When civil engineer Mickaël Guerin and his husband Florian Rouault, a children’s carer, decided to go travelling, their focus was more on the journey than the destination.
The couple, who hail from Bordeaux, wanted to explore the country unhurriedly – and from the comfort of their own vehicle.
“Six years ago, we met a family who were travelling in a horse-drawn caravan,” says Mickaël, 47.
“It planted an idea in our heads and a year later we had acquired our first horse and started building our wagon.”
As well as a means of transport and a place to bed down at night, the couple also wanted something to keep them busy. The caravan ticks all three boxes.
The pair now provide workshops for children, introducing them to eco-friendly living, and offer unique accommodation for paying guests in a separate wagon.
‘We took lessons in horse care’
Mickaël and Florian were able to find a wagon chassis relatively easily, but it took longer to prepare themselves and their caravan for the road.
“Florian has always been a horseman, but he had never owned one of his own,” says Mickaël.
“We had to find a horse with experience, particularly around traffic, as it can be different to pulling things in a field. And we also took some lessons in horse care.”
They purchased Zorba in December 2016, together with a caravan chassis. This was a fairly basic construction and provided only one bedroom.
“Once we had practised pulling the caravan around, we felt more confident,” says Mickaël.
“We acquired a second horse and a second wagon a year later, in 2017.”
Photo: Renovations in progress; Credit: Mickaël Guerin and Florian Rouault
‘We were never very materialistic’
Before their adventure could really begin, however, the pair had to convert the caravan into suitable accommodation for permanent living.
Their 3.5m x 2m space now includes a bed, a kitchen area with gas stove, a sink, solar panels, and a wooden stove to keep things cosy in the winter.
“We have a water tank too, but don’t generally fill it because of the weight,” says Florian.
They wash in a bucket – what they call a ‘cat wash’ – or outdoors in summer, and use a composting toilet.
Moving from a house to a tiny caravan might involve difficult adjustments for some people, but Florian and Mickaël appear to have taken things in their stride.
“We were never very materialistic,” says Mickaël. “We didn’t buy or have many things. So to get rid of what wouldn’t fit into our 7m² space wasn’t too much of a challenge.”
King of your own clock
As well as being able to explore France on their own terms, the main lure of their new way of life is the “liberty of time” they have gained.
“Being king of your own clock is the greatest freedom,” says Mickaël.
“We go from place to place, and it takes time.
“Everything needs to be done – chopping wood, caring for the horses. We are getting closer to a more organic way of living – less artificial.”
Florian and Mickaël visit schools en route to talk about eco-living.
“Florian had been working with children for 25 years, and we wanted to keep in touch and teach children about our way of life.
“We try to arrange a couple of school visits a week, although it can be difficult to schedule things due to our unpredictable timetable,” says Mickaël.
The pair also offer a range of activities in the villages they stop in, from outdoor games and yoga to documentary projections and shows.
They try, wherever possible, to stay off the beaten track.
“Often, there’s some common land where you are allowed to stay and let your animals eat.
“Generally, if the grass is not mowed or it’s not well maintained, you are permitted,” explains Mickaël.
Costs of horse-drawn life have increased
The second wagon started life as a rental that also allowed guests to travel on the road with the couple.
However, they concede it was “difficult to organise” due to their unpredictable timetable.
Consequently, they have since acquired a third chassis and created a ‘summer caravan’, which they host on a campsite.
The location changes each year. Guests can enjoy a holiday on the static site, but also experience the thrill of a horse-drawn trip as part of their holiday, with a few luxuries thrown in.
The wagon comes with two fold-out double beds, a wardrobe, sink, table, storage and even a bookcase.
Since buying their first caravan and horse, the pair warn that prices have increased.
“You used to be able to build a year-round-living wagon for €5,000, but it’s closer to €8,000 now, with electrical and solar equipment, handmade mattresses, a wood stove, etc.
A pulling horse used to be €2,500 back in 2016. These days, it will probably cost you €5,000, in part because the price of horse meat has gone through the roof.”
Putting down roots in Brittany
Despite loving life on the road, Mickaël and Florian see their existence evolving in future, both due to the horses’ age and because travelling during the height of summer or the worst of winter can prove challenging.
“We’ve found a site in north Brittany where we’re going to set up a base camp,” says Mickaël.
“We’ll then be living a semi-nomadic life – travelling in autumn and spring when the weather is more favourable for the horses.
“Plus, it would be nice to stop a while, build something and have a circle of friends.
“When you’re travelling, you’re always leaving people behind.”