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Posted on March 25, 2013
Italy is one of the most romantic countries in the world, and horses often complete the love story, as freelance journalist Siobhán English discovers…
Italy is one of the most romantically beautiful countries in the world, and there is no doubt, that after one visit you will be well and truly in love. Add horses to your itinerary mix, and your holiday will be a spectacular adventure.
Nestled in the Tuscan Hills, some 40-minute drive from Pisa is Castellare di Tonda, a luxury resort specialising in riding holidays – western style. Owned by the husband and wife team of Stefano and Alessandro Scotti and run by a formidable team of staff, it is particular popular with Italians, but also attracts tourists from across mainland Europe and beyond.
In the stables there’s everything from Argentinean Appaloosas, to Paint Horses, to Fjords – the variety is endless. Fjords, I was told, handle the ‘sometimes rocky’ terrain far better than the quarter-horses which have been associated with the stables for years through Stefano’s love of reining.
Stefano is a former champion, but now only rides at his leisure, and instead lets his top horses enjoy their retirement on the 800-acre estate which boasts accommodation for up to 300 people. Guests can either avail of a full-furnished apartment, or a luxury farmhouse, depending on the size of the group. All accommodation blocks have a swimming pool, and most are within walking distance from the beautiful spa, which boasts a sauna, and jacuzzi, amongst other facilities. You can also take in a good massage to unwind. Radji, the resident masseur at Castellara di Tonda, will have you sorted in no time!
As well as the fully-functioning vineyard on the estate, there’s golfing and tennis nearby, with the opportunity to partake in cookery schools, as well as truffle and mushroom hunting, just a handful of the countless other activities on offer in the area. The estate also has its own church, and therefore makes a perfect location for an all-inclusive wedding package. In my opinion, there’s nowhere more romantic than Italy to tie the knot, and Castellare di Tonda has it all!
From one who has experienced it first-hand, mushroom hunting on horseback is not to be missed – and the chance to sample the many varieties which can be found in the woodlands over dinner is even better. Guests can also take in day visits to many of the surrounding sights, including Siena – home to the famous ‘Il Palio’ horse race which dates back to the 13th century. If stopping off in the gorgeous medieval town of San Gimignano, don’t miss the chance to dine at the award-winning Cum Quibus. Rated No 1 of 79 restaurants in the area, it will not disappoint.
At Castellare di Tonda guests of all levels have the option of doing short rides for one or two hours, or full-day rides, which can be fantastic if you also take in a stop-over at one of the local sights such as the famous San Vivaldo Monastery. No matter what time of day, the scenery is breath-taking as the landscape constantly changes with the light. In the summer temperatures can soar into the 40s, so autumn is a good time to visit, though the amazing colours associated with Tuscany make their appearance in the spring.
Only between October and December, however, can you experience truffles, and this is a luxury item not to be missed on your visit to Tuscany. Truffle hunters are a special breed of men, and even more valuable are their truffle-hunting dogs. These highly-trained dogs can be worth anything up to €30,000, but when you are searching for truffles worth several months’ wages, they are worth their weight in gold. Truffles themselves are highly-valued and are very much in demand from the top restaurants in Italy and beyond.
On departing Castellare di Tonda, and before you leave this gorgeous country, be sure to visit Venice and Florence – two of the most beautiful cities in Italy. From Castellare di Tonda, Florence can be easily reached by car, or train, while Venice is a further two-hour train journey from Florence. It’s going to be a fast one though – Le Frecce reaches speeds up to 155 miles an hour – so be sure to sit back, relax and enjoy the ride!