By Jenny Dwane
It's difficult to imagine a more luxurious riding holiday, it was very slick and simply everything had been thought of, amazing attention to detail. No wonder it was expensive, but we had the best of everything from 5-star hotels, food, wine, transport, to the horses. And it would be difficult to find better hosts than vivacious Maria Elena, quietly spoken Emilio and gentle Fernando. The weather was perfect throughout the week - due to the altitude the temperatures were ideal, between 20 - 30 degrees depending on the day, with wall to wall sunshine and a gently cooling breeze. And we saw the real rural Spain. The isolated villages we passed each day were set in a time warp, with elderly women dressed in old fashioned black clothes and men walking, bent-double, with sticks. There were very few young people or cars to be seen, instead we noticed donkeys being used by the villagers for transport and work. We saw one man throw a thick paper feed-sack across his donkey's back as a 'saddle' then jump up on to it and ride off with another animal in tow! The villagers always came out to look at us and we said 'hola', 'buenas dias' or 'buenas tardes' to them, which they seemed to appreciate.
There was a relaxed start to every day with breakfast taken and bags re-packed ready for a 10am start. After a couple of hours' beautiful riding we would suddenly spy Fernando's brightly coloured t-shirt and the van. Hurray, aperitif time! We would dismount and be offered locally cured hams freshly carved by Emilio, cheese, biscuits and fresh, cool fruit and sherry, all served by the smiling Fernando. If we needed anything from our cases we could find them in the van, very reassuring. Another 2-3 hours' wonderful riding followed before we stumbled across our picturesque picnic site for the day.
Fernando would be there waiting, holding the head collars and helping the more aged of us dismount, with an encouraging smile. He would help tether the horses and then we would notice the table laden with salads, bread and all manner of delicious food such as Emilio's legendary paella, barbecued king prawns and fresh fish, and the equally wonderful gaspacho soup. What a feast! And best of all, there was no rush. There was time to thoroughly enjoy the meal, to swim in the water, or simply relax and sunbathe. A real siesta could be taken. Thoroughly refreshed we re-mounted and completed the final ride of the day, always ending up somewhere even better than the day before, or so it seemed. The hotels varied from place to place, from rural rustic to village centre, but were always excellent, beautifully located and en suite. A delicious three course meal was taken in the evening and time to talk over the events of the day.
Our last ride was probably the most stunning of the week, Maria Elena led the long morning trek, through the most amazing scenery and delightful ancient villages, as we climbed higher and higher. Aperitif was at almost the highest point and we stood holding our horses breathing in the pure air and gazing in awe at the scenery and the distance we had travelled. As we moved on we passed herds of cattle ambling around the hillsides and eventually reached the top of the world where we gazed down at the plain below us (our destination lay somewhere down there). Lunch was another splendid picnic, after which Emilio led the afternoon ride through a landscape reminiscent of Dartmoor, until at last we could see our farm and stables in the distance. The older ones amongst us were so exhausted that we could hardly sit on our horses, so were pleasantly surprised at our ability to enjoy the exhilarating final-fling gallop across the fields to home where the horses were hosed down and we all drank champagne to celebrate a perfect week. Our final evening was back at the stunning Parador where we spent our first night, we enjoyed our final delicious meal and sang our thanks to our hosts, Maria ELena and Emilio. What a holiday to remember!