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A lovely friendly smile that goes into sparkling eyes always starts a trip off beautifully, and this is precisely the reception I received from Mamen at Madrid airport. I have to be honest too, it never faded throughout the whole week either, I was made to feel incredibly welcome and left feeling like I had made some lovely and kind new friends.
The transfer from Madrid is only a couple of hours in total, but we found time to stop off at the stunning town of Avila on the way (for a quick refreshing drink). Avila is nicknamed the ‘Town of Stones and Saints’ and the vast medieval town walls hide away one of the largest number of Romanesque and Gothic churches per capita in Spain. It needs to be seen to be believed!
Anticipation for my week ahead builds inside me as we leave the fast highways behind and climb higher and higher into the hills and mountains of the Gredos. I am not disappointed, the views are simply stunning, and we arrive at my first guesthouse for the night, with views that my camera can’t do justice to. I have never been to this area of Spain before and it really is rural and undiscovered yet beautiful too, and throughout the week I was served up view after view to gaze upon.
Over supper we all learn from Emilio the route we are going to take, and he shows us all upon a detailed map of these mountains our journey for the week, where we climb, where we drop down, where we can canter, where we can’t.
I am lucky enough to be partnered with a wonderful horse for the week called Chollo. Chollo is as handsome as he is a delight to ride, a sturdy and good looking grey with a twinkle in his eye.
Chollo can mean ‘bargain’ in Spanish, but it’s urban translation has Hispanic pride, and regional pride connotations. For example if a woman refers to her boyfriend as a Chollo, it can imply that he is a ‘real man’, he takes care of her, etc. This was the Chollo I got to ride for my week, he looked after me beautifully and was a joy to ride, making me smile most days as he happily and actively found his way along our route. But to be honest all of Emilios horses were happy and well schooled in their work, with forward going gaits and impeccable manners. There wasn’t a single horse I wouldn’t have happily ridden for the week within my group. It is obvious that they are loved and looked after as they were a happy even tempered group.
My first mornings ride was a quiet ride through a pine forest, which allowed me and Chollo to get to know each other before the trots and canters of the days ahead. After a few hours riding in the sunshine alongside a river path we come across a fishermans hut, and the smiling Mamen again – but also alongside this hut was a picnic table heaving with Tapas treats such as Iberico hams (carved traditionally from the leg), cheeses, olives, nuts plus cold soft drinks and a wine bucket with both red and white to choose from. The Tapas was just for an appetizer to ‘pick upon’ whilst a hot paella was bubbling away!
Now if you are anything like me and enjoy your food, then this sets a wonderful theme for the week, as you will constantly be treated to surprise Tapas breaks late morning, wonderful sit down lunches at beautiful spots, followed by sun drenched siestas and great horses.
Throughout the week Chollo and I encountered a lot of differing terrain, from mountain streams in the valleys, to rocky climbs in the hills, to pine and oak forest tracks, river bank path canters and mountain top heathland. There was hardly any roadwork (except when we were wandering through an old and interesting villages), and I was surprised how diverse the riding was in this area. Everyu day different from the one before.
The hotels and guesthouses were all delightful and some were really rural old Fincas with the bedroom windows overlooking the paddocks and our lovely horses. Most nights, as is the Spanish way we met for supper about 9pm, and every night there was a choice of dishes offered to us, often 3 courses too. I certainly went home heavier than I arrived despite all of the riding, the food was just too tempting.
Emilio has ridden in these hills for years and some would say he knows them better than most, but a special mention has to go to Brasas, the tour leader. Brasas was the lady of the week in my opinion, a truly friendly girl with big brown eyes and a big heart to match. Her spotty nose and paws led the way in front of the horses most days and in true collie dog style would watch over both horses and guests ensuring everyone was content and happy.
There is so much about this holiday to take pleasure in and treasure, from the glorious views and peacefulness of the region, the amazing food, Mamens beaming smile, Emilios gentle way with his lovely horses and the enchanting eyes of Brasas joyfully fixed upon your own. A reminder in our world of rushing around that it is good to cherish to smaller things in life too, as these are most important for a happy and blessed soul. I certainly have lots of memories to hold dear from my time here (regrettably Chollo wouldn’t fit into my suitcase).