Updated on 21 July 2021
Reading time: 4 minutes
Away from the hustle and bustle of Normandy’s towns and cities, just inland from where the River Seine meets the Channel, lies the Marais Vernier marshes. This stunning nature reserve is a bit of a hidden gem, offering its visitors peace, tranquility and the opportunity to switch off from everyday life. Enjoy a relaxing donkey ride, like we did with local gite owner and guide Antoine, and you’ll soon be feeling quite at one with nature!
A world away
As we enter the Marais Vernier, as if by magic, a couple of storks fly across the road. Surrounded by all this nature, our everyday worries suddenly seem very far away! Arriving at our home for the next two nights, the Gîte de l’Anerie, it’s almost like time has stood still. Gite owners Antoine and Céline welcome us into their warm, half-timbered 18th-century cottage, which has been lovingly restored using all local, eco-friendly materials. We are shown to our lodge and soon settle in, before spendinga lovely evening amidst a thousand curiosities collected by our hosts, enjoying tasty cuisine whipped up using ingredients grown in the garden, and listening to Antoine and Céline’s many colourful stories.
After a good night’s sleep, the family reconvenes the next morning on the terrace outside the gite, which has been designed to accommodate disabled people. The terrace overlooks the marshes, and stretching out before us is what looks like a huge amphitheatre of greenery punctuated by reed beds and marshland. This forgotten former meander in the nearby River Seine is an important bird migration corridor frequented by gray herons, storks, ducks, ospreys, swans, peregrine falcons and other birds of prey.
lead the way Roman!
These stunning surroundings are enough to thrill anyone, but what’s most exciting for our little boy Roman today is the promise of a walk in the Marais Vernier with one of Antoine and Céline’s three friendly donkeys, Fripon, Félicie and Uguette! So when Antoine, who will be our guide, asks him to come and help get Fripon ready – brushing him and putting on his reins – Roman’s eyes really start to shine. His joy intensifies even more once it’s time to go on the walk and Antoine makes him in charge of leading Fripon!
‘Donkeys adapt very easily to people, whether they are fragile, disabled or, like Roman, have Down’s syndrome,’ explains Antoine. ‘Faced with danger, horses bolt, but donkeys stop.’
An experienced guide
Our host and guide Antoine is friendly and considerate, having worked for over 20 years in social work, particularly through his association ‘Culture & Nature’, where he works with young people with special needs using audio and video media. He tells us all about the gentle nature of donkeys, and how they are tame rather unlike horses, who need to be trained. He demonstrates by speaking suddenly and loudly to Fripon, who stops.
‘I also warned Fripon beforehand that if he misbehaved, I’d turn him into a sausage!’ Antoine faux whispers to us, and we all burst out laughing.
Memories to last a lifetime
Roman is very proud as he leads Fripon and the rest of us on our walk! Soon Antoine invites him to ride on Fripon’s back, and helps him into the saddle. From up there, he contents himself spying cows and sheep, Camargue horses and Highland cattle. From Fripon’s back, he also points out colourful vegetable patches over the hedges, a castle perched on its hillock, and walkers and cyclists exploring the marshes in the distance.
Our relaxing and scenic walk with the donkeys ends with a delicious glass of juice made with apples from Antoine and Céline’s orchard, and a goodbye pat from Roman to his trusty steed Fripon. Roman certainly won’t forget this day in a while!
The Marais Vernier
The Marais Vernier marshes cover some 11,000 acres of land that were once a meander in the River Seine, and forms a natural ‘amphitheatre’ of biodiversity. It constitutes an important migration corridor for wild birds and is recognised at European level for its diverse fauna and flora.
Find out more about the Marais Vernier
Gîte de l’Anerie
54 quartier de Clairval, 27680 Marais-Vernier
+ 33 6 73 30 50 39 | gitedelanerie.fr
Maximum gite capacity is nine people. Two-night minimum stay. No TV but family board games are available. This gite has been awarded the national Tourism & Handicap quality label.
All year round at weekends (depending on Antoine’s availability).
Rides only available from 1 May to 31 October.
Gite rental prices start at:
€300 for two nights (weekend)
€430 for four nights (mid-week)
€480 for six nights
Minimum 2 nights.
Donkey rides free of charge (as part of gite package)
Places to eat
Auberge de l’Etampage
82 quartier de l’église, 27680 Marais-Vernier
All of our Normandy Experiences service providers adhere to the strict health and safety measures currently in place across France.
All of the above information is subject to change