Catalonia Trails, Spain, 2013
Sue Woodbine, Far and Ride.
In January 2013 our Managing Director, Sue, visited our Catalonia Trails riding destination in Spain. These horseback holidays were formerly known as ‘Can Jou’, an extremely popular outfit with an excellent reputation. The trails have now been revamped and are better than ever! Here is Sue’s report…
“I have recently returned from a short trip to Catalonia to see the new base for the horse riding holidays which were formerly known as ‘Can Jou’. The trail routes, team and horses have now moved to a different farmhouse called Can Muni in the Costa Brava – a traditional Catalan farmhouse situated in an area which is easier to access than the original farmhouse and with plenty of wonderful trails on the doorstep. Rather than joining one of their set trails, I was just making a short visit, out of season, to learn more about the destination for our clients.
I flew into Barcelona and was met by Anna in the new minibus that is going to be used for transferring the guests. The drive to the farmhouse is scenic and I was very happy to settle down and take in the sights and the sunshine. Set time transfers are available from Barcelona or Girona airports – there are more flights into Barcelona but Girona is closer to the farmhouse. We arrived at Can Muni which is situated in a tiny hamlet in the heart of the countryside. The accommodation is based around a 17th century farmhouse surrounded by stone cottages which have been converted from ancient barns. Catalan architecture remains at the forefront but the renovated barns have modern facilities, whilst still retaining all the characteristics of the original buildings. I was shown to my room which is based in one of the cottages adjoining the main farmhouse – the cottage has two double bedrooms, each with a modern ensuite shower room. There is a comfortable lounge area with a wood burning stove and TV which extends into a large kitchen area with a welcoming table.
The kitchen is very well-equipped and has all you could need for making a cup of coffee or enjoying a snack. The grounds are extensive and there is a swimming pool available for those warmer days. As well as the rooms already available on site, one of the barns is being converted into accommodation with seven twin/double rooms, a kitchen and a large dining room and reception. Meals will be taken as a group in this large dining room and this will be ready for the guests coming this year (2013). They are also in the process of building a large menage on site which will be a great place to get accustomed to your horse.
The peace, tranquility and a very comfortable bed made for a perfect night of sleep. My first breakfast was a very welcome sight with a great choice of teas (including a good English brew) and a proper coffee machine for those who like to start their day with a caffeine hit. There was fresh orange juice, cold meats and cheese, bread, croissants and a delicious choice of local preserves. During my stay I found that the Catalan food is fresh, tasty and plentiful both at the farmhouse and also at the hotels we visited. This area is renowned for fine wine and food and because of the diverse countryside there is a myriad of fresh ingredients available, as well as fish and shellfish from the long coastline.
I wandered around to the yard and paddock and found a busy scene. Former Can Jou fans will be thrilled to know that guide Birgit is still part of the new set up, bringing with her many years of guiding experience, great knowledge of the horses and her wonderful language skills. Working alongside Birgit are Camille and Luis, both of whom you may also know from their years guiding at Can Jou and who are experienced, friendly and welcoming. Joining this expert team are Petra and Maria who will also be leading some of the trails. As well as possessing formidable riding ability the team members are also exceptionally skilled in linguistics, all speaking brilliant English as well as several other languages. I felt quite ashamed at being so incompetent in that regard! But this, of course, means that many European guests will feel at home here and will always have someone to chat to. At the helm of the setup is Ramon, a horseman with many years experience running three equestrian centres. Ramon has added many of his own horses to the Can Jou herd so there is a large choice of horses, new ones as well as old favourites. Birgit and Ramon have been busy discovering exciting new trails as well as altering previous routes so that they work with the new base at Can Muni. Besides the old and new trails, the ‘Discovery Based Programme’ is going to be perfect for those who wish to ride less, be more relaxed and perhaps explore this interesting part of Spain.
I have to say that the riding here is fabulous, even out of season in January! The horses were a little woolly during my stay but were forward-going and clearly very happy. They perhaps required a little more brushing at this time of year compared to during the trail season but it was all good fun and a great chance for me to see how things here are done. The herd are kept in very natural conditions, living out together in extensive paddocks and with access to plenty of forage. I found them to be fit, healthy and good-tempered. As I was only here for a short visit there was only time for one ride, but wow was it good fun! Four hours of exploring the beauty of Catalonia from the medieval towns to the picturesque meadows. I was very surprised at how many tracks and trails there are, all easily accessible from Can Muni. I rode out with Ramon and four of the guides, the terrain inviting long trots and fast canters, and the horses were certainly up for it. I rode a lovely horse called Nicolette who was forward-going but safe and well-mannered. Although I have been riding my whole life I’ve reached a point in my life where I want to be able to relax and enjoy myself, rather than riding something too spirited. Nicolette was a wonderful match for me but there is such a great choice of horses here that all preferences can be catered for, whether you want a fast and exciting ride or a more easygoing mount who will offer you a comfortable but fun adventure. Most of the herd are Andalusian or Andalusian crosses and bear the fine characteristics of this noble breed. Many have been part of the team for years so have excellent experience and are footsure and willing to please.
Despite only being at Can Muni for a few days, I wanted to explore all of the terrain and accommodation that our clients will be visiting during the different trail programmes. The hotels and guesthouses were based on the beach, in tranquil countryside or in busy towns, all offering a different taste of Catalonia. Some were more luxurious than others but they all had charm and a comfortable bed, just what’s needed after a long day in the saddle. Many days still have enough free time after the ride for you to explore the medieval towns, sit on a beach, or sun yourself by the pool before dinner.
To give you a little taster of what I saw: On the first day of the ‘Two Beaches Trail‘ you ride to the coast, it is a full day’s ride with plenty of fast riding from Can Muni. On the day I visited it was quite windy along this stretch of beach but with the miles of golden sand it is perfect for long canters or a great gallop. This trail takes you along coastline and you also ride along the second beach at Fonarella, which I found to be beautiful and unspoilt. Another of the visits on this trip is to a village called Peratallada, a placed which seemed to me to be carved out of stone. I felt as though I was stepping into another century with its castle and defensive walls – apparently it was one of the best fortified medieval villages in Spain. You will leave your horses at the hotel and this village is just a stroll away, waiting for you to explore it.
I discovered that all the hotels and restaurants you visit during the different trails offer comfortable accommodation and delicious meals. The village of Peralada is famous for its cava and we enjoyed the most wonderful lunch there, eating local delights such as barbecued baby leeks with a pepper sauce, broad bean salad with jambon and the most delicious prawns, all accompanied with a local wine of the region. Guests on the ‘Mediterranean Spa and Wine Coastal Trail‘ will enjoy this stop for sure!
We also visited Camprodon where you would stay at the beginning of the ‘Shepherds & Meadows Trail‘. It is a drive away from Can Muni and this area is so different from the Costa Brava. Ramon has an equestrian centre here and guests will start their trail at the Hotel Camprodon. I was amazed at the two different distinct landscapes with the peaks of the mountains contrasting against the wooded hills of the Garrotxa. From here you will also start the ‘Discovery Pyrenees‘ programme. After visiting Camprodon and the equestrian centre there we went to Oix, a lovely mountain village. The ride here takes you over a mountain plateau and to magnificent views of the coast. After settling the horses and yourselves you will be able to enjoy another lovely meal – we ate our meal overlooking a view which was nothing short of spectacular.
I crammed a lot in to my short stay and I left Catalonia very impressed with Can Muni, the competent and caring staff, the horses, the hotels, the food and the amazing countryside. This is a destination for real horse lovers who are interested in all the different aspects of a riding holiday, from the riding country and experiences to the accommodation, cuisine, history and culture. I have no doubt that these trails will be a real hit with our clients and even those who have visited Can Jou before will find that there are new routes to be ridden and new horses to experience!”
Holly from Far and Ride will be riding the ‘Mountain to Sea Trail’ from 15th – 22nd September 2013 and is looking for riders to join her. This is a fairly fast trail with long riding hours, covering a lot of ground, approximately 240km in six riding days. Join her and explore the beauty of Catalonia on horseback! firstname.lastname@example.org or 01462 701110.
NB. Bookings confirmed with a deposit before 15th March 2013 are entitled to a €75 early booking discount. An easy way to save on these fantastic holidays!
Read more about the ride here: Catalonia Trails, Spain.