Where to Go on a Horse Riding Vacation in France
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A true gem for horse riding lovers, France has it all. The diverse landscapes stretching from Atlantic beaches all the way to the Alps, the vast amounts of unspoiled countryside, and an abundance of well-trained horses make this country an ideal choice for your equestrian adventure.
For centuries, French horsemen have been honing their equestrian skills in numerous battles and wars. As one of the oldest horse riding cultures in the world, you’ll do this country justice by exploring its breathtaking landscapes on horseback.
Follow well-maintained trails once ridden by medieval knights, make your way through fortified towns and ancient monasteries, enjoy the tranquility of the French countryside, savor the delicious cuisine and wine, and experience “joie de vivre” at its best!
Wondering which region of France will be most suited for your next holiday? Read on to discover the most exciting horse riding spots.
Combining the former regions of Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi Pyrenees, Occitanie lies in between the majestic Pyrenees Mountains and the sandy beaches of the Mediterranean coast. Suffice to say, this region is a joy to explore, with an abundance of varied landscapes and plenty of sunshine all year round (300 days a year to be precise).
Otherwise known as ‘the Real South of France’, Languedoc offers all the perks of the French Riviera without the crowds. The region boasts amazing Mediterranean beaches, which are perfect for beach rides far from the overcrowded seaside resorts. The views across the coast to the snow-capped Pyrenees are simply spectacular.
Along these gorgeous white-sand beaches, you’ll discover beautiful countryside with charming French villages and lush green fields. The surroundings of Aveyron host many horse riding holidays and will be a perfect base for your equestrian adventure.
Riding through this breathtaking scenery, you’ll discover some of France’s most spectacular historical sites, including the world's largest medieval castle, La Cité in Carcassonne. As France’s second most visited attraction after the Eiffel Tower, this majestic landmark definitely deserves a spot on your bucket list.
Another amazing point of interest, the Parc Naturel Régional de la Narbonnaise en Mediterranée is a vast natural park that is adored by equestrian travel enthusiasts worldwide. Gallop through 80,000 hectares of lagoons, wetlands, beautiful beaches, pine forests, and rocky massifs to discover the best of France’s nature!
Tucked away in the depth of the park, you’ll find many captivating fishing villages. The most famous of them is Bages in the Aude department, a charming village that sits on a rocky outcrop with spectacular views of the sea.
Photo credit: Frederick Wildman and Sons, Ltd via commons.wikimedia.org
You’ll be pleased to learn that even in the hottest summer days, the cooling winds from the mountains make Languedoc perfect for long trail rides. Olive trees, Mediterranean oaks, cherry trees, and plane trees frame the roads to create a welcoming cover from the sun.
Should you find yourself in Languedoc, the two most popular riding trails are:
1. ‘Le Sentier Cathare’. This trail goes from Port-la-Nouvelle on the Mediterranean Sea along the Pyrenees to Foix in the Ariège. This is the most well-known trail in France, which passes by Queribus, Peyrepertuse, Puilaurens, Puivert, Montségur, and Foix medieval fortresses.
2. ‘The Transéquestre’. The Transéquestre trail crosses the Aude department from North to South, from the Black Mountain to Carcassonne, then Limoux, finishing up at the castle at Puilaurens. Crossing a variety of landscapes and points of interest, this route offers an opportunity to discover the full diversity of the region.
Often overlooked by visitors, is 'The Circuit des Traboucayres' will let you immerse deep in the dramatic mountain trails of Languedoc's Pyrenees, leading half-way into the Spanish part of the mountains.
Have you ever heard of Camargue horses? This indigenous breed of wild white horses is one of the oldest in the world and can be spotted in the Camargue area east of Montpellier. These noble creatures are a pleasure to observe, and should you travel with your loved one, a romantic ride on the beach in their company is a must.
Photo credit: Barbarossa via .commons.wikimedia.org
The region of Midi-Pyrenees offers breathtaking views of magnificent mountain peaks, deep green river valleys, wild gorges, and crystal clear coastal lakes. This area boasts a variety of wildlife including deer, wild boar, dormice, red squirrel, hares, buzzards and kites.
More experienced and adventurous riders will particularly love the rocky and uneven mountain paths of the Pyrenees. The steep rocky peaks that create a perfect backdrop can stir the soul of even the bravest riders. For some of the more difficult trails in the area, you have to be in good physical condition, be comfortable with the rough terrain and be able to lead your horse in steep areas. Yet, there are plenty of trails available for less experienced riders as well.
Can’t wait to explore one of France’s most exciting regions? Be sure to plan some time aside horse riding because Occitanie offers plenty to do and to see. Some of the most popular activities that will make a great addition to your equestrian journey are lake and river fishing, hiking, cycling, canoeing, golfing, potholing, climbing, hang-gliding, paragliding, pleasure flights, hot air ballooning and boat trips (and that’s not even the full list).
If you’re looking for a more relaxed stay, chill on a terrace or by the pool in a traditional gîte or château, which are the typical accommodation types. Enjoy the beautiful vistas over a world-class gourmet meal and sip some delicious regional wine just like the noble French horsemen did back in the day.
The largest French region, Nouvelle-Aquitaine stretches all the way from the Spanish border and the Pyrenees in the south to the Loire Valley, and from the Atlantic coastal sands in the west to the Massif Central in the east.
This mainly rural region will present you with emerald agricultural vistas scattered with quaint, picturesque villages and market towns. The scenery here is genuinely diverse, from wild river valleys and mountain peaks to vineyards and pine forests to the Atlantic beaches!
Housing some of the biggest horse racing events, this area attracts horse riding enthusiasts from all over the world. While initially Aquitanian farmers used to keep small horses for domestic purposes, today they breed some of the most well-groomed, strong racing horses to supply the world’s best racers.
Fancy a ride on rough terrain? Chances are you’ll fall in love with Pays Basque, a southwestern area that adjoins the Basque province of Spain. Here, you’ll get to ride in the unspoiled and rugged wilderness, on trails heading from the high peaks into deep and wild valleys. This scenery offers many opportunities to trot or canter, and all what adventurous riders might ask for.
Do note that this exciting trek is recommended for fit intermediate riders who are confident in all paces.
Moreover, in the Basque Country, far away from civilization, you’ll be able to spot the Pottocks, an endangered horse breed that is indigenous to the region. This breed is generally shy, but you might get a chance to approach the herd, which is protected by a fearless stallion.
Photo credit: Antxon Gomez via commons.wikimedia.org
Having descended from the mountain terrains, you’ll get the chance to explore captivating villages and meet the proud Basque folk.
Would you like to experience more of Aquitaine’s rich history and culture? The trails of the Perigord Region in Dordogne will take you on a journey back in time. Ride through a stunning forest, which was a refuge for locals during the One Hundred Years War, all the way to the walled cities and fortified castles that were built during that period.
A perfect way to round up your riding adventure in South West France is an Atlantic coastal ride. For an exhilarating beach riding experience, travel to the area of Mimizan-Bourg, which lies in the center of Landes Forest, the largest pine forest in Europe located just a few miles away from the coast.
The terrain here offers the perfect backdrop for your adventure and just begs for individual canters outside of your riding group. Ride on soft sandy paths through vineyards and pine forests all the way to the vast coastal area. Gallop through more than 250 kilometers of Aquitanian coast – just you, your horse, and the fresh ocean breeze in your hair. If the weather conditions allow, you might even venture in for a swim! Surfers and water sports enthusiasts will especially enjoy the waters here.
Photo credit: Centre Équestre le Marina
Are you keen on spending some time around a campfire? Horse riding holidays in the area often include the bivouac (improvised campsite) for a day or two, which is a perfect opportunity to connect deeper with Aquitanian nature, relax after an adventure-packed day and enjoy delicious local dishes and barbecue accompanied by homemade Sangria.
Are you ready for an unforgettable riding adventure, the French way? Check out our finest selection of horse riding holidays in France!