"They're dream companions, really sweet and good-natured," he says. "I've seen retired people down on their tummies swatting horseflies off their animals, they become so fond of them." They're not the only ones. When it came time to part ways, Stevenson shed a tear for his "elegant" little Modestine. http://ane-et-rando.com; http://anegenti.free.fr
When Robert Louis Stevenson set off from Le Monestier in the Upper Loire for France's mountainous Cévennes region in 1878, the Scottish poet and novelist spent much of his 220-km walk cursing and goading Modestine, the recalcitrant "she-ass" he'd hired to carry his load. But by the time he reached St. Jean du Gard 12 days later, he'd had a change of heart about his long-eared companion, and the encounters they shared inspired his memorable account, Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes. Today, the Stevenson Trail also known as GR-70 (Grande Randonnée, or long hiking trail) is one of France's best-known donkey and trekking paths. And with interest surging in family hiking, donkeys from the Alps to the Atlantic are once more in demand as porters and endearing travel mates, especially for kids. More than 200 donkey agents now specialize in hikes 'n' hires. The affectionate quadrupeds, says Régine Delhome Boudreau of France's national donkey trekking organizers' association (FNAR), "give rhythm and soul to your walking. They facilitate contact and conversation." You can rent by the day (roughly $50), by the week, opt for a guided group or hoof it on your own, overnighting in small hotels, campsites or even yurts along the way. You thought donkeys were stubborn and lazy? Not so, argues Christian Brochier, whose firm Gentiâne (nice donkey) keeps 35 animals-for-hire in the Cévennes.