Land of the Greek Gods
I’ve been back from horseback riding in Crete for over a week and am almost out of the woods with bookings and inquiries. Being hit by the real world is quite a shock after eight days in the saddle half way around the globe. Having never been to Crete, I was excited, but also had my concerns. The airline strikes and the Greek Economy’s effect on the European Union and protests were all over the news at the time. Apparently, this is all old hat for Europeans, as my flights to and from Athens and Heraklion were completely full and everyone seemed unconcerned. After hours of travel, I was greeted in Sabine & Manolis’s dining room with a warm fire, a huge plate of Moussaka, fresh baked bread, a glass of wine, and Crete’s traditional drink of distilled grapes, Raki. It was true and simple hospitality. I felt a little unnerved when I walked in and guests conversing in French, Dutch, and Greek rapidly switched into English for my benefit, but enjoyed conversations with everyone I met.
Riding throughout the week followed suit with good honest horses, quality tack, a myriad of trails, a variety of food, and Karen, our knowledgeable trail guide. If I wasn’t asking questions, I was taking pictures of the sheep standing on the tops of the trees (I swear) or collecting my reins for some long canters along the roads that crisscross the olive groves. Having not visited the ride for quite some time, we did experience some surprises. The itineraries were not as structured as advertised in our brochures, the progressive ride comes back to the hotel more nights than expected, stays can be shorter than a full 8 days, and Sabine has not been guiding as often, as her hands are full with her two beautiful little girls. I didn’t expect the weather to be cloudy this time of year, but that didn’t stop me from taking a quick dip into the Aegean Sea. Karen complained of the cold, but I told her that the water was perfect compared to swimming in the rivers formed by glacial melt in Wyoming.
During the riding lessons that I took with Manolis, I discovered how terribly awkward I can be in an English saddle. Apollon, my trusty steed, was incredibly forgiving, despite the fact that I was behaving something akin to a jackhammer on his back as we did a walk, trot, and canter series around the arena with our feet out of the stirrups. Shoulders back is my new mantra. But my overall impression of this riding vacation is that it is far from just getting by. Sabine and Manolis are constantly working, improving, building, envisioning, and creating their dream. It’s a lifestyle. That seems to be the difference between a good operation and one that is mediocre. They have a lovely hotel set in a beautiful location overlooking valleys of olive groves and small whitewashed villages. The food is all homemade and delicious. Their horses are fit and well cared for. Eighteen new Wintec all purpose English saddles are being shipped in within the next few weeks.
Sabine and Manolis are in the process of creating a stage for outdoor entertainment, a larger dining room, more trails, a new progressive ride, and a possible ride along the lake that will fill in the valley within the next few years. It was a pleasure to stay and ride in such a lovely place and experience Greek hospitality at its finest.
Article by Traci McClintick