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Posted on July 16, 2013
Since first contact with Cathy Wainwright in October 2011 I had been keen to see Château Chazelles for myself. Quickly the ride became an In The Saddle favourite and by the middle of our first season of promoting this ride, Cathy’s horses, the accommodation and the breath-taking landscapes of the Auvergne had become almost legendary.
Leaving a rather lacklustre Spring behind in the UK, I set off in high anticipation for France. The drive from Lyon airport takes us past St Etienne and through the outskirts of Le Puy en Velay. By the time we are close to our destination, we have left the crowds of the city behind and are transported almost to another world. Quaint villages with houses made of local stone; the obligatory roses thriving in the gardens, fields are adorned with carpets of wild flowers and the sweet smell of hay fills the air.
We are met on arrival by Cathy and Frank and shown to our beautiful rooms. Afterwards we explore the château rather like a group of children rushing from room to room, before heading outside to meet the horses.
Harold, a handsome skewbald gelding with a delightful ‘look at me’ expression is one of the first to greet us. Grazing nearby is show Jumper Paulo, who is adjusting well to his new dual-purpose life competing with Cathy and showing guests the delights of the Auvergne. There are long-term residents Sky and Mr Zed; the latter has an illustrious past and is keen to show you what he can do! We meet cheeky Ukar, beautiful Matty, eye-catching Ricky, young horse Sugar and the two Irish gentlemen Paddy and Vincent. The horses are in great condition and are clearly cherished; you can tell this by the way that Cathy describes each one, giving not only their ages and heights but anecdotes from recent rides and their little personality traits.
There follows days of fabulous riding. Over the next few days we wind our way through the French countryside, stop for delicious picnics (brought to us by Cathy’s father Sean), and enjoy wonderful dinner parties in the evening. Each night we retire to our luxurious bedrooms. The chance of a soak in the bath is extremely welcome and the comfort of guests is never forgotten. From the supply of toiletries, to the library of books on the landing and the guest fridge bulging with refreshments of every kind, attention to detail is one Cathy’s many strengths.
Later in the week, a super ride through fields of vibrant cornflowers and shady forests of beech lead us to the village of Solignac. Leaving the horses in the shade, we have a delicious lunch at a local auberge (a sort of inn or tavern). Specialising in local cuisine and using ingredients sourced from the surrounding area is a hallmark of this auberge. We feast on rabbit terrine, pork in a mushroom sauce, cheese (from a vast array of local cheeses), followed by an apricot dessert.
Needless to say our ride home is rather a meandering affair as we are so full. Although there is still great excitement when we spot a family group of wild boar!
Another highlight was riding along forest tracks and through pretty villages to a picnic spot on the banks of the Loire. After lunch, it is a fun ride up, up, up a winding mountain road and into the hills again. We trot all the way up and the lovely Harold, so fit and willing, feels as though he would gladly take you up on the challenge if you ask him to do the climb twice over!
Go to Château Chazelles. Let Cathy & Frank show you and share with you their first rate horses, their beautiful château and the breath-taking scenery of this region. Before long you will feel as though you are staying with friends and want to return again and again as I do.