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Archive for June, 2011

At The Riding Company we are always excited to discover somewhere new to ride and something different to offer our clients. Sicily offers much to her visitors with a fascinating history and traces of the Greek, Norman and Arab influences still to be seen everywhere. It is still a truly rural society and Penny recently returned from riding in the Madonie Mountains in the very heart of the Island where she tasted a slower pace of life as well as some sensational food! Pippa’s Paddock is a family run farm set on a mountainside which offers a home to an eclectic herd of rescue horses and home bred youngsters and is the brainchild of Mark, Andrea and Pippa Camilleri who have converted the ancient outbuildings into simply furnished, comfortable, en suite guest rooms. The holidays they offer are all inclusive and include mountain trail rides, lunches en route, evening meals in amazing, local restaurants and all in places way off the tourist track that you could never find alone.
View from the terrace

Breakfast is taken in the intimate farmhouse with the family, then it’s time to saddle up and set off on the day’s trail. It could be to the top of a mountain to get an amazing vista, or to Toti’s farm for lunch. It could be to gallop across meadows depending upon your ability. Evening meals are taken at a variety of fascinating venues offering great Sicilian food and Mark’s inimate knowledge of the country ensures that you get a full understanding of the history and traditions of the region. Or it could be a barbeque on the picturesque terrace with the horses grazing down below.

Farouk asks 'Did I do well'? Arriving home after a days trail.

The horses live as a herd in the mountainside paddock alongside the farmhouse and have their own pecking order as they would in the wild. They have space to roam and graze which they do for most of the year although there is a stable block for use in the worst of winter. The trails here are rideable from March to end of June then again  from September to December. July and August are too hot for both horse and rider. The terrain is tough in the mountains but the horses seemed well adjusted and unfazed, there are stone troughs en route to water them and they enjoyed a roll in the paddock upon return. Amazingly some of the horses work unshod; all have their feet cared for by the local farrier, Salvo, who has advised the family how to adapt to the local landscape. Penny rode Farouk, an ex pacer who had stopped winning. The family adopted him in Wales and bought him over when they emigrated to Sicily. He is one of the herd leaders. Also on the ride were two mares, a Sicilian mare, Saskia and Enola, an Andalucian part bred. The locally bred Sicilian horses are heavy set and up to weight but can move across the roughest terrain quickly and are often used for herding work in the mountains. Riding is on English saddles on a long, relaxed rein, Sicilian style, allowing them to balance themselves on the steeper slopes.

The herd relaxing on the hillside

With only a few rooms available, groups are guaranteed to be small and it is the Camilleri family’s intention to create a relaxed, warm atmosphere where you can join in, groom and bond with your horse. Their home is your home for the week and it is certainly far from the madding crowd, a place to take a good book and watch sunsets over the mountains. At least one day of every holiday is dedicated to a visit to Palermo, the capital, or perhaps you may prefer to visit the famous Greek Temples at Agrigento or the coastal resort of Cefalu. This allows visitors to see another side of the Island and the horses get a rest day of course.

The 4 guest rooms are in a converted stable block

 Penny rode up to Toti’s hill farm where everything that was eaten for lunch had been grown on the farm, (look away now vegetarians; even the rabbit in the fabulous ragout), and whilst the horses had a well deserved couple of hours off, the riders feasted on the home cooked delights. Toti even bakes his own bread after selecting the grain which the local mill grinds for him. Course after course was brought out onto the delightful terrace overlooking a flock of sheep grazing on the hillside and the farm’s vegetable and herb gardens.  Washed down with Sicilian wine and home made cream of lemon liqueur,  this was Penny’s favourite meal of her week in Sicily. She can still taste the fresh olives, tomatoes and basil! There is a hammock on the terrace and Pippa was quick to make the most of  it after that fantastic lunch. Mark and Pippa were on hand throughout as translators to save Penny the embarrasment of thinking the delicious starter which whe was wolfing down by the plateload was in fact the whole lunch. There was still a pasta course, a main meat course , dessert and coffee and liqueur with Toti’s hand made chocolates  to come!

Toti's table, ready for the riders, offering outstanding farmhouse flavours!

The Sicilians have a fabulous Festival of the Horse on the penultimate weekend of May each year and Mark is looking forward to making  the Taratata part of the holiday for those who visit in May. Arab and Andalucian horses are particularly prized and displayed in this huge festival in Casteltermini. The Sicilian have many Feast Days and for those interested in history and culture the Camillieri’s are happy to incorporate a visit to any of the local festivals as part of the holiday.

Pippa’s Paddock provides a holiday experience a world away from luxury hotels, time has stood still in many ways in rural Sicily and you will ride tracks and trails that the mountain farmers have used for centuries. Visitors will come home having had a view and taste of the island that few tourists in the coastal hotels will have experienced. 

Penny, Pippa and Zoe the dog heading home.

Visit us at www.theridingcompany.com to find out more about Sicily and the other great destinations we offer.
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