If you are looking to get away from it all on horseback, the French countryside near Toulouse
is the perfect destination, says Nicola Green…
Landing on a Saturday in sunny Toulouse, France, was the ideal start to my first â€˜girlyâ€™ family holiday with my sister, Helen, and Mum, Sue. It was a present to Mum â€“ who was celebrating a major birthday â€“ and a riding holiday at that.
An hour and a halfâ€™s drive later, we pulled up at the impressive ChÃ¢teau de LaumiÃ¨re. Going in search of owner Lynda, we bumped into her husband, Chris, who was busy bringing in horses. Originally from Kent, Lynda and Chris moved to France to retire. But then Lyndaâ€™s daughter, Tanya, decided to move out with them bringing her horses and a holiday business grew.
Tanyaâ€™s equestrian credentials are long and varied. As well as being a British Horse Society instructor, she picked up her French qualifications, becoming a â€˜monitrice dâ€™Ã©quitationâ€™. Lynda cooks all of the meals, Chris looks after the vegetable and herb garden and all of the grounds whilst Tanya keeps the horse side running smoothly. We were shown to our accommodation â€“ two en suite terrace rooms on the ground floor, one with a bath/shower and the other (as I discovered to my joy later on) with a fabulous power shower.
Both rooms were tastefully furnished and had tea-making facilities. There is a guest fridge, which is housed a short walk across the grass from the rooms, full of soft drinks, beers and wine. The downtime here is most pleasant!
We were given the option of grooming and tacking up our horses, and decided to make friends with our mounts by getting involved. Otherwise, Tanya would have prepared all four horses each morning â€“ she will get eight ready if there is a full contingent of guests.
Each day followed the same routine. We were at the stables at around 9.15am, after breakfast. We rode out at 10am for about three hours, returning for lunch and some free time each afternoon before heading back to the chÃ¢teau for dinner. Tanya matched us with the right horses. In terms of ability, we were a mixed bunch, to say the least.
I rode every day as a child up until my late teens, working my way through Pony Club tests. But I hadn’t ridden for any length of time for 18 years. In addition, I had one of my legs fused straight two years ago, so have had to find a new way of balancing while on board. It turned out the few hours of hacking I had done in preparation for this trip were not really enough. Meanwhile, my sister, Helen, hadn’t ridden properly for 30 years, but got in the saddle regularly in the build up to our holiday.
My mum, Sue, was the fittest and best rider in our party, as she still has horses and rides every day. I was paired with 16hh chestnut gelding Boysie, who had been imported from Britain. Sue was given Nao, a 15hh black Merens, and Helen had Ayva, a 16.2hh chestnut. All three were kind to their nervous new riders. Hitting the trail our rides took us along quiet drover tracks.
Tanya plans every hack meticulously, with each covering between 20 and 25 miles. We had forgotten how hard it is on your muscles to trot for long periods. My legs and back were aching after three minutes of trotting, and itâ€™s a wonder I stayed in the saddle at all during our first long canter!
Soaking up the scenery the varied riding took us past tiny stone sheepherdersâ€™ shelters, ancient burial sites, pigeon lofts and stunning chÃ¢teaux. The tree-lined fields went on forever and we even spotted wild deer. We were struck by how quiet it was. Apart from our own voices, all we heard were the horsesâ€™ hooves on the tracks and birdsong.
The hoopoe bird was particularly fun to watch, pottering around in the trees and bushes. Each ride â€“ despite the rain, which was unusual for April â€“ was peaceful and relaxing. I imagine in the sun it would have been even more idyllic. Hacking through the villages, it was wonderful to peek into the lives of people in rural France, even nosing into back gardens.
On our last ride, we took in a beautiful lake and passed locals fishing in the tranquillity. We wound our way around empty picnic tables that, in summer, are full of families enjoying the water. This day was also memorable for a glorious gallop. The horses were as good as gold, and didn’t take advantage of their not-very-experienced jockeys.
Riding in the mornings was enough for us, and there were plenty of things with which to fill the afternoons. It was easy to nip into the village in our hired car to find a tabac selling hot chocolate and wine, or visit the farmersâ€™ markets.
On our final day, we had lunch at an internationally renowned restaurant. Lou Bourdie was featured on British television two years ago in one of Jamie Oliverâ€™s cookery shows. On other afternoons we went to the stunning historical site of Saint-Cirq- Lapopie, took in the cave Pech Merle and popped into the town of Cahors.
There is a lovely swimming pool at the chÃ¢teau, though sadly the weather wasn’t warm enough for us to dive in. Guests have their own dining room and a living room available to use in the main house, as well as access to a library.
Wi-Fi is available, however, there is no TV or radio, which makes a stay here a real escape from normal life. Each morning, I woke to see mare Lucy and her newborn foal from my window. That alone made me feel lucky to be at the chÃ¢teau, away from it all.