Riding through the Valle des Merveilles
Riding through the mountains
Views over the mountains
Accomodation on the trail
Horses enjoying a break on the trail
Rest stop in a traditional village

Combine a riding holiday in the Southern Alps with a visit to Europe’s largest collection of bronze age engravings. This trail takes riders through the spectacular scenery of the Valle des Merveilles (Valley of Wonders) in the Mercantour national park, crossing the Italian frontier with views of the highest and most beautiful summits of the Southern Alps passing mountain lakes and spotting local wildlife throughout the trail. The valley is home to several species of deer, wild boar and Europe’s largest bird of prey; the bearded vulture. Riders will have the opportunity to discover the 40,000 bronze age engravings left on the rocks within this high, remote valley.

This ride would suit fit, adventurous riders who have an interest in seeing the unique, Bronze Age petroglyphs scratched into the rocks in this mysterious valley. Accommodation is in comfortable guesthouses and hotels along the route; lunches are picnics using local produce enjoyed in picturesque spots along the trail.

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Day 1
Arrive at Saint-Martin Vésubie in the afternoon and check into your hotel. Enjoy dinner and get a good nights sleep, ready for the trail ahead.

Day 2
The trail begins with a fast-paced morning ride to reach the Cougourde valley and the Trecolpas Lake. Riders will visit the famous sanctuary of the Madone de Fenestre which your guide will be able to explain the history of, before crossing the Italian frontier. Altitude 2,450m at Ladres Pass, 6hrs riding.

Day 3
The second day takes the group towards some of the highest and most beautiful of the Southern Alps summits, including Gélas, the highest in the area, and Mounts Malédiev and Clapier. Riders may also be able to spot local wildlife; this is the domain of both chamois and ibex. After crossing the Sabbione Pass you will spend the night in a cottage in Casterino. Altitude: 1200m ascent/descent but no higher, 7hrs riding.

Day 4
The day begins with a two-hour ride before riders will spend some time discovering the Valley of Wonders on foot. This part of the valley contains thousands of ancient petroglyphs in an open-air museum. This mineral landscape shaped by the glacier thaw contains an archeologic treasure of about 40,000 engravings; the largest site of engravings in Europe. A guide will be there for the visit which will involve approx. 4 hours walking.

Day 5
Today, riders will reach the Mesches Lake at an altitude of 1380m. The scenery is dominated by larch forests with rock outcrops, plus the ever-present lake views. There is a magnificent ascent towards the Arpette Pass and an exciting descent towards the glaciated Gordolasque valley. Altitude at Rousse Col 1,900m, 7hrs riding.

Day 6
The final day of the trail involves crossing the Valette pass in the morning before reaching the Maïris plateau in the afternoon. The riding today is at a slower pace as you cross steep mountain terrain. This part of the trail takes you through pastures filled with flowers before the end of the ride in the afternoon.

 

Transfers
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 in 2019, free pick up from the bus stop. 
Transfers from Nice Airport or train station, €65 each way, from Menton train station 35 each way. Car rental is also an option.

Extra nights
Currently the Itinerary includes a night accommodation before the start of the tour. This can be changed to a night after as the ride finishes in the late afternoon, or an additional night at the end can be booked on request depending on arrival and departure times. Cost of €50pp half board in 2019.

Luggage
Riders must carry everything they need in the provided saddlebags. There is no baggage transfer on this trail although they can leave suitcases etc at the base.

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 companions. They are not stabled, nor fenced into small paddocks, but instead, graze and wander free.

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 horses learn from the behaviour of the more experienced horses. The horses are trained and ridden 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. 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 Spanish and Portuguese. Safety briefings will be given where appropriate.


Rider requirements

- Riders must be confident in walk, trot and canter in open spaces and on steep terrain
- A good 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.
- Riders must be able to mount and dismount unaided.
- 4hrs walking on foot is required to see the Valleys of Wonders

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, B&Bs and guesthouses. 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 6, 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 all nights to recharge batteries. 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
Ear plugs are useful but not essential

Programmes

This is a 6 day/5 night programme with 5 days riding on set dates.

Departure Dates

2019: 21-26 July; 28 July - 2 August; 4-9 August; 11-16 August

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

For those nights when a single room is available, a supplement will apply, please enquire at the time of booking.

No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description £
20196d/5n5double pp789
20196d/5n5single supplement40
20196d/5n5extra night40
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description
20196d/5n5double pp865
20196d/5n5single supplement44
20196d/5n5extra night44
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description $
20196d/5n5double pp1,015
20196d/5n5single supplement52
20196d/5n5extra night52
No of   
days/nights
Riding days Product item description SEK
20196d/5n5double pp9,409
20196d/5n5single supplement475
20196d/5n5extra night475
Recommended Reading

Novels - Etoile Errante, JM LE Clezio Press : - https://www.nytimes.com/1992/04/05/travel/hiking-a-valley-of-marvels-in-france.html


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):
Saint-Martin Vésubie
Transfer:
2019 From Nice Airport or train station, €65 each way. See below itinerary for more/lower priced options.
Flight Guide:
London to Nice from £91
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