The second week of winter break is almost halfway over and I don’t know where the time has gone! We’ve stuck closer to home this past week. On Monday, we had an afternoon out with donkeys. France, like many other countries worldwide, is pushing agricultural tourism as a way to help farmers earn extra income and show off their knowledge. Any working farm or ranch can participate. Sometimes agriculture tourism means a gîte or a farm bed-and-breakfast, sometimes it means a “petting zoo”-type experience with farm animals, other times you can even help out on the farm–the possibilities depend on the farmer and his/her domain. L’Âne de Gouttière, located between Dol-de-Bretagne and Combourg, is one example in the greater Saint Malo area.
Frédéric and his family raise their sheep for both meat and wool. While the sheep provide their principal livelihood, they also have chickens, rabbits and donkeys. In 2005, they decided to branch out into agricultural tourism and started include donkey rides and themed visits. (You can also learn about how yarn is made. They dye and sell their own yarn.) For 25€, we rented a donkey for the afternoon. Frédéric and his daughter were there to greet us and teach us Donkey 101. While he was getting our donkey, the girls went exploring around the farm. The sheep, especially the baby lambs, immediately caught their attention. Once our donkey was tied up and waiting for us, Laura and Elise went straight to work brushing our donkey Oliver. I was surprised that they were both so at ease with Oliver considering that he was at least twice their size. You can choose to take your donkey out alone for the morning or afternoon (map with suggested itinerary provided) or have Frédéric go with you (25€/2 hours). We took the plunge and decided to go out on our own. After our crash course in how to “pilot” a donkey–including the all important Rule No. 1 Do NOT let the donkey stop to graze or you will never go anywhere–we were off!
Their farm is minutes from a natural reserve and an ancient mill that has been nicely maintained (perhaps restored?). While his map provided a nice loop that older children could easily have done, we chose to go to the mill and back. As only one child at a time can ride the donkey, we were moving at a slower pace than most people. Most of the walk is on hiking trails. A small portion is on back roads, however, we only met a tractor on our walk. As much as the girls enjoyed brushing and cleaning Oliver, riding him was another matter. I’m not sure if it was being so far off the ground or being on an animal but neither girl lasted long on his back. We went with friends. Their son who is the same age as Laura loved riding the donkey and spent most of the hike on Oliver’s back. We brought backpacks to carry a snack but your donkey comes with saddle bags. A donkey can easily carry up to 40 kilos of baggage without a problem!
While you wouldn’t plan your family vacation around a day trip here, if you are spending time in the area with your kids, this would make a nice half-day trip and a change from ocean/water-based excursions. For the more adventurous and those looking for a short break, they will help you plan a 2-5 day hiking trip with your donkey! If you’ve ever wanted to walk to the Mont Saint Michel with a donkey carrying your belongings this is your chance! Each days’ hike ends with you spending the night in a local B&B or farm. I think for now an afternoon is more than enough for the girls given their age. One day, however, maybe we will walk to the Mont!