Holiday Report: Sicily Explorer, Sicily | Far and Ride

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Holiday Report: Sicily Explorer, Sicily

Sicily Explorer, Sarah and Pablo Rosenthal-Almirall, London, October 28 2017

‘The best way to discover Etna and Sicily off the beaten track.’

Riding by the Alcantara River

My husband and I have long wanted to discover Sicily but we are not fans of being with hordes of other tourists and like to get off the beaten track. Having both owned horses and ridden extensively in our youth, we took the plunge (this felt quite ambitious being about 30 years older and rusty in more ways than one!) and booked a trail riding holiday with Ride Sicily, a partnership between two Sicilians, Alexandre Morello and Francesco Savoca. We spent a considerable time researching riding holidays before making our choice but were really reassured by the communication with Holly Anthony from Far and Ride who set up the tour for us and who was always extremely responsive and sensitive to our questions.

Once in Sicily at the farm San Marco near Rovitello we were blown away by the warmth of the welcome we received and the quality of the service. Francesco, the owner, is passionate about Sicilian produce and this passion carried us along our entire journey on horseback. Francesco would meet us every lunchtime somewhere along our route and prepare either a great picnic in the fields or when we were high up on Etna and it was snowing (!) he arrived at the refuge ahead of us and had a log fire burning to warm us as soon as we arrived – together with sausages cooked on the fire, wine and grappa, home-made regional dishes, Sicilian hams, salamis and cheeses, coffee and biscuits or cakes. Every day he offered us something different, always of high quality, often produce from his own farm and home cooking by his mother, and showing us a side of Sicily we would never have discovered on our own. It was quite simply amazing!

Meanwhile the trail riding was superb. We were pretty stiff the first couple of days and still quite cautious but by day three we were feeling at home again in the saddle and we had learnt to trust our horses – they knew exactly where to put their feet! The horses we had (India and Stella) were excellent: calm and steady, they didn’t react to dogs jumping out at them, gates banging or ponchos flapping in the wind. They were extremely easy to ride being sensitive to their rider and very obedient. We fell in love with them completely! I would happily put Stella in my suitcase and take her home with me…

The round Etna trail we took was much more dramatic than we had expected and we were simply breath-taken by the variations in scenery: from tree-lined river beds to autumnal forests, black ashy larva fields, snow covered hillsides, horse-chestnut, beech and oak forests, olive groves, fruit orchards, mountain heathers and many wild flowers particularly crocuses. We were there late in the year at the end of October so the temperature also varied wildly from hot T-shirt weather on Day 1 to snow and icy winds on Day 3! Luckily Ride Sicily provided us with a couple of rain ponchos (but it would be best if you can bring your own) as well as riding helmets and chaps.

Riding on the Slopes of Mt Etna

Alex, our guide, has been tour guiding both on horseback and on foot on Etna for many years and he knows Etna like the back of his hand. He would lead us through labyrinthine larva fields and densely wooded forests completely “off piste” following tracks only he could see. He is always innovating by inventing new trail rides and improving on old ones – not staying always with the same trail as many other companies do. Almost none of the ride was on asphalt roads, some was along single file tracks (visible and invisible), some across the various lava flows and even around the rims of craters, and others on wider small grass-covered farm tracks lined with drystone walls. He was also multi-tasking all the time being simultaneously our guide (in English but he is also fluent in French), an expert on volcanoes and particularly Etna, looking after the horses, extremely attentive to our needs, taking great photographs which he would send to us each evening, telling us about the flora and fauna in Sicily and clearing branches or stones off the tracks to make it easier for us to pass by. He organised our check-in at every hotel (varied like the scenery – every place we stopped at was completely different but of the same high quality), shared dinner with us and looked after the horses, preparing them for us each day. Alex has provided the horses with very comfortable tack, simplified to make tacking and untacking easier and quicker each time we stopped.

At the end of our six day tour we returned to San Marco and a final dinner made from local produce from the farm. We have had the most amazing time which exceeded all our expectations! The authenticity of Francesco and Alex and their passion for all things Sicilian permeates every aspect of this wonderful trail ride and for those looking for something “different” and away from the crowds we cannot recommend it enough. They do a variety of different trail rides (Mysterious Sicily sounds very tempting to me!) and you can also ride for a few hours from the farm San Marco up the Alcantara river. Riders of all skill levels are welcome and the Farm San Marco also rents guestrooms and is listed in Lonely Planet. Ride Sicily has a very high percentage of returning guests and we understand why! We will be back!


Read more about this ride here: Sicily Explorer, Sicily


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