Chilling in Cilento, Italy

by Hidden Trails 11/11/2011

Forget Tuscany, fall in love with Cilento – you’ll return heavier and happier, says Sarah Jenkins

Do you remember the scene in Jerry Maguire where Tom Cruise makes that lengthy, heartfelt speech to Renée Zellweger and she interrupts him with a teary: “Shut up. You had me at hello.” It was like that for me in Cilento, Italy. The place kept on giving me reasons to fall in love with it – the vistas, the horses, the people, the food – but ultimately, I was convinced from the moment I arrived. The place had me at hello – or ciao, I suppose. Why? Well I’ll start with the people.  I arrived at Naples airport late, but owner Gino Fedullo was there to meet me and two other guests – Barbara  and Robert. Becoming part of a group on  trips is an obvious benefit. You eat every meal together – in this case along with our guide, Marco Proccedo, and Swedish gap-year student Ellinor  – and even as a lone traveler I laughed as I would with old friends. Gino couldn’t be more hospitable, nor could his wife, mother-in-law and brothers-in-law – who all play their part on the farm or in the restaurant. I should say “in-love” really, rather than “in-law”, as they did – isn’t everything so much more romantic in Italian?

Velia, the turbo cob

Then there’s the horses. On the first day, Marco quizzed me on my riding. “I’m fairly competent and confident,” I said. “But I’m terrified of heights.” On the edge of a cliff, I’d prefer to be on a quiet horse while feeling faint. Marco gave me the shortest of the bunch, so I’d feel closer to the ground…The fact is all the horses are quiet, and Velia, a 14-year-old Italian-bred turbo cob, was a saint. What she lacked in height she made up for in heart – not batting an eyelid at deep water, loose dogs or even  crazy Italian driving when we very occasionally had to cross a road. I didn’t know what sure-footed actually meant prior to riding her.  On the first ride, I thought: “We’re  not seriously going up/down there are we?” But by the second, I was entirely blasé, with complete faith in her.  All the horses were well matched to their jockeys – a gentle giant for the laidback Robert, and a characterful chestnut for fellow guest Maria, who liked a spirited horse. The pace of rides is dictated by the ability of the group; there’s no concern about the temperament of the horses

Legs of steel

You’re in the saddle for about 25km-30km a day, and it’s hilly. It would help to have stronger legs than I did on departure. On day two, muscles I didn’t know existed were screaming: “What are you doing to us?!”
We stopped on top of a hill, by the convent of San Francesco, where Gino was waiting for us with the first of many monumental picnics. The food at lunch, just like dinner, kept on coming – vegetables, cheese, kebabs.
On this note, I have a confession to make. One lunchtime, following a long canter through a field of 500 century-old trees, in a sun-drenched olive grove, I ate my bodyweight in to be 1,000 calories. The food is something else, with the majority made at the farm. Goats, boar, cattle, and chickens are reared, and a plethora of vegetables and fruits are grown all around the villas in which you stay.
I digress, I didn’t come here to eat, I came to ride – and it’s a good job, since five hours a day in the saddle and a few laps of the pool kept the kilos at bay.
Full (a sensation you get used to here), we rode on to Celso, a little town cut into the hillside in 1050, where our horses wandered through the narrow cobbled streets.
Meandering back towards home brought new meaning to the term “winding down”, and by the time I reached the dinner table – via the swimming pool – I was relaxed.
Gino threw a party, complete with live local pop folk band, and the vino and laughs flowed between dances.
During the ride, Marco had passed me a handful of crushed myrtle he’d picked off the plant and that evening we drank homemade myrtle liquor. Later, he sent my way a fistful of finocchi (fennel) – the basis for the following night’s tipple.

What goes up…

Our second ride was more challenging. “We’ll have lunch in that castle,” said Marco, pointing at a speck on a hill.  En route, we waded through streams plump from the previous nights’ storms
– Marco went ahead with a long stick to check the water wasn’t too deep.
The smell of the herbs under the horse’s hooves was intense – at one point, in the dewy shrubbery, it felt like I was wandering through a Mojito.
What goes down must come up and we (well, the horses) had one hell of a climb up to medieval Castel Nuovo Cilento. We balanced in two-point seat, and as we reached a plateau Marco said: “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but we’re now halfway up.”
That went down like a lead balloon. He was only partly lying, but boy was it worth it when we peaked – as Robert said: “Prettier than our Newcastle”.
We set the horses loose in the walled fortress while we had our picnic. They gallivanted around threatening to jump the table before resting in the shade.
Looking back at how far we’d come, it felt like a serious achievement (even more so for the horses). That’s the great thing about this trip; it’s a mini adventure. You get that buzz, but not at the expense of fear or danger, which is surely the best kind of escapade.

‘You call it vertigo’

Next day, we started heading for the mountains, so I had another go at getting the point across about my fear of heights. When the penny dropped, moment’s concern.
The following day’s ride took us 750m above sea level, along the crest of Mount Stella, towards the town of the same name, so called for its star shape. The view from here I’d have tackled arachnophobia for.
On our final two days, we headed to the beach, which we would have done sooner had the tides allowed it.
Having looked from our vantage points over to the sea on the past few rides, it was wonderful during those hot days to make it down to the sand and dip the horses’ hooves in the waves.
Riding down hills, through olive groves, and then onto the sea, you’re left thinking: “It doesn’t get much better than this.”
In the refreshing breeze, I plotted to smuggle Velia away and move to Cornwall, so I could do this every day. In fact, why stop at Cornwall?
The climate in Cilento is ideal for riding. Only on day two of our trip did the rain come down – for the first time in three months. It made up for lost time with a deluge. The horses were tacked up, but us fair-weather riders opted to make this our rest day.
We weren’t bored, with cookery lessons, trips to Pompeii or Greek ruins at Velia in the offing. I chose the latter, and Ellinor amazed as a tour guide at the site we would later canter by.
I didn’t want to leave. The experience lifted me out of the daily grind and gave me renewed spark. I hope to go back before that fades.
In the meantime, I’m riding as much as possible in a two-point position, eating copious amounts of mozzarella, and rolling the “R”s in names like “Barbara” – just to remember.

Story by Sarah Jenkins

 

You should know:
Cilento, is a two-hour drive south of Naples.
This ride is suitable for intermediate to experienced riders, though there is plenty to entertain non-riding family members, such as walking, cycling and cookery.
All meals, including wine, are included.
Riding runs from March to May and September to November. Riders enjoy seven nights, including five days riding for about five hours a day.
The price is about $1265 for the week. 
In 2012 there is also a progressive riding tour offered  (April, May, Sept and Oct). This trip ventures even more into the back country and the park with some overnights along the way.  Cost for this ride is about $2190.

For more information, have a look at the Hidden Trails website at:
http://www.hiddentrails.com/tour/italy_mediterranean_cilento_park_ride.aspx


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Equestrian Travel Stories

Italy's Cilento National Park Attracts Equine Enthusiasts

by Hidden Trails 06/18/2010

Horse Tales by Candice C. Dunnigan

I took to seeing Italy on horseback like a duck takes to water. This April my husband, Brian, and daughter, Claire, joined me on a riding adventure in the Italian province of Campania. The region lies about 90 miles down the Amalfi coast, south of Naples. The Cilento National Park is the second largest natural preserved area in Italy. Small towns and villages dot the area, which is full of natural beauty, wildlife, flora and some great horses. It has everything for a rider to enjoy; constantly varied vistas of mountain, the sea, fields of blue borage, Mediterranean oaks, flowering almonds, plateaus, castles, classical ruins, olive groves galore and the ever-changing Arento River, which runs through the park, giving it its name, Cilento.
We were based for seven nights at "I Moresani," which is much more than just a riding center. It's a very pretty working farm and stable in addition to being a luxurious small hotel with award-winning food, wine and cheeses. I Moresani is part of the agro-tourism, slow food movement that is starting to become very popular in Italy. Our host for the week was Gino Gedullo and his wife, Anna-Maria, who oversee and are ever present, akin to our own hoteliers on Mackinac. Gino is a conscientious and capable individual who has a love for the "cavallo" (horse), and its rider. The riding menage and stables were run by Marco Procedda (our guide some days) and his capable assistant, Matilda Rosengren from Sweden. Both Marco and Matilda had plenty of equine experience in the European show jumping circles, and in Cilento, meeting all kinds of riders from England, Germany, Holland, and France. While Marco, originally from Sardinia, sometimes spoke to his horses in Sardis, Matilda was fluent enough to talk to them in five languages.

The horses were all well cared for, and in very good condition. The majority of the 14 or so animals are used for both lessons as well as on the treks. The saddles were all new lightweight synthetic English-style forward seats, with the exception of one older-styled trekking saddle. It was a treat to ride in them along with the well cared for bridles, clean saddle pads, and girths. I was matched with Nina, a sturdy bay Italian crossbred alpha-type mare, who didn’t appreciate being behind a young Arab gelding. But, Nina had a great walk, solid canter, and was a steady climber on some very steep ascents up the mountainside. The story goes that Gino purchased Nina from a local farmer who nightly rode her to the tavern. After the farmer would have his fill of local vino, he would sit on Nina and tell her to take him home. She always knew her head, where she was going and what I was doing. No wonder Gino thought this would be a good horse to have on the trails. My daughter rode the new chestnut Arabian that came from Tuscany, and my husband was on an attractive solid dark-bay Thoroughbred, who was sane and steady in all kinds of situations.

This was a center based ride, called a “star ride.” We rode out each day from the farm in a different direction. We averaged 20 to 25 miles per day in and around the countryside, always under the shadows of Mt. Stella, the largest mountain in the area and part of the Mediterranean called the Tyrennian Sea. Lunches were feasts of the best local Italian cuisine. Some days it was fresh homemade pastas, salamis, sausages, breads, cheeses, salads, cookies and cakes. All were served with white or red wine and even hot coffee. Practically everything was made at the farm. The last day on the banks of the Arento River, we were treated to a barbecue, Italian-style, with fresh roasted pork chops and grilled sausages, all homemade of course. Our horses rested beneath the olive trees and the waters of the Arento flowed in the background. What bliss. So, too, was the day we trekked to Castle Nuevo and ate lunch in the lush grassy inner courtyard of a 12th century castle looking down at this part of Italy with lemon groves, acres of artichokes, peach orchards, small villages, olives, winding roads, the sea, and the ruins of the Greco-Roman site of Velia below us.

To travel via horseback, one has to take the good with the bad. We were lucky on this trip with the weather. I’ve been in treks on seemingly endless days of pouring rain and sleet. Because of the nature of the terrain, which can be very steep, a rider must spend more than five minutes or so off their horse’s backs standing in the stirrups. He or she also has to be able to mount and dismount several times a day, to walk a horse down slippery cobblestones or pavement. One day, because a gate to a trail was closed, we jumped a small bank to get across. Humor, confidence and skill were needed then. One day on the beach, the soft sand almost swallowed my husband and his horse. And, one day we were chased by two little spunky stud ponies who would not take “No” for an answer and followed us for miles, taunting and teasing the mares in the group. That situation went from amusing to dangerous. When Matilda, who was our guide that day, and two local villagers finally resolved the issue of the “bad ponies”, it fortunately became funny again at dinner, especially with the help of Gino’s wines.

Every morning and night, we were met by Filomena Monzo, Gino’s mother-in-law, who not only is the head chef and baker, but also gives classes in regional Campania Italian cooking to many of the international guests who enroll. On our last morning, both Claire and I made earnest but awkward attempts in learning to roll fuselli pasta, as Filomena and her helpers smiled. Both of her sons, Camine and Domenica, worked on the property, either in the restaurant or on the grounds. I Moresani is situated just north of a Casal Velino, a small 12th century town with a lovely square and church that looks out to the sea. The area itself has many more horses than I had imagined. The breed Salerno comes from this region, as that city is only 40 or so miles to the north. For the most part, the Italian horses in this south range tend to be crossed with some Arab and possibly Barb or Andaulsian, given Naples’ historic connections with Spain. Hay is much more abundant here than when we were in Crete, and the horse grain, usually in a mixture of bulk pellets and includes rolled corn that looks like corn flakes.

My family and I were joined for some of these days by John and Penny Barr and Mary K. McIntire, who also rode for a bit. The six of us took in some of the highlights of Pompeii on a non-riding day. For a treat, Brian, Claire, and I spent an extra day wandering among the classical district of Naples. As I said, I took to the area and the equines like a duck to water. I plan to be buying my lottery tickets at Doud’s this summer, because I want to go back to I Moresani and ride in Cilento again. Happy Trails.

Candice Dunnigan is an active member of the American Equestrian Association, the Waterloo Hunt and Mackinac Horsemen’s Association.

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Equestrian Travel Stories

Dressage in Tuscany - Italy

by Hidden Trails 01/16/2007

Dressage in Tuscany

Classical riding, stunning countryside, great food and wine
– Andrea Moffat had the perfect horse lover’s break in Tuscany.

 

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In the heart of Chianti country, between the fabulous Tuscan cities of Florence and Sienna, is one of Italy’s top riding establishments.


 

Owned and run by Cristina and Gianni De Marchi, “Dressage in Tuscany”  is a magnificent 18th century farmhouse set in outstanding countryside, with stabling for some 30 horses. A riding centre founded on classical principles, it has been established for 13 years. With a variety of horses, all beautifully schooled to advanced levels, it offers a very high standard of tuition.

Riders can select programs designed for beginners or for the more advanced rider. Groups are small and tuition for dressage riders is with Gianni or Cristina, both of whom were classically trained in Portugal following Nuno Oliveira’s principles.

As well as classical dressage lessons, you can ride out from the center into some of Tuscany’s most spectacular scenery, so the trail riding is worth going for alone, even if you don’t want lessons. But I most certainly did!


 

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Pure riding pleasure

On the evening of my arrival, I had my first lesson on Pacha, a very well-bred Lusitano stallion who belongs to Cristina. I was slightly apprehensive under Gianni’s watchful eye, but he soon put me at ease. And Pacha was an absolute pleasure, so light and responsive – I considered it a real privilege to be allowed to ride such a horse.            

With classical music playing gently in the background, Gianni talked me through the aids for passage and as Pacha responded I felt as though I was riding on air, it was truly exhilarating. I dismounted very reluctantly at the end of the lesson, already excited about the prospect of riding again the next day.

 

Hospitable hosts

Supper was quite a feast – four courses of traditional Tuscan cuisine, chianti wine and excellent company.

Cristina and Gianni are a charismatic couple, warm and hospitable. I was captivated by their stories of horses they had owned and bred. They have never sold a horse, just because it was too old or lame to do the job, and they believe wholeheartedly that training methods based on lightness are the reason that their horses are all so sweet natured and willing to work. Their philosophy “to respect and not abuse our horses” makes them an establishment to admire.

The horses are not worked hard; the high ratio of horses compared to the number of guests riding means that not only is it possible to assign the right horse to the rider, but also that the horses get plenty of rest days.

 

For the love of horses

Before they set up the riding center, Gianna had a promising career as a lawyer, and Cristina was studying modern dance, but a passion and desire to be with horses drove them to give it all up and leave Milan in favor of running a riding centre.

They have competed, but the riding they teach now is not about winning rosettes or riding complicated figures, but about understanding and relating to the horse, developing feel, and the hardest lesion any rider has to learn, about listening to your horse.

Horses have become their life study – Gianni explained that becoming a good horseman takes a lifetime and that horses can teach you something new every day. I felt as though I was learning something new every five minutes since my arrival!

Talking with the other guests over supper, I was amazed to hear from one couple that was there straight from the wedding chapel! This  was Stefan and Nana’s idea of the perfect honeymoon: two weeks of dressage tuition, with the occasional trail ride, lots of relaxing by the swimming pool and a shopping trip or two into Florence.

For New Yorkers Larry Stern, Susan and their four-year-old daughter, Arianne, the stay was to combine a little riding for Larry, sightseeing for the whole family, and some serious shopping for Arianne who proudly showed off her new shoes over supper.

For myself, there was another magical lesson, trail riding and some sight seeing and before I knew it, I was racking ready for departure. On the last night, it was a beautiful evening and we watched the sun go down with drinks on the terrace before the evening meal. I watched in fascination as Cristina demonstrated how she was teaching her dog to passage. A cheeky lurcher hunting dog, Wilcock loved the attention and delighted us all by showing off his steps.
 

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Bed and board

Accommodation is largely in the main house which has original wooden beams, terracotta floors and high arched ceilings. The six upstairs rooms are spacious, and all with twin beds and a private bathroom. Extra beds can be added to rooms if required. There are also two apartments for two to four people, each with a kitchenette and sitting room, ideal for families. The rooms are very clean and comfortable and are tastefully decorated. Evening meals and breakfast are included in your stay.

Dinner is a lavish affair and there is plenty of it. Pieranna, the cook, has over 120 recipes up her sleeve and it currently writing a book. Guests eat in the cozy surroundings around an enormous dining room table, framed by an enviable collection of some 400 equestrian print and models.

Excellent Chianti wine is served and dinner are cooked with organic virgin olive oil which is made locally. Special dietary requirements are also catered for.

 

Go as you please!

Riders can put together their own program of riding, or select one of the itineraries on offer. Here’s a few examples:

● Lessons and riding out for beginners or intermediate riders – includes three days of two hours of lessons and three half days riding out

● Lessons only for beginners – includes six days of two hours of lessons per day

● Dressage for advanced riders – includes five days of two lessons per day and one half of riding out

● Riding out only (not possible for absolute beginners) – includes six half days of riding out

 

I’ll be back!

The day before departure, I watched Cristina and Gianni’s two children, Pierto and Giorgia, having a lesson, with Christine, a BHS qualified instructor from England, who is responsible for teaching and most of the beginners and novice riders. The children rode two super ponier and I was once again impressed with the level of tuition; as you can imagine, children are very welcome

When I finally came to leave, it was a real wrench. I would have liked to have stayed for a month or more. Cristina told me many guests return again and again, and I can see why.

‘Ciao’ – I will most definitely be back!


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Out of the Saddle

If you want to take a non-riding partner, he or she will be extremely well catered for – it’s an excellent base for sightseeing around Tuscany. With Florence and Sienna so easily accessible, you are spoilt for choice – classic architecture, churches, museums, history, art and culture all rolled into one. A 20 minute ride by car will take you to San Gimignano, world famous for its medieval towers, and nearby you can visit the medieval town of Certaldo and Colle Val d’Elsa (the city of crystal), 45 minutes by car and you are at Volterra, a charming and ancient Etruscan city which boasts a fabulous museum, and directly south of Sienna is Monte Oliveto Abbey which contains marvelous paintings from the 15th century,

For those who have never visited this part of Italy, it is simply the breathtaking! Tracks weave in and out of the Tuscan hills, through woodland and olive groves and of course, past plenty of vineyards. Visitors can sightsee by foot, by mountain bike or by car, although horseback is the perfect way to take in the landscape. For non-riders who simply want a holiday in the sunshine, but away from the beaches, tourists and traffics jams, then this riding center has its own pool. The setting is wonderfully peaceful and the food is so good you don’t need to leave the farm unless you want to.

 

You can make reservations for this wonderful Tuscan getaway with Hidden Trails, one of the leading equestrian holidays specialists in North America.  Their website for Italy is  http://hiddentrails.com/tour/italy_dressage_tuscany.aspx

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