Where it all began
This blog post is written by Hanna Rogers.
Coming back to Tuscany is very special for me as this is where my journey with Hooves Around The World began! I wanted to give myself a few days either side of the meet up to explore the areas and be a tourist (by this I mean eat a lot of extremely good Italian cuisine) and that's exactly what I have done! So, let me start from the beginning ...
Also read: Horse riding in Tuscany, Italy
I decided to start this Journey in Pisa, I found flights from Manchester, UK to Pisa for £20! This was just for one way, and from Pisa there are direct trains down to Follonica which is where our transfer to the hotel picks us up from. A few girls on the trip also decided to arrive in Pisa a few days early, and we all met up and instantly hit it off. Bonding over gelato & sorbets in the morning (we're on holiday after all!) and of course some delicious local authentic food. Our first day in Pisa had us all a little confused and at the same time mesmerised as the entire streets were filled with people dressed from the 16th century parading around with their beautiful horses as they were celebrating "Gioco del Ponte" which translates to "Battle of the Bridge". This is held on June 24th and the day is broken into 5 different sections with the North Side and South Side divided by the river both doing several performances and finally coming to the battle at night. It is no longer a violent game but you can very much feel the energy high in the air from both sides of the city! From what I could see it is essentially the opposite of tug of war, both teams are pushing with all their might a humongous iron cart along a specially mounted track. Truly amazing to watch!
Now we all know of the popular "Torre Pendente di Pisa" also widely know as "The Leaning Tower Of Pisa". A fun fact is that when building the Tower it was a total accident it forming the famous lean. The aim was for it to be a free standing bell tower and with Pisa translating to Marshland... it takes this name due to the soil being mostly made up of soft clay, shells and sand. We then understand how the tilt took form. When building the structure only some 3 meters deep it was not at all solid enough to support such a heavy and big building. Five years into building the lean took form, over a hundred years later it was fully built and over the years they have tried to tilt the tower back upright so it doesn't collapse. It's a mystery of life that the tower hasn't collapsed going against all the physics. Much construction work has been maintained to keep the tower safe and people can pay to climb to the top (if you're feeling brave!).
After a few fun days exploring Pisa we hopped on a train down to Follonica which took a little over an hour and was greeted by Emilio who helps run the bustling family business and the mighty 10 of us made our way to the Hotel. This was about a 40 minutes scenic drive and the Italian like a windy road! So if you get travel sickness I would recommend coming prepared for the roads in Tuscany. We arrived at the beautiful hotel, set up high in the Tuscan hills near the local town of Montieri and were greeted by the very friendly Andrea (brother to Emilio) who is the man behind all logistics of making the magic happen! Everyone settled into their rooms and we all swiftly met down by the pool for some fun in the sun. The whole group bonded so quickly and we knew we were in for an incredible week together! We enjoyed a delicious 3 course meal at the hotel and sipped on the local wine, the conversations flowed till dark and we were all very eager to meet the horses the next morning!
Day two everyone met in the lobby around 9am and we crossed the road to the stables and met all the beautiful horses we would be getting to know throughout the week. As we were a big group of some beginners/novice riders and int/advanced we had our first day ride split into two so everyone could get a feel for the horses, the area and for the guides to see how we all get on. All the horses here are super safe and laid back which is why it is ideal for beginner riders to join on. They are light in the hand and responsive to your aids, they're all ridden English style, and the saddles are very comfortable! The first half day riders set out on the trails, we rode through fields full of wild flowers that touched our feet in the stirrups and rode through the most tranquil forests. We even were able to let the horses open up for some trots and canters!
We all met for lunch down by the river where the hotel had organised a picnic for everyone who wanted to join. I should probably mention these picnics are always boozy! Did you even go to Italy if you didn't have wine at lunch?! We were also greeted with Emilio's newest furry family member ... Their 4month old puppy called Pinollo (or Pino for short!) As you can imagine we all fan girled over the gorgeous wee puppy and he joined us at the table for lunch. A very very well behaved little lad. After lunch there is a tour to a derelict hotel hidden in the forest which Emilio will take you to and you can go inside to explore and imagine how it may have onced look many ago when it was in its prime. We also were able to enjoy our own little fairy pool back at the lunch spot as the river hadn't totally dried up yet with fresh water flowing to the natural pool and dragonflies dancing all around us, a perfect reminder to slow down and enjoy nature's beauty.
The second half day riders rode in the afternoon and the beginners even got a trot in! We had lots of happy faces around the dinner table after a very successful first day ride, so we all decided we were happy for a full day ride the next day!
So what makes Tuscany such an attractive destination? It's not just the incredible wine and food .. and of course the horses. but for me it's how GREEN it is! An endless sea of Broccoli's ... thriving forests with a constant melody of singing birds, trails left virtually untouched, because of this I would recommend wearing a long sleeve shirt of some kind as the trails are pure and wild. The nature booming with meadows full of wild flowers with colours of yellows and purples everywhere & important to mention the Geo thermal power that is installed in Tuscany.
Montieri if fully powered by Geothermal, you will see the large pipes occasionally on the trail rides and be able to spot the Geothermal centre nestled into the landscape. It took two years to set up and has cut the cost of heating and hot water in the region by a third! It's been calculated that 10,564 kg of CO2 emissions are being prevented each year by going Geothermal! Incredible!
Also read: Sunsets on horseback in Tuscany
Each day was different to the last, which kept it so fun and interesting! Riding new trails, some riding early some riding later and embarking on a couple of full day rides. But what was consistent was riding through forests, although each one was so different to each other. And the energy in each one you could feel so strongly. I think it is fair to say we were a very chatty playful group, but as soon as we all got onto our horses and entered the forests there wasn't a peep to be heard from us, as we all soaked in the peace and tranquility from the area. I think we surprised our guides as we went from giddy kids giggling away to the calmest of people that were so comfortable in each others silence. Hearing the leafs and branches crunch under the horses hooves, the songs of various birds, watching the light flicker through the thousands of trees standing tall together. The colours and glows and the fresh oh so fresh air. It is really the perfect place to let any worry and stress that you have ever felt just be lifted off you as soon as you and your horse set off together.
That being said after a boozy ride we certainly got our chatter boxes turned back on and played some fun games of Chinese whispers - trail riding style! We all shared our earworms with each other and had some great sing along songs. I'm sure the horses preferred us when we were quiet and taking on the peace and quiet! At one of our lunch spots we let the horses rest in the woods and use our own two feet for a short hike to the most stunning view point with 360 views of Tuscany. You could even see the sea!
Each night we had the most beautiful sunsets and enjoyed dinner outside on the balcony and for a couple of nights we plodded into Montieri and indulged at the only restaurant in Montieri which makes the best pizzas you'll ever have! We also treated ourselves to Nutella pizzas for dessert ... No such thing as too much pizza that's for sure.
News was in there was a thunderstorm on the way, however that wasn't going to stop us! We did think that it wouldn't be until the afternoon, so each one of us very confidently went out with no waterproofs incase of a downpour. Well just as we set off the sprinklers got turned on and by the time we rode through one forest and came out the other side the heavens had truly opened. We all had the biggest smiles on our faces, what an energy to be in! We were saturated, well and truly .. and we were counting the seconds between each strike of lightening and thunder roar. It didn't take long for us to be right in the center of storm and my gosh are the horses SO well behaved. Barely even a flinch from any of them. I'm sure they are very use to a good old European thunder storm and they carried on like absolute troopers to get us all safely back home. Typically by the time we reached the last forest it had stopped raining, perfectly timed or badly timed, its your own take on it but everyone was safe and we all have dry clothes at the hotel so in my opinion it was a brilliant experience!
Also read: 15 hours in Rome, Italy
With the equestrian meet up consisting of 7 nights and 5 day rides we had a day off to explore and on Saturday we took a bus to Sienna! Be warned the bus in Montieri is not reliable.. as we found out waiting for a couple of hours early in the morning. Italians have a very laid back attitude when it comes to bus times! It was really great to all get out and explore the stunning city of sienna together, it was a proper mooching day. We treated ourselves to some jewellery, enjoyed the local wine and had an extremely friendly welcome at a chocolate shop called Nino and Friends. The staff were very kind to keep gifting us a variety of chocolates to taste, multiple Limoncellos and they also had a truffle section which they equally gave us many things to try from... My brain went to a scene of ratatouille where he sees colour explosions with each different flavour he tries.
We continued to explore the city and found out that we were there a day early before the very well known Palio Di Siena. This event takes place every year on July 2nd and August 16th with historical records showing the horse race was was already taken place in Siena in the 6th century. It's a very complex horse race and taken very seriously by locals. The whole city is covered in stunning art and photography from the horse races over the years. There are 17 contrades and 10 of those race at a time, jockeys also mount their horses without a saddle AND if the jockey falls off the horse ... The jockey-less horse can still win! There are over 600 people parading the streets with the flags of those they support all dress in appropriate attire to the occasion. I can truly say after this week in Tuscany, Italians know how to hold an event and keep the history going!
A few of us decide to get something to remember our dreamy Tuscan trip ... With a tattoo!! We explored a few shops and tried our best to haggle and out of the 3 tattoo studios it was the lucky last that have us a good price and welcomed us in like friends! Monica and I got a very classic Italian word which is "boh" it's kind of like " okay, sure, whatever, I don't know" all in one and is very easy to incorporate into your daily slang. Want to go to siena? Boh, shall we get a tattoo? Boh, why did you do that? Boh ... fancy wine? Boh ... You see how it works! While Cassia decided to get "belle" meaning beautiful! A lovely day wrapped up and we headed back to the hotel to enjoy another delicious meal. The hotel is fantastic at catering for a variety of dietary needs. They have gluten free options, vegetarian and vegan options too! And plenty-full of them all too, so be sure you'll be pigging out to the max.
Our last day had us relaxing by the pool in the morning one last time, before we all joined for lunch at our favourite river spot and rode the horses back. There was a different group that rode the horses to the location in the morning and we switched with them to ride the horses back after lunch. We rode to a stunning little lake that is formed by a large dam and let the horses splash around in it before continuing back to the stables. The horses all got big cuddles and kisses and we said our good-byes until next time. We all got dressed up one last time for a special last dinner together. The girls had all worked together and arranged with the restaurant to light a candle on my dessert and sing me happy birthday (it was in a couple days) a very lovely surprise! I felt so very grateful to be spending my birthday week with such a wonderful bunch of humans that have all gotten together as strangers and left as friends! As the saying goes "a stranger is just a friend you haven't met yet" and everyone has had such a good time together that future travels together are already being arrange!
It's moments like these that make me very grateful to be doing what I do. Connecting people from all around the world and watching new friendships blossom. Creating memorable moments together and most importantly exploring the lands on the backs of the most majestic creatures that walk this earth - horses. For this trip we had people from 5 different countries. England, Scotland, Spain, Ukraine and Australia. With an age range of 20 years between us all! Even though we all live very different lives in different countries around the world we all had such similar stories and experience to share with each other which brought us all so close together. We could relate to one another, give advice to each other and learn about each others different lifestyles that was inspiring. It definitely was hard to say goodbye at the end but one thing is for sure it won't be the last time. Thank you ladies for a wonderful trip with Hooves Around The World.
You can email Hanna for bookings and questions about our trips to Italy: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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