A world apart
On arrival at the Marais Vernier, two storks fly overhead, as if by magic. Surrounded by all this nature, our daily worries suddenly seem far away. When we arrive at the Gîte de l'Anerie, our home for the next two days, time seems to have stopped. Owners Céline and Antoine give us a warm welcome to their small 18th-century half-timbered house, beautifully renovated with local and eco-friendly materials. We settle into our room before spending a pleasant evening surrounded by the curiosities collected by our hosts, enjoying good food made from produce grown in the garden, all the while listening to Céline and Antoine's fascinating stories.
After a good night's sleep, we meet the next morning on the gîte's terrace, designed for easy access for disabled visitors. The terrace overlooks the marshes and an immense amphitheatre of greenery punctuated by reed beds. This ancient forgotten meander near the Seine is an important bird migration route frequented by grey herons, storks, ducks, ospreys, swans, peregrine falcons and other birds of prey.
We were all delighted by the surrounding countryside, but our son Roman was even more excited about the day's activity: a ride on Fripon, Félicie and Uguette, Antoine and Cécile's three donkeys! I saw his eyes light up when Antoine asked him to come and help him brush and prepare Fripon. You can imagine his joy when, during the ride, Antoine let him lead Fripon himself.
"Donkeys adapt quickly to people, whether they are fragile, handicapped or, like Roman, have Down's syndrome," explains Antoine. "When faced with danger, horses get carried away - but donkeys stop."
A guided experience
Our host and guide Antoine is warm and attentive, having worked in social care for over 20 years, in particular within his 'Culture & Nature' association, which helped young people with learning difficulties by way of audio and video support. He talks about the gentleness and docility of donkeys, unlike horses, which need to be trained. He demonstrates this by suddenly and loudly talking to Fripon, who stops...
"I also warned Fripon that if he didn't behave properly, I would turn him into a sausage!" Antoine says, making us burst out laughing.
Memories to last a lifetime
Roman is very proud to lead Fripon at the head of the procession! Antoine finally offers him a ride on his back and helps him get into the saddle. From up there, Roman is happy and admires the Camargue cows, sheep and horses. On Fripon's back, he also points out the colourful vegetable plantations, a chateau perched on a hill, and the walkers and cyclists exploring the marshes.
The relaxing donkey ride ends with a delicious apple juice from Antoine and Céline's orchard, and a farewell pat from Roman to his faithful steed Fripon. He won't forget this day in a hurry...
The Marais Vernier marshes extend over almost 10,000 hectares of land that was once a meander of the Seine, and form a natural 'amphitheatre' of biodiversity. They are an important migration route for wild birds and are recognised at European level for the diversity of wildlife.