Lucie consulted the Routard guidebook for the region near Foix. 'Horses,' she exclaimed, 'Just listen to this: "The Mérens horse is considered to be descended from the race represented in cave paintings from the Magdalenian period, 13,000 years ago. Short legged and sturdy, they are perfectly adapted to the Pyreneen region." ' Then she gave a shout of triumph. 'We can stay at the Ferme de Méras, where the owner farms only with oxen or mules. He gives courses in training farm animals and is an associate of the Mérens horse society.'
That is how we came to spend four days at Olivier Courthiade's farm. It was an experience of life in the countryside as it used to be. The farm is reached via a road with several hairpin bends. Our arrival was observed by a crowd of dogs and several mules, as well as a Mérens horse. Within half an hour of arriving, we were embarked in Olivier's car, together with as many dogs as could fit in around us, to drive up the hill to take grain for his sheep and goats. These wander freely during the summer season, so they all wear bells. The tinkling came faster and faster as they all rushed to their barn for a share of the grain.
Olivier simply sweeps all visitors into the family. Dinner is eaten - late - on the balcony, with a view of the sunset behind the hills. Then as darkness falls, we continue our meal by candlelight. The food is a delight - all cooked by Olivier from the produce of his garden and local meat. His soups and sauces are mouthwatering. The relaxed atmosphere adds to the charm of the evening. In this photo, everything is ready for a first course of 'soupe à l'oeuf'.
Below : The stables and some of the carts in use
Below : Inside the stables. The mules are very happy if you bring them apple peel.
Ferme de Méras - Ariège Pyrénées
La Ferme de Méras
09240 La Bastide de Serou, Ariège Pyrénées, France,
Tel : (33) 05 61 64 50 66 ( Daily before 9am or after 9pm) English spoken - Habla español + catalan ...
[C] words - Beth Elliott, photos Lucie Rochelle 07/09/2012