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My kingdom for a horse - in France!
Riding through ancient Languedoc

April 2, 2007

by Bob Fisher Roe for Equestrian Adventurer

Photos: Bob Fisher

Article © 2007
This article may not be reproduced in
any form without prior permission.

I have travelled in France more times than I can count, but I have never felt as integrated with the landscape as I did recently at Pont de Calmel, in the South of France, on a trip for equestrian travel resource,

A multi-purpose equestrian center with beautifully restored gtes (self-catering vacation apartments), Pont de Calmel is ideally located in the heart of one of the most unique areas of Western Europe.

This is also sublime horse country with the kind of topography and vistas that can only be truly appreciated with an equine companion. Penetrating the millennial mysteries of Languedoc aboard Listo, my noble Andalusian cross, was the most romantic journey through France I have ever taken.

From Pont de Calmel, you can follow on horseback various ancient routes to the fortified town of Minerve which is delicately perched on the banks of a deep multi-hued gorge. The essence and beauty of this area is its wildness, with prolific forests of soaring pines and green oaks. From Pont de Calmel, you can trek over the surrounding hills and mountains, through high pastures and olive groves where flocks of sheep wander at will.

The town of Minerve.
The region is very atmospheric; the air is pure Mediterranean. Soft aromas from the vegetation are released as the sun climbs in the sky, and warm breezes from the sea sweep up the rising land, creating updrafts on which Royal Eagles - three at one count - soar majestically against a deep blue sky.

The hub of this very "value-added" vacation is Pont de Calmel. Operated by Aviva and Nils Steenbergen, Pont de Calmel is a former sheep farm dating from a time when this part of France was considered of little value except strategically as a buffer zone between France and Spain.

Mares running in a field.
As an equestrian vacation and cultural experience, Pont de Calmel is also ideal for visiting some of the most inspiring sites in France: the Roman town of Nimes, Montpellier ("Paris without the pressure"), the Mediterranean marshes and beaches, the ancient walled city of Carcassonne, the Pyrenees, Toulouse, and even Barcelona - all within easy driving distance.

Aviva and Nils are also committed to the well-being of their horses and a very carefully thought out breeding program. From their two Andalusian stallions and Andalusian and Andalusian cross mares, they have produced a working group of very sure-footed and solid animals ideal for this diverse and rigorous terrain.

Horses grazing in Pont de Calmel.
Our first all-day trek was an experience in sensory enrichment. We began by casually making our way through the nearby town of Riussec, meeting and greeting the locals, stopping for a brief chat with the baker, and beginning a non-stop photo op. Before long we were in the middle of a forest and climbing ever so gradually, eventually reaching 850 meters.

On the last morning of my stay at Pont de Calmel, I awoke early in order to climb to the mountainside pasture where the herd was quietly grazing. Equally at peace, I wandered among them listening to the reassuring sounds of contented horses in the still morning air. From somewhere below a cuckoo called. Above me a Royal Eagle drifted in lazy circles. I felt like a king.



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