Best for literature lovers: Cévennes - Europe - Travel - The Independent

Best for literature lovers: Cévennes

You wouldn't have picked her out as the ideal holiday companion. Yes, she was pretty and petite, with soulful eyes and beguiling eyelashes. But Salomé was also narrow-minded, with a strident voice, crooked teeth, a curious body odour and a broad, hairy backside.

Then again, she was available. Ultimately, that's all that matters. My wife agreed. We had decided at short notice to spend a few days trekking in the Cévennes, near Millau in southern France. The children – then aged nine and 11 – were struggling to see the point. It made sense to sweeten the pill by using the region's most famous form of transport: a donkey.

Tourists have been seeking asinine assistance when walking in these parts ever since Robert Louis Stevenson published Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes in 1879. Many still follow religiously in his footsteps, retracing the author's 12-day hike from Le Puy-en-Velay to St-Jean-du-Gard along what is now "The Stevenson Trail".

Others are driven by practical considerations. The Cévennes are less backward than they were in Stevenson's day, but no less steep. A beast of burden can lighten the walker's task considerably – in theory. In practice, we had barely climbed the first hill before Clare and the children ruled that it was "cruel" to ask so slight a creature to carry our giant rucksack. This flew in the face of what her owners had told us, but I didn't put up much of a fight. Even with a 40lb load on my back, I quickly realised that, as we walked, all sorts of cares were slipping from our shoulders.

A rough path took us through an ancient forest which thinned occasionally but never quite ended. Sometimes we emerged at a high vantage point, to gaze over thrilling green seas of wilderness. Then the trees would swallow us again. There was nothing much to look at – just the hypnotic complexity of unspoilt nature. We walked; we chatted; we drank in the dappled sunlight and the forest scents. The sound of our footsteps was lost in birdsong and rustling leaves. And the whingeing, which we would have expected to begin within an hour or so, was strangely absent – apparently diffused by Salomé's presence.

The children took it in turns to lead her, and occasionally had short rides. She seemed to enjoy it and, indeed, to like our company. (When we stopped for the night, she trotted to meet us with a joyful bray in the morning.) Sometimes, though, her agenda baffled us. She would refuse – for no fathomable reason – to pass over a particular stretch of path. No amount of tugging, shoving or bribery would dissuade her, although she could be tricked into relenting if you led her round in a circle first.

Yet our struggle to see the world through her eyes proved oddly rewarding. Our excursion yielded many delights: the lush forests, the occasional views, the wildlife (squirrels, eagles, a nocturnal wild boar), the remote, tumbledown settlements, and the friendly keepers of the region's various hostels. But the part that lives on most vividly in our family memory was our brief relationship with the enigmatic beast who was the expedition's focal point. When our trek ended, back at its starting-point in Castagnols (near the southern end of Stevenson's 120-mile route), we learnt that Gentiâne, Salomé's owners, don't just hire out donkeys to walkers. They also offer extended sessions of expert-supervised "asino-thérapie".

The donkey, it seems, is "très proche de sa nature, de ses besoins, de ses instincts" and, as such, is ideally qualified to help human beings to reconnect with their natural selves, promoting psychological and emotional well-being. We would have laughed at such an idea before we met Salomé. Now, it would have been hard to think of a better description of what had happened to us.

I wonder what she's doing now?

Ways with words

# Every decade, some 2,000 people from Oberammergau, in Bavaria, stage a biblical play dating back four centuries. This year, the traditional 19th-century text has been reworked and a new set and costumes will contribute to this five-hour theatrical marathon, the last-surviving example of a once-common German tradition.

# Scotland's desolately magnificent Cairngorm mountains are the setting for James Matthew Barrie's 150th birthday. The creator of Peter Pan was born in a weaver's cottage in Kirriemuir and the town is producing an arts festival and new collector's edition book commemorating their literary son.

# Damian Barr is hosting a literary salon weekend in the deepest Sussex Downs, with guest author David Nicholls. Expect cosy fireside stories, decadent dinners and plenty of bibliotherapy. 19-21 February, £385pp, including accommodation, food, drink and a library of books.

# With smart new hotels, hot bars and cool museums, Beirut is currently a city on the up. And there's no better time to visit than this spring, during the Beirut 39 Festival (hayfestival. com/beirut39) when 39 writers under the age of 40 will present the new voices of Arab literature.

# Dublin is rich in pubs and poetry and its Literary Pub Crawl (dublinpub makes the very most of both. The guides, all actors, start with a pint of Ireland's finest and a rousing reading from Samuel Beckett before moving on to Behan, Wilde, Joyce et al.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week