Gartempe L'Anglin and the Creuse, you can enjoy some fantastic riding paths and great views over the surrounding countryside.
The horses are Arabs, Anglo Arabs and Spanish breeds, well suited to the varied terrain. All are experienced trail horses, responsive and well-schooled and easily able to cope with the 30-40km you'll be covering each day. The pace is fast when the ground allows. Accommodation is in traditional, local guesthouses or hotels with private bathrooms and meals are usually comprised of picnic lunches and restaurant dinners.
This is an excellent introduction to this region of France and is the ideal trail for fit, capable riders looking for an adventurous point-to-point trail who want to explore some of the medieval and Romanesque treasures of the region.
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Arrive in Usseau in the afternoon. Meet your host and fellow riders over dinner and settle in for an overnight stay in the gîte on-site or in a nearby guesthouse.
Departure from Usseau. After breakfast you will be paired with your horse and will set off, riding through hilly and wooded landscapes and small typical villages. One you reach Oyré, known for its special Romanesque church, you'll stop for lunch. After the lunch break and a short visit to the town you'll ride through the forest and the hunting area known as la forêt de la groie. In the evening you'll arrive in La Roche Posay and have dinner in a hotel in the centre.
After breakfast, depart from La Roche Posay. You'll ride through the medieval gate in the old town past the fortress and then along the Creuse river until reaching the former railway line which is today a shady hiking trail to Vicq sur Gartempe and then onto Angles sur l'Anglin where there are many things to see. Depending on the season it is possible to visit the Roc au Sorcier or the ruined castle dating from the year 1100. You'll stop for lunch in the upper half of town with great views and in the afternoon you'll ride through the village, down to the shore, and along the river on small shady paths. Overnight and dinner in a small guesthouse in St Pierre de Maillé.
Today you'll ride from St Pierre de Maillet towards Sait Savin. The trail continues through the Gartempe - this is a flatter landscape with very small hollow paths which are partly hidden in hedges. Lunch will be served on the banks of the Gartempe river. After lunch, you'll ride along the paths that were once used by the monks of the monastery in Saint Savin to get to their vines. Depending on the season, you can visit the church with its Romanesque frescoes. Overnight at a hotel in Saint Savin and dinner in the restaurant opposite.
Departure from Saint Savin, first over the medieval bridge and then over the former Roman path which runs straight through the landscape in the direction of Lauthiers, the smallest village of the whole region with only 80 inhabitants, then through the deciduous forest of Mareuil to a goat farm where typical cheese is produced. Lunch. After the break you'll ride past Chauvigny the medieval town with its 5 fortresses. Overnight at the Camping de Chauvigny in wooden cottages (3-4 persons per house) with magnificent views of the fortresses or in a local inn depending on availability, dinner in the high town which you can reach on foot.
Today you'll be travelling from Chauvigny over the western forest corner of Mareuil to the area of the Akadier. This is a chance to admire some completely different landscapes. At noon you'll stop at the only cistercian monastery of the area " L'Abbaye de l'etoile ". After the lunch break, you'll be able to ride up to Monthoiron over the hilly landscape. Dinner and overnight in a local guesthouse.
The trail today leads over wooded paths slowly taking you back to the north. The riding takes in many pines and deciduous woods, small castles and plenty of gallop-friendly paths. Lunch break in Saint Sauveur in a beautiful little village by a small river and old weeping willows. In the afternoon, you'll ride back to Usseau, where it's time to say goodbye to the horses and head home. You'll arrive back at Usseau at around 17:30. For those who wish to, you can stay an extra night in Usseau and depart the next morning instead.
Optional additional night
Overnight stay and dinner at Usseau in a local guesthouse or gite (payable on-site). Departure after breakfast.
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.
You'll be covering between 30-40km per day so the pace is reasonably quick although there are sections of walking where you can enjoy the beautiful surrounding countryside. Some sections of the trail are steep, meaning a slower pace but once the ground allows you can expect plenty of canters.
The horses used for this trail are mainly Arabs and Anglo Arabs and 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 getting involved is expected on this trail and you can expect to be grooming and tacking up your own horse each day - although help and guidance is on hand should you require it. On the trail rides you could be riding for between four to six hours a day so it is important to be as riding fit as possible.
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.
The weight limit for this ride is 198 lb/90 kg, please enquire if you are an experienced rider exceeding this weight.
You'll spend the first night of the ride at your host's base in Usseau. The accommodation is simple gîte-style rooms with shared bathrooms. During the trail you'll be staying in small local hotels, guesthouses or gîtes where the horses will stay in their herd in the field next door.
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. Your hosts try to offer various local products as much as possible. Dinner is usually served in the guesthouse or in a small restaurant. On occasion the group will cook their own dinner according to the groups likes and dislikes (in one guesthouse).
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 7. 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 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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The French Embassy in the U.K can be found at 58 Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7JT. Telephone: (020) 7073 1000. Email: email@example.com.
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.
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.
There is electricity in each evening's accommodation for charging phones and camera batteries.
Riding helmet - there are a range of sizes available to borrow on-site but we recommend taking your own for comfort and fit.
Jodhpurs, comfortable jeans or thick cloth trousers.
Waterproof clothing - jacket and trousers or slicker
Sports bra for women
Comfortable clothes for the evenings
Comfortable shoes for the evenings
Warm night clothes
Camera and spare batteries/charger
This is a 6 night programme available on two set dates throughout the year.
2020: 26 Apr; 30 Aug
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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.
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, Valerie.
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.