Sarah Ritchie, Far and Ride.
From the 3rd – 11th September 2011, Sarah from Far and Ride escorted the Cefalu Trail in Sicily. This is a fabulous scenic trail which takes you through four Sicilian Parks: the Madonie, Nebrodi, Etna and Alcantara. Below are Sarah’s thoughts on the trip:
“Upon arrival at the airport I was greeted by our host for the week, Giuseppe, before meeting the clients who were booked onto the ride. Unfortunately, two of the clients had problems with lost luggage so we had to spend some time at the airport in the hope their bags would turn up (after three days they eventually did appear!). Giuseppe had hired a minibus to drive us all to our first overnight stop, the fabulous Santa Anastasia, situated just outside the town of Cefalu. We made a brief stop in Palermo so that we could try some delicious ice cream in sweet bread, a traditional treat that Sicily is famed for. I would definitely recommend to anyone visiting Sicily to spend a day or two in Palermo as the city is rich in history, culture and architecture. One thing to watch out for though are the poor driving skills of the locals!
The surroundings of Santa Anastasia are beautiful and the rooms are spacious and nicely decorated. There is a lovely pool to relax by or for a refreshing swim. The restaurant has a nice atmosphere and the food was fresh and of superb quality, authentic Italian fare to tempt all visitors, and we especially enjoyed the wine from the property’s own vineyards! We enjoyed our first dinner together, discussed the trail and any questions that we had were answered. Giuseppe also gave us the opportunity to specify whether we would prefer to use English or Western style tack for the trail ride. Please note that a based stay with daily riding can be arranged from this hotel which is located approximately fifteen minutes away from Cefalu.
One thing I learnt very quickly about Sicily is that there is never any rush. When you are told breakfast is at 7.30, it is often at 8.30! This is a testament to their relaxed way of life. After breakfast it was time to meet the horses, who are kept just a short walk away from the hotel. We were suitably matched to our horses and introduced to our guide, Luciano. Luciano proved to be a fantastic guide, very responsible and caring when it came to guests as well as the horses. He always communicated well if we were about to pick up the pace or slow down. This first ride led us through forests, across vineyards, and amongst olive and ash trees which we were told were 1000 years old. There were many stops along the way for a welcome break and a chance for the horses to have a drink at local wells. The ride took us to the medieval town of Tusa, where we spent the night at Agriturismo Margiscammari. My horse, Topolina, had lost a shoe during the morning ride but not long after we arrived she was soon having a new set put on. We had dinner at a local restaurant a very short walk away – a varied dinner with a range of courses consisting of meats, cheeses, pasta and vegetables. Once again local wine was supplied to accompany the various foods.
The following morning, having enjoyed breakfast in the restaurant from the previous night, we set off toward the village of Mistretta. Two clients opted for afternoon riding only and so their horses accompanied the group, running loose along side us. They were more than happy with this they are always kept in a herd so there is little chance of them leaving the group. Today I tried a different horse, Giuseppe’s own, who I found to be forward-going and responsive. We stopped for a picnic lunch of ham and cheese rolls. Red wine (as well as soft drinks) was available at every picnic lunch in the coming week and these picnics consisted of fresh bread, cold meats, cheese and fresh fruit. The morning ride was a fast one with lots of gallops, whereas after lunch the riding pace was slower with steep and rocky terrain. This is normally the most scenic part of the itinerary but we were unlucky and couldn’t see much as it was very foggy that day! We arrived at the wonderful Agriturismo Santasofia, which was very peaceful and on the crown of a mountain which made for some fabulous views. We were shown to our rooms before dinner which was once again a huge feast of cold meats, cheese, bread, pasta, and vegetables, all hearty Italian ingredients.
The following two days were the longest and most tiring rides (54 km and 48 km). The terrain and surroundings were very varied and we rode through forests, along the top of mountains and on dirt tracks heading towards the town of Floresta. Again there were plenty of opportunities for galloping and along the way we came across some wild pigs and Sicilian “San Fratellani” horses. In Floresta you find yourself in the land of the Tholos with ancient buildings made by pastors with stone walls and straw roofs, and home to the most famous Sicilian Caciocavallo cheese. Clients can opt to witness this cheese being made locally if they wish. The small village is located on a plateau at 1300m, an area made up of wide pastures and dense forests with views of Etna in the distance.
When riding around Etna the landscape changes rather dramatically as the fertile volcanic soil supports extensive agriculture, with vineyards and orchards spread across the land. Much of Mount Etna’s surface is covered with oak, stone pine, birch and beech trees. The lower altitudes have shrubs, such as broom plant, whilst vineyards and olive groves are in abundance at the base of the volcano. Types of wildlife in the forests include foxes, weasels, squirrels, rabbits, porcupines, hedgehogs, some wild cats, snakes and lizards. We were told how during one eruption the lava swallowed up a huge cabin that housed snow ploughs, along with a tourist car park and several ski lift pylons. These have all since been rebuilt. We were shown the remains of a roof from what was once someone’s home, now completely buried in lava.
This trail is definitely one for the more adventurous and experienced rider as there are plenty of opportunities for faster riding and very long hours in the saddle (sometimes eight hours in a day). The horses are a mixture of Arabs, Anglo Arabs and Sicilian, all very responsive and sure-footed over the often tricky terrain. The horses are well cared for and have no problem with either the heat or the challenging parts of the ride. The accommodation throughout the trail is varied but always comfortable and pleasant with fabulous food being served at every stop (you will never go hungry in Sicily!). I would certainly recommend a certain level of fitness though as I found myself wishing I had done a bit more riding in preparation! The hosts are wonderful and go the extra mile to ensure that you get the most out of your trip. There is the option to fly into either Palermo or Catania airport where you will be met and dropped off unless you choose to make your own way. You haven’t seen Italy until you’ve been to Sicily!”
Read more about the ride here: Cefalu Trail, Sicily.