Horse riding holiday in the Mercantour

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Responsible tourism

Responsible tourism: Horse riding holiday in the Mercantour

Environment

Food air miles are limited here as fresh organic produce, fruit and veg, milk, cheese and honey (and now from our own bees!!) are available within walking distance. Our water comes straight from the hill. We also grow our own vegetables, which we are happy to share with our guests.

Although we are 5km from the nearest town, we do try to encourage guests to use the €1.50 Alpes-Maritimes bus, and limit our road miles as much as possible using our minibus.

We recycle as much as possible and have an all singing and dancing heat pump to supply hot water and central heating.

Information is provided to our guests to enable them to enjoy the Park to the maximum while showing the utmost respect for the environment. We only use local, qualified guides who are passionate about the area that they live in. They are paid a living wage for their excellent services.

We are 100% focused on creating awareness of this magical corner of South East France. Your walking leader is a partner of the Mercantour National Park, which has a continual training program for its leaders, to keep them abreast of developments and issues, and to enrich their local knowledge. Visitors can enjoy an unspoilt mountain environment and appreciate a traditional rural way of life. As permanent residents we are fully integrated into the community in the Vésubie valley.

Our base
As we await permission to fulfill our vision for our centuries old farm house and land, we are keen to implement as many environmentally sympathetic measures as possible. We encourage the preservation of our pure water which comes straight off the mountain and use our splendid climate for laundry drying outside.

As much waste as possible is re-cycled, including pony manure which goes straight onto our vegetable patch. We aim to be as self sufficient as possible from your own garden. Guests are welcome to help themselves to fruit and vegetables.

When meals are provided they are prepared with local produce only, often solely from the Vésubie valley. Vegetarians are willingly catered for. Energy efficient bulbs are used throughout the house. We try to minimise the use of paper in our office. Guests are encouraged to shop locally and of course to respect the integrity of the National Park.

Working relationships
We only work with qualified guides for all activities. These passionate locals create a genuine and rich experience for our visitors. They are paid the appropriate rate for professional guides. Our local accommodation partners are chosen for their warm welcome and a willingness to share their love for the region.

Business development
In the longer term we will use abundant natural resources (wood and sunshine) for heat and light as well as providing alternative accommodation on our land. We work closely with other like minded partners here in the Mercantour, and can offer other eco accommodation, plus those adapted for the less mobile. We have have our own horses who are available for riding and taking out as a companion on day walks.

Community

We have lived here in the Mercantour for 12 years and are proud to be part of the community. The area, despite its proximity to the French Riviera, is quite poor, but inhabited by people who are passionate about the area, so we are delighted to be able to make an impact on the local economy. Our guests can take advantage of our local knowledge for walks and other activities, and recommendations for fun places to eat and drink. Therefore guests don't waste a Euro or a day being disappointed, and our local suppliers who merit support, get it.

We support the active community in Roquebilliere with its local weekly market, and buy as much as possible from local producers. We are also keen to contribute to cultural events which keep the "patrimoine" of the area buoyant - these include dancing in the village square in July and August, a summer program of music and drama, an art gallery showcasing local talent, and a cost free system for bartering goods and services between inhabitants.

When using other accommodation we try to ensure that a night could be spent with a local farmer or craftsmen, providing valuable income to our hosts and also giving guests an appreciation of a typical rural life here.

Reviews of Horse riding holiday in the Mercantour

You can trust Responsible Travel reviews because, unlike many other schemes, reviews can ONLY be written by people who we have verified have been on the holidays.

I am reborn! Simply the best holiday I have ever been on
Some great stories to tell the grandchildren. Would recommend to a friend
Very enjoyable
It was OK
A bit disappointing really

Reviewed on 30 Sep 2009 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Every minute was memorable and exciting! The horses, the views, the people, the food - all lovely. Liz and Mel looked after us from the moment we were collected from the airport until we were left back, feeding us a lovely dinner in their house on the first night and providing lovely lunches during the day. They also made sure we were included in the French conversations and learned about the areas were in. The riders were matched with horses and we could change if we wanted to but I was quite happy with my mare. I am a fairly experienced rider but have never spent more than 2 hours in the saddle. I was sore at the end of each day but not so sore that I could not continue. I feel that I really learned a lot about horseridng over the weekend - not equitation but being more aware of my horse and learning to trust her. The horses are very well looked after and are lovely to ride.

The scenery was amazing and I was delighted that my photos were clear, despite being taken from the back of a moving horse! The landscape changed from wooded areas to rocky alpine areas and was quite spectacular. We had lovely warm weather that was mostly sunny - not a bit of rain or snow, although I understand it can be chilly at the end of September and it has snowed in the past on southbound rides. The majority of people in our ride were French and I was a little frustrated that I hadn't spent a lot of time working on improving my French beforehand so that I could join in more but it was an excellent opportunity for me to listen. Everyone was very nice and got along very well. I have been in contact with several people already to exchange photos.

Liz and Mel provided the food for the lunches which varied from day to day but there was always something to suit everyone. Liz also took into account any dietary requirements. The restaurants that we ate in served local dishes that were lovely and were also happy to cater for vegetarians.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Be sure to keep drinking water during the day as it is easy to get dehydrated. Not everyone on our ride wore a riding hat but I was glad that I did. There were many branches that connected with my head and I was glad to have that extra protection!

Consider bringing ibuprofen or muscle rub for muscle aches. Dress in layers so you can peel off/put on as required as the weather might change quickly. There were a few people on our ride who had never been on a horse before and they enjoyed the ride but I think it would be best to have a lesson/hack or two to at least be aware of what it feels like to be on a horse.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


We visited areas that were well off the international tourist map and supported locally owned businesses. Everyone seemed happy to see us and was very welcoming. it was nice to be able to support these people. The horses do little damage to the trails and our picnic areas were always checked to make sure we did not leave behind any rubbish.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


I thoroughly enjoyed this holiday and really hope to do this ride again within the next couple of years.

Read the operator's response here:

Thanks for the great review Jane - the ride is always an international mix - usually more Anglo Saxon leaning - I'll remember in future to check the make up of the group and advise people who are coming who may not speak the lingo of the majority. Love to welcome you back soon.

Reviewed on 25 Oct 2008 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


I loved every moment of it. It felt really special and actually quite an achievement to be part of something like a transhumance, which is steeped in so much tradition. Denis’ horses are apparently the last herd of horses in Europe to live wild in this way. The Mercantour is absolutely stunning – huge rugged mountains and lush valleys - and to see it by horseback was a real privilege because we got to the real heart of it. Liz was an excellent host, and Denis a fantastic leader, both also very knowledgeable about the area and passionate about what they do. There was one particular night when we were taken to a lovely French family’s house – Karine cooked the most amazing food I’ve ever eaten, a five course meal that took us hours to get through, with copious amounts of wine to wash it down.

We were in the saddle probably 6 hours a day, but at the end of every day I wished we could carry on. The horses were so sure footed that they were completely trustworthy down the steep ravines, but when it came to the gallops they knew their stuff! I just loved the relaxed way of riding, roughing it a bit and getting back to nature, feeling part of something special and meeting such a great bunch of people. I don’t think I stopped smiling the whole time.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Wrap up warm! It can get quite chilly on top of the mountains, but don’t be put off by the changeable weather, that’s part of the fun. Also it doesn’t matter if you aren’t a good rider, just be prepared to be gung-ho and get stuck in.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


Yes. The Mercantour area is stunning and needs preserving, but equally needs a boost as the villages are obviously struggling a bit. We slept in small, local hostels and chambre d’hotes, and ate at the local restaurants who were very pleased to see us. Liz, Mel and Denis are clearly committed to supporting the local communities and conserving the countryside and wildlife.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Five stars. I’m hoping to go on one of the Italy rides next year.

Reviewed on 21 Aug 2008 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Too many to just pick out one! perhaps climbing to what seems like the top of the world on horseback, arriving at a mountain refuge in a cloud and then realizing the stupendous view in the morning, swimming in an extremely cold turquoise mountain lake, and an extremely hot thermal pool, not to mention leisurely picnics and much laughter all shared with relaxed and unpretentious people.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


It is helpful to be open minded and not expect a formal horsey attitude, this is a much richer experience than a simple horse trek on well beaten paths. You need to be a comfortable rider who can take unusual situations in your stride.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


I felt very much in harmony with the environment, and don't think anything we did could have harmed it.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


It was over and above all expectations. The tour operator are a very friendly and joyful outfit, that welcome you like the family, and obviously love the place and the people they work with, and Denis Longfellow leads you on his horses to heaven and back.

Reviewed on 12 Oct 2008 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


The landscape up in the mountains is fantastic. The autumnal reds had just started. Part of the area looked like it was from Lord of the Rings, if a dwarf has popped out I wouldn’t' have been surprised. The horses were wonderfully cared for by Denis Longfellow, who owns them. His set up at Le Boreon is great, although work in progress! He has about 16 horses, all with their own personalities. Denis is a wonderful guide, patient yet urging people to learn by driving the horses on, ready to stop if anyone has a problem (like I fell off at a man-tree interface). He is a great character and I would definitely go to Le Boreon to ride with Denis again. Some great fast rides over open fields!

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


If you are not residing with Liz and Mel you will need to contact them about next-day plans. The roads are tight so don't take your prize jag - it will get dinged! Take a flask for up-mountain tea/coffee. Take all you would need for a mountain ride/walk. The refuges are much better than we were advised they'd be. Need hiking boots or trainers as the horses need walking across some terrain. St Sebastian is a wonderful, friendly hotel - we would recommend that in Roquebilliere - 2 star but clean, comfortable and lovely people. A lot of the cantering is done on narrow trails with overhanging branches so take a hard hat to prevent scratches or bangs.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


We bought lunch, stayed in local hotels and rode local horses so money definitely went back into the economy. Denis was fastidious about not leaving anything behind at lunch spots. The horses are very well treated and wear hackamore bridles and looser girths. Even as novice-intermediate we had no problem with steering or mounting.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


Great, may go back in 2009 for the Italian trip.

Reviewed on 04 Oct 2008 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


Being stood on by my horse on top of a mountain in the snow surrounded by lovely people, great food and beautiful scenery...totally amazing.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Definitely do it... it is the most wonderful experience... physically demanding, mentally challenging and lots and lots of fun.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


10/10 for hospitality, organisation and enjoyment...

Reviewed on 03 Oct 2007 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


The riding experience was wonderful and completely amazing. Although I ride on Dartmoor all year I had never done anything like this before. I had never been up in the mountains much less in the snow on horseback. We were all led by Denis Longfellow who is a great teacher. Over the years Denis had bred many of his horses. They were Merens, Lusitanos, and Haflinger, Pottock and Lusitano crosses. They are agile, sure footed, fit, willing, sweet natured, worked in a herd, gave complete confidence and were very forgiving. Denis and they knew the ground. We rode up in the mountains in snow, down in beech, chestnut and oak woods, along wide and narrow trails and along hillsides that smelt of pine, lavender and herbs. We rode at all paces and walked with our horses down some of the very steep hills. We had a pack horse who carried our food and water and we carried our own stuff for overnight in rolls behind our saddles. The saddles were comfortable for riders and horses (there were no sore backs despite the steep terrain). We rode in bitless bridles and neck reined.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Wear walking boots to ride because you will also need to walk down hill and they will help you to be more surefooted. A small bum bag for stuff you need whilst riding, such as sunscreen and sunglasses might be useful. Most of the accommodation is basic, communal hostel type which may be an issue for some people, although not for me.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


Many very kind and welcoming local people were involved in supporting our trip. They fed us, accommodated us, ferried us in their cars, prepared our picnics and brought extra hay for the horses. They were there to see us off and welcome us at our destinations. We stayed in a gite d'etape, chambre d'hote rurale and a small local hotel on the last night. We stopped off at bars for tea and drinks and we were welcomed every where. Many local people and also visitors in cars to the area were clearly delighted to meet this fine troupe of horses and people up in the hills.

4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?


This was a truly wonderful riding holiday and I'm planning to go again and for much longer if I can.

Reviewed on 13 May 2007 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


I was horse riding in the hills above the French Rivera. The whole weekend was great, the people lovely and friendly and the scenery stunning. Part of the ride takes you through some woods and then out onto the edge of the mountain. You can see for miles, across the sea to the south, the ridges of the Alps to the north, and the occasional mountain village. It was great privilege to be able to be there.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Be prepared to be a bit sore the next morning if you haven't ridden for a while. Other than that, just come ready to be amazed by nature.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


We used local accommodation and the village of Saint Agnes is fairly unspoilt. The ride itself takes you through beautiful countryside, but the impact on the environment was minimal.

Reviewed on 10 Apr 2007 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?


The horse riding was fantastic. Great horses, spectacular scenery and we were well looked after.

2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?


Just ask for what you want - Liz and Mel where fantastic and made sure they did everything they could to accommodate us. If they can do it they will!! And you feel like you are dealing with good friends rather than a company.

3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


Yes in that they are a small local tour operation who use local people. I don't think this holiday had any negative impact on the environment.

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