Holly Anthony, Far and Ride.
In May 2012, Holly from Far and Ride took the opportunity to visit the Country and Beach Getaway in Sardinia. This riding holiday destination is a remote country hotel offering a selection of riding packages to suit all levels. The horses graze freely in the hotel’s beautiful gardens during the day and the destination is a haven for both the horse lover and indeed the horses themselves. With the opportunity for lessons and various rides out (meadows, mountains, beach and gardens!) as well as a full trail programme from the mountains to the sea, all guests can improve their riding and enjoy the stunning and peaceful surroundings. Sardinia is often overlooked by riders but as it turns out, it’s a true horse island!
Holly’s visit was part of a special weekend as we market this destination. She was able to take part in an especially long ride, created to show as much of the land from the trail programme as possible, as well as enjoy a shorter ride from the hotel’s second paddocks on the coastline. She also took the time to enjoy the facilities, food and of course the company of new friends! Below are her thoughts on this wonderful rural retreat.
“As I looked out the window during our transfer from Alghero airport (a drive of about an hour and twenty minutes) I could immediately see the impressive landscapes that the island of Sardinia has to offer. We drove alongside various mountains, rocky hills and rich meadows and the countryside seemed so peaceful… I was able to spot more horses, cattle and other animals than I was people and there wasn’t much in the way of traffic. The hotel itself is situated several kilometers up a practically empty road, far away from stress or noise… except for the beautiful birdsong which was the perfect background sound to my weekend!
We were greeted warmly by Barbara who showed myself and others to our garden suites. These are an upgrade from the standard rooms, although I saw those too, and all accommodation was clean, comfortable and decorated in typical Sardinian style. The suites feature an additional room which can be used as a living room or a second bedroom, although I was fortunate to have a suite to myself! Each room and suite has a private shower room, heating and air conditioning, a safe and a mini fridge/bar. I loved the decor and, more than anything, the fact that the horses graze freely in the gardens around you during the day. The main building, stables, menage and suites are placed throughout these magnificent gardens, which are dotted with oak and cork trees. At the end lies the impressive swimming pool surrounded by sun loungers and colourful flowers (and perhaps a relaxed horse or two!). Part of the pool is also indoors, as is the large heated jacuzzi and more loungers for the cooler days. The pool can be chilly but is refreshing on a hot day and can always be followed by a dip in the jacuzzi – this is thoroughly recommended and is ideal for sore muscles after a day in the saddle.
After an afternoon spent relaxing the evening soon came around… my chance to sample the four course dinners! Guests are asked to be seated by 8pm and everyone eats together on a long table – this provides a lovely sociable atmosphere and encourages talk with other visitors. Anyone who knows me can tell you that food is an obsession of mine but the dinners certainly didn’t let me down. Each begins with a small starter and is followed by a pasta course, a main course and then a dessert. During my stay I sampled deliciously tender lamb, tasty pasta topped with local pecorino cheese, octopus carpaccio (!), pork with herbs and a host of other delights, all accompanied by local wines. Wines are not included during your stay but you can choose between their house wines or something a bit different, perhaps sampling a prosecco or whatever takes your fancy. You should also try the local speciality called mirto, a strong liqueur made with myrtle, though this is not for the faint-hearted and is considered by some (ie. me!) to taste rather medicinal. For those with sweeter tastes I advise a post-dinner tipple of Limoncello… great fuel for a spot of Sardinian dancing which the staff will be happy to teach you!
My first night brought me a heavenly sleep which would be a theme during my stay. I was warm, comfy and undisturbed, rising in time to throw on my jods and hit the breakfast buffet which is available from around 8.30 – 10am. Breakfasts tend to be quite simple but adequate, especially given the rich dinners, and are continental in style with bread rolls, cheese, ham, cereals etc. The bread in Sardinia is often drier than we are used to because it keeps better this way, but smothered in butter and honey it tasted pretty good to me! In my usual style I tended to scoff plenty (I like to call it “riding energy”) to set me up for the day ahead.
After breakfast our group hopped in the van to head to our starting point – guests either ride out from the stables at the hotel or from the beach paddocks if they want beach riding, but I was taking part in a special one off ride. This meant that the horses were transported to a unusual starting point, close enough to the coast that we could ride to the beach in one day, seeing plenty along the route. Guests choosing the normal trail programme ride from the hotel to the coast over a period of five riding days, leaving the horses at drop off points each night before being driven back to the hotel for relaxation and dinner. The trail incorporates a variety of terrain including rocky mountain paths, nature reserves, open meadows filled with flowers and wild herbs and of course the picturesque beaches. Horses provide the perfect way to explore the landscapes of the island.
For our own ride we met the horse lorry and were each introduced to our horse for the day. I was paired with the lovely Tatana who is a cross between a local Sardinian horse and a French mountain breed. She is around 15hh in height, probably the shortest of the group that day, but is a sturdy girl and certainly fit. I would soon learn that she is a faultless trail horse – forward-going and comfortable, sure-footed over tough terrain and willing but controllable on the open beach. We held the horses whilst the guides and staff brushed and saddled them (they have a particular way of doing this, using foam cushions for padding underneath) and then we bridled them ourselves. None of the horses were a problem in this regard and all stood still to be tacked up and mounted. Each saddle cloth has pockets and we were provided with bottled water to put in them, vital in the sunshine and warmth. Tack appeared to be comfortable for both horse and rider, many saddles having seat-savers already provided. We mounted our horses and set off for the day’s adventure!
Our group of seven riders worked our way along stony mountain routes which were sometimes quite steep, although the horses had no problem with this tricky terrain. From the height you could view far across the land, enjoying sights of the coast as well as our peaceful surroundings and the abundance of shrubs and flowers. Over the course of our ride we passed through ever-changing landscapes – one area even looked like Mexico with impressive cactus plants! Other times we walked through fields rich with yellow daisies and poppies or along dirt tracks by a salt lagoon. At times you could smell the wild rosemary and we even encountered a pair of beautiful donkeys and a tortoise. Much of the land is protected but Daniele, the hotel owner, has permission from the land owners and the keys to any necessary gates. We spent a long day in the saddle and enjoyed several trots and canters where the land allowed – this was especially possible along the open beach where we could ride through the water together. When guests ride the trail programme, they are usually in the saddle for around 3 – 4 hours each day, the destination’s philosophy being that they want riders to dismount whilst still eager for more.
As well as being accompanied by Daniele, our main guide was Illa who is responsible for most of the ‘horsey’ organisation at the destination. She was delightful company and clearly cared about the enjoyment of guests as well as the horses’ wellbeing. She also proved to be very knowledgeable about Sardinia and the area in which we were riding, often pausing to explain what we could see. A good example of this is when we stopped at a ‘nuraghe’, an ancient watchtower from around 1800BC. These are strewn across the island and prove to be a rich reminder of the island’s fascinating history and culture which was shaped by the Nuragic civilisation.
Our lunch stop was also a pleasure and an opportunity to talk with Illa and Daniele about the horses, the hotel and the history and ideas behind it all. As we tucked into bread, salami, locally made cheese and ripe cherry tomatoes, Illa explained how the happiness of the horses is paramount. Daniele believes that the best horses are those that are kept together naturally and all of his are certainly a credit to him – fit, in good condition and all capable of low-level competition at the very least. The Licheri family from which Daniele hails has been breeding horses in Sardinia for more than 100 years, long before they decided to open up their country hotel to share their passion with guests from across the world.
Throughout the day the sun shone and everyone was excellent company. At the end of our ride we left the horses at the hotel’s second paddocks which are situated by the beach. These belong to Paola, Daniele’s partner, who is an experienced rider, a qualified equine vet and also a knowledgeable riding guide. There are also other horses here which are used when guests would like to ride on the beach without taking part in the full trail programme – they hire a car and drive from the hotel each day in order to enjoy lovely beach hacks before a refreshing drink on Paola’s terrace. From here it is about a 35 minute drive back to the hotel, where you once again find yourself in the shade of the beautiful trees and in time for relaxation, a good shower and another delicious dinner.
On Sunday we enjoyed one of these shorter hacks out from the beach paddocks and I rode an ex-showjumper called Fiore. We rode a beautiful tour along the coastline, exploring the pretty beach, cliffside trails and the lovely flowers and Mediterranean herbs growing around us. We also spotted some young flamingos wading in a lagoon. Beach riding is limited to early morning and evening during peak summer but riding times can be altered to suit this. After the ride we returned to the hotel for lunch and a peaceful afternoon. When not in the saddle guests can book a massage or some beauty treatments, a guided trek with a local expert, guided jeep tours, a game at the local golf course or tennis courts or even a morning of cookery with the hotel chef, Nicola. I myself chose to read my book in one of the deck chairs in the garden, watching the horses as they mowed the lawn. Another feast finished off the day nicely and I went to sleep in my suite for the last time.
Monday morning was my last chance to explore so I walked the gardens and took a look at the surrounding countryside where not one person could be spotted. I also observed Stefano (Daniele’s nephew and a very competent rider and instructor) give a jumping lesson to another guest on a 1* event horse. Stefano’s instructions were clear and confident but also encouraging and both rider and horse appeared to enjoy themselves. Lessons can be offered for all different levels and the setting couldn’t be more lovely. A less experienced rider was given a lunge lesson in a shaded part of the garden and Stefano worked hard to increase his pupil’s confidence and balance. The guest was then allowed to ride freely around the garden to cool down his horse and bond with them. Riding through the garden gives the feeling of freedom to a rider who is not yet experienced or confident enough to head out on a proper hack, whilst offering a delightful alternative to riding in the menage. From the man’s wonderful grin it was clear that he enjoyed the opportunity!
After taking hundreds of photos, packing my bag, stroking the dogs for the last time and saying farewell to other guests, staff and horses, I left the hotel and travelled back to Alghero by hire car with other guests who kindly let me travel with them. Hire car is absolutely recommended for this destination as it allows you the freedom to explore the surroundings and learn more about Sardinia when not riding. It also saves you the price of transfers and is a real necessity if you wish to ride out from the beach paddocks. If you are taking part in the trail programme and are really just happy to relax when not riding then airport transfers can be arranged from Alghero, Cagliari or Olbia airports and you can often find very affordable flights.
I don’t really have much to say in the way of conclusion, except that I would go back to this hotel in a heartbeat… though ‘hotel’ seems the wrong word for this quiet country retreat. It’s always a pleasure to ride horses which are happy and willing in their work and to be greeted by staff who always have a smile to give you. The destination comes thoroughly recommended for anyone who enjoys quality horse riding in combination with peace and quiet, and I could quite happily be there right now…”
Read more about the ride here: Country and Beach Getaway, Sardinia.