Posted on Wednesday, June 1st, 2011
One of the great parts of a riding vacation is the chance to get off the beaten track and move at a pace that allows you to really experience a country and meet local characters. Margret Edwards, a long time Equitours client, captures the essence of this opportunity in her description of our Discover Tuscany ride:
…I’m pleased to tell you that my two weeks in Italy were all that I had hoped and, at certain moments, even better than I had let myself imagine. The weather was perfection–most of the time it was sunny, breezy and cool. No bugs, no heat, no dismal cloud cover or chilliness. I needed my windbreaker in the mornings but was in shirtsleeves during the afternoons and wore my light coat at night out to the Florentine restaurants and walking back to the hotel at near midnight. Yet I had intimations that Italy could be very hot. There was a certain look to the way the plaster in fresco surfaces was deteriorating–and there was a distinct odor to the pavings inside light-deprived cloisters–that made me aware I was fortunate in my timing. Other tourists were determined to be fortunate also, and to the astonishment of most store clerks I asked, the streets of Medieval hill towns along the rail line from Florence and of the city of Florence itself were jammed with tourists. The “high season” used to start in late April, but it was “full on” this year by April 8. But no fact of my being part of the hoard could cloud my enjoyment of all that I did and saw.
During my week of riding in Tuscany, of course, I was not surrounded by crowds. As you know, I was part of a small group of guests and pleased to be in the company of Jenny and her staff. Jenny, let me say right off, was the best leader of a ride I’ve ever experienced–and my experience of such rides is by now fairly extensive, since ”Discover Tuscany” was my 7th taken under the auspices of Equitours.
The horses were lovely and very well cared for. There were 15 of them–plenty to choose from. I was given a sweet, tall, grey Polish warmblood named “Merlino” who was forward-going but not a bit spooky. We rode English tack. The other women (as I think you know, my group was all women, mostly middle-aged and I was the eldest by about 10 years) were mostly horse owners themselves, and we got along well. .. Exceptions were made gracefully whenever called for, and there was no shoe-horning everyone into the same schedule. Jenny gave us suggestions, and never orders.
I rode with the other 4 women and each of them loved her mount as I did mine. We were skilled enough together to keep a good pace and to burst into trots or canters whenever the terrain allowed. Traveling down the long lanes between the olive trees and along the dirt lanes meant we had plenty of good footing. The horses walked, of course, as we went steeply uphill onto ridgelines and passed ruined castles and admired wonderful views. Flowers were blooming on the fruit trees, festoons of wisteria abounded, camellias flourished beside tulips and daffodils. There were wild hedges of white heather plants, which, when cut and dried, were woven, we were told, into hearth brooms. On various patios and in stone courtyards and near many doorways, I saw potted lemon trees heavy with lemons. And during my next week in Florence, I delighted in the fact the stone streets were ornamented with pots and pots full of azaleas and hydrangeas.
Oh yes…the food was terrific–I have to mention that. The coffee, strong everywhere in Italy, was a daily pleasure. I never found myself drinking watery coffee! I also amazed myself by not gaining a pound, despite my eating plenty of delicious pasta and risotto, having a dessert each night, and downing each day several glasses of the local wine (we were looking out onto the Chianti hills) as well as a nightly pick-me-ups of Limoncello.
It’s really all too much for me to put into words. I took way too many photos and purchased way too many postcards. Even now, more than a week after my return, I am still there at Rendola and in Florence in my dreams. Each night, it’s as if I’m trying to digest a very hearty meal of many courses, my mind has been inundated with such a deluge of imagery and sensation…