Sicily Coast-to-Coast Ride – A Trip to Remember
Shawn Hamilton shares her experiences on a Sicilian coast-to-coast ride from Unicorn Trails. (Words and images by Shawn Hamilton)
Seeing the world from the saddle has many benefits but the one that stands out the most for me is the feeling of immersion in the culture of the location. Experiencing small villages, rural areas and the local landscape from the back of a horse on this coast-to-coast ride gives one a better sense of belonging. Clip-clopping through small communities, galloping through the wilderness, or trotting down rural country roads brings one closer to the buzz of any given place. There is a vast difference in sight-seeing from the saddle when compared to driving around in a rental car, stopping at typical tourist destinations to take photos.
The Italy Coast-to-Coast ride takes this feeling of being part of the community to a whole new level. Local Sicilian-bred horses took us from the northern coast, near the village of Cafalù, to the ancient historical town of Agrigento in the South. Riding through the heart of the island, staying in family-owned historical villas, eating multi-course authentic Sicilian meals, and drinking wine made from the vineyards that surrounded the properties was an experience like no other. Our hosts greeted us with open arms, big smiles, and a taste of their unlimited hospitality.
We began our adventure in the quaint northern coastal village of Cefalù where we treated ourselves to a fresh seafood meal in an oceanside restaurant and relaxed on the beach. Luciano, our horse guide, and Paola, his right-hand woman, met us for a walking tour of the historical town, then shuttled us to Luogo Marchese where Luciano’s horses reside. After a lovely meet-and-greet over a meal and a few glasses of wine, a quick dip in the pool finished off the night before heading to our cabins to rest up for the seven-day progressive ride.
The warmth of the morning sun spread a golden glow on the valley below as we walked to the barn where our tacked-up horses stood ready for us. Comfy trail saddles equipped with sheepskin covers and snaffle bits were a pleasant surprise. Over dinner, Luciano had asked us what kind of horses we preferred, and from what I could gather his matches were well made.
My travel buddy, Anne, got her long-legged forward-moving mount, a bay Andalusian cross gelding named Romeo. My request for a horse that could leave the pack for me to take photos was answered with a willing-to-please Sicilian-bred gelding named Aaron. We mounted up to leave the North coastal shores behind as we headed south into the countryside. (Photo – Anne on her long-legged forward-moving Andalusian cross, Romeo)
An old cork forest, some trees over eighty years old, led us to a rural road lined with small olive groves, vineyards, and vegetable farms. Snacks on the go were supplied by trees bearing ripe fruits, nuts, and figs hanging from reachable branches. “It doesn’t get fresher and more local than this” I commented to the group.
As we descended into a rural valley, herds of sheep and cattle watched us pass. Stone basins provided water for our frequent stops to allow the horses to drink. In our first village of the trip, the town of Castelbuono, residents hung out their windows and balconies to wave at us. A picnic lunch was spread out on the lawn of a local restaurant, prepared by Gimmee, (pronounced Jimmy), who would be driving the support vehicle transporting our luggage and lunches from stop to stop.
The horses were tied to trees that provided shade for them and we relaxed for a two-hour break giving us and the horses a well-deserved rest in the hottest part of the day. The afternoon ride rewarded us with spectacular mountainous views before we rode into the sunset to our first nightly stop, Casale Villa Rainò a stone villa restored from the 1830’s
The advantage of a progressive ride is the diverse scenery from day to day. This coast-to-coast ride through the heart of Sicily gave us a taste of everything. From clip-clopping over stone Roman bridges to feeling very small underneath massive contemporary ones. The landscape changed by the hour, from lush forests with rivers, and golden fields of recently harvested wheat, to crossing moonscape fields from the recent drought. A pond dotted with trees reflecting in the still water looked like a postcard.
Luciano’s horses paraded us through villages, and down busy highways where the horses never flinched, galloped us up hills, through the forest of conservation areas, crossed rivers, and climbed and descended steep pitches. Nothing seemed to bother them. Lunch stops included the stone patio of an ancient monastery overlooking the quaint town of Gangi, to napping under a tree next to a local train station. Every day brought new surroundings and experiences
Each village we passed had its own unique characteristics. Panoramic views from Mount Etna to the Gulf of Agrigento could be seen from the Sanctuary and Ethno Anthropological Museum perched at the top of a giant monolithic rock called Monte San Paolina in the ancient city of Sutera.
We finished our visit to Agrigento with a tour of its renowned ancient Roman ruins which we toured after sadly waving goodbye to the horses as they were loaded onto the trailer to head back to the ranch near Cefalù.
The one thing that never changed throughout the ride was the warm welcome, the free-flowing wine, and the delicious meals every night. At the Villa Casale Leto, an 8-hectare (20-acre) villa purchased by the Leto family in 1990 and which, after extensive renovations, opened to the public in 2008, we drank their famous Nero D’Avola and Chardonnay wines with the family.
The laughs at the dinner tables, new friendships made, and hospitality of our hosts, combined with the warm supportive nature of our support team and guides made this a ride of a lifetime. I thank Luciano for providing such willing horses that allowed us to experience the diversity and warmth of this lovely island and organizing such a unique coast-to-coast ride to see the off-the-beaten-track places of Sicily that the typical tourist rarely goes.
- This article was written by Shawn Hamilton based on her experiences on the Unicorn Trail’s Italy Coast-to-Coast horse riding holiday. For more information about this and other holiday packages, please contact your Unicorn consultant.