Italy- Wine, Wonder and Riding in Tuscany

February 25, 2010

Trail Riding in Tuscany? You bet! Learn about Italy horse riding adventures.

By KT O'Neill

What comes to mind when you read Montepulciano, Montalcino, or Siena? Rolling Tuscan hills under a cobalt sky streaked with cotton-candy clouds. Cypress-lined country roads leading to ancient earth-toned villas. The subtle elegance and deep ruby hue of Montepulicano's world famous Brunello. The rich oak undertones and blood red depths of Chianti GDOC. Perhaps the incredible 460 year-old tradition of the world famous palio (horse race) run in Siena's Piazza del Campo every July 2nd and August 16th.

What DOESN'T come to mind is trail riding! I joined Michele and Nicola, local Italian horse riders, on a crystal clear day in late May for the second Siena ride of spring 2006. Valentino, my flea-bitten gray Anglo-Arab, stood quietly while I mounted, then started off at a brisk trot. My adventure had begun!

The medieval papal border town of Centeno, once the infamous jail of Galileo Galilei and a notorious papal border duties collection point, quickly fell behind us as we started up old Via Francigena, a major medieval thoroughfare turned meandering country road. Heading north past sheep farms, open fields, restored casale (traditional Tuscan farm houses) and flower-strewn meadows, Michele set a hard pace, trotting and cantering in turns. Our horses were more than happy to accommodate this fast-paced journey through the Umbrian countryside having had the prior week off.

Several gigged and danced their way along the road while others cantered in place. Annie, an English woman on holiday with her uncle, was trying, in vain, to convince her horse to trot instead of dance while Sophie, a young lady from Switzerland, gave up on staying in the back with us. All in all, Michele was showing great wisdom in setting such a pace as the horses definitely needed to have the edge taken off! Valentino, being the man of the group, he's nine this year, watched all of this energy-wasting fidgeting with an air of long-suffering patience. Not to say he was a dud, he just made it a point to show me he was above all this coltish behavior.

The day grew hot and I thought of the sunscreen I had forgotten to put on my shoulders; the same shoulders that were now a nice shade of pink. My companions had obviously remembered to apply their sunscreen, all except Donna; a Californian whose family still live on their 150 year-old sheep farm in Locus, California - who was working on a pair of fiery red cheeks.

We trotted and cantered our way through the northern corner of Umbria and into the southern point of Tuscany, each of us becoming more and more familiar with our horses with each passing kilometer.

Just about the time my tummy started to remind me that I hadn't eaten at breakfast, we clattered up the tight-turning cobbled streets of Radicofani, a typical southern Tuscan medieval town with its fortified tower glowering down on the main town tucked into the hillside. It seemed whole town was either leaning out of windows or standing in open doorways watching us as we clip-clopped our way through the streets. I waved and received huge smiles and buon giorno in return.

Dismounting, we all had a minute or two of saddle feet after three hours of trotting and cantering. Our horses edged towards the watering buckets as we loosened girths and adjusted stirrups; once they had drunk their fill, we led them to a nice, tree-covered alcove, unsaddled them, took off bridles and turned them over to Jennifer, a Texan groom who landed in Italy. Nicola then accompanied us to the trattoria where we were to have lunch.

And what a lunch!!! Chilled bottles of water and carafes of locally produced red wine provided the perfect backdrop to an extraordinary meal. Hot and cold antipasti followed by zuppa di crema di funghi porcini (cream of porcini mushroom soup), pasta smothered in salsa di cinghiale (wild boar sauce), and a selection of three decedent desserts. And I was supposed to be hungry again at dinner?! Digestivi, limoncello, grappa, amaro (after-dinner drinks, or after-lunch, in this case!) topped off this culinary experience.

We sat and chatted, new acquainted life-long friends from different corners of the globe - Swiss, French, English, German, American, Australian, and Italian. It's been my experience that horses and traveling have a way of bringing people together in immediate friendship.

Jennifer joined us for a quick bite then we were headed back to our mounts, rested, refreshed and ready to go. As I patted Valentino's well-muscled neck, I realized that this ride was truly going to be an once-in-a-lifetime adventure. I may return and retrace my steps, but I would never again ride in this exact company under these exact circumstances.

As we set out, I promised myself that I would savor each and every moment of this unique journey. And I smiled, oh yes, ahead lay the multi-hued vistas of Val d'Orcia - Tuscan hillsides draped in spring colors, the cypress-lined avenues of Montepulciano, and the rippling wheat-covered hills of Monteciello, then on through Etruscan legend and Roman ruins to the very heart of Tuscany. And I was going to experience it all from the back of a horse!

Topics: Europe, Italy, Italy horse riding, Italy horseback, Trail Riding, Tuscany, Tuscany horse riding, Tuscany horseback

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