Discover Italian history, nature and La Dolce Vita (the good life), in a castello perched high above Sienna with spectacular views. A haven of peace and tranquillity, this exceptional horse riding holiday is sure to wow. Horses, riding, guiding, service levels and accommodation are all the best there is.
Your warm-hearted host Vittorio is incredibly knowledgeable about the culture and history of the area and a great believer is living closely aligned with the land. This destination offers top class guiding, service levels and accommodation.
The food is a feature with local seasonal dishes and the best wines from the area are constant companions as you make your way through the countryside on fit, substantial, responsive and impeccably schooled hunter-type horses. Non-riders are also welcome and have plenty of options to keep them entertained while the riders are out.
Each year there is one special Palio Week centred around the The Palio of Sienna, an exciting horse race and one of the most popular and well-known historic festivals in Italy. The contest is run in Sienna's fan-shaped main square, Piazza del Campo or Il Campo.
Short breaks are also available on request. This riding holiday is unique in Europe and top class on every level.
Please Note: The opinions expressed in these reviews are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Unicorn Trails Ltd. These reviews are "directly from the horses mouth" and unedited. Unicorn Trails may make additional comments for clarification clearly identified in red.
Review received from AM of Jaffrey on 04/06/2015
Arrival and pick up at 18.30 at the train station of Sienna. Welcome drink and dinner, overnight at Castello di Tocchi.
Depart from the stables going north west. During the tour after passing by the Medieval village of San Lorenzo a Merse you can admire the Castle of Capraia. Picnic lunch is today at the Castle of Poderina. In the afternoon after crossing the river Merse and passing by the misterious castle of Castiglioni che Dio Sol Sa, you will reach the stables near the medieval village of Pentolina where we leave our horses. Back by car and dinner at the Castello di Tocchi.
Transfer by car back to the horses. Today’s destination is the romantic San Galgano Abbey, the first example of Gothic in Tuscany. Ride through the forest and past ancient villages to arrive in front of the partially restored 13th century Cistercian abbey. Visit the site, and take a short walk to the Chapel at Monte Siepi where you will see the famous sword in the rock that is said to be prior to the King Arthur's one and you will hear the story of the Saint, the Sword, and the Stone. Lunch at a restaurant near the church. After we ride to the Castle of Luriano, a castle from the 12th century that was used as the commercial and political Custom between the Republic of Siena and Volterra. The family that lives there owns it since the 16th century and among their activities they breed horses and recently started to train Angloarabs to run the Palio of Sienna, the ancient horse race that runs in the main square of the town. Back by car and dinner at the Castello di Tocchi.
After yet another magnificent breakfast we drive to Castle of Luriano, and today we ride through the trails and roads typical of the area to arrive to the small village of Scalvaia where we will enjoy a meal at the local restaurant. After a short siesta we continue riding to the stables of the Castello di Tocchi along the top line of the hills of the beautiful Farma valley, one of the least unspoiled of Tuscany. Dinner there with lots of stories to talk about.
In the morning we take a mild ride in the surrounding hills to admire some great views and panoramas. Back to Castello di Tocchi and after a light lunch we visit a local winery to enjoy their production and taste some cheeses and salami that match perfectly with the wine. A visit to the local tack shop and some villages around will get us ready for a nice dinner at Castello di Tocchi and a peaceful overnight.
Ride to explore the beautiful valley surrounding Castello di Belagaio. Climb up an ancient stone road to visit a stud farm which specialises in breeding Maremmano, the horses historically used by Tuscan farmers for working cattle. Indulge in a picnic lunch “Italian style” before returning to the stables of the Castello di Tocchi by a different route. At the Castello assist the Chef in preparing the farewell dinner with recipes from La Cucina del Castello (the other Culinary School and Private Restaurant at Castello di Tocchi).
Depart for Sienna after breakfast.
In case of bad weather alternative programmes will be created such as sight seeing, visiting a local spa with wellness centre and cookery classes with the chef.
Palio Week Special
The itinerary on this date allows ultimate flexibility and gives riders the chance to witness the famous Palio of Sienna.
The Palio of Sienna with its exciting horse race is one of the most popular and well-known historic festivals in Italy. The contest to win the Palio of Siena is a horse race run in Sienna's fan-shaped main square, Piazza del Campo or Il Campo.
Sienna is divided into 17 neighbourhoods, or contrade, each with a rider. Ten contrade take part in the first race in June chosen by a draw 20 days before the race. The other seven plus three from the July race compete in August. Horses are assigned to the riders by a draw three days before the race. As part of the special Palio week, you will go to see these first trials as jockeys meet their horses. You will also be taken to see further tryouts a couple of days later, before spending a fantastic evening at a huge street dinner held in one of the neighbourhoods the night before the race.
Race day starts with a special mass, trial runs by the jockeys and blessing of the horses. In the afternoon starting around 3pm there's a procession through the historic centre of Sienna with costumed participants from each contrade and performances by flag throwers. The historic parade ends at Piazza del Campo.
Before the race the starting line-up is decided by lottery and horses are lined up behind a rope, the traditional starting gate. The race is about 1000 metres in total, with horses circling the track three times, taking less than two minutes. You will be able to watch all the proceedings from the ultimate viewpoint of a balcony; an amazing, unique experience! The contrade of the winning horse is awarded the Palio, or victory flag. Winning the Palio is a huge honour and the race is highly competitive.
For groups of 10 or more people (including non-riders), the accommodation can be upgraded to Villa Ferraia, a renovated 13th century villa with individually decorated apartments each with twin or double rooms with private bathroom. The villa has been tastefully refurbished with antique furniture to provide all modern comforts without affecting the original features, each still has an original log fireplace for atmospheric evenings. It is located on the top of a hill with a 360-degree view of the gently rolling Tuscan landscape, protected by thousands of hectares of forest belonging to the natural biogenetic reserve of Tocchi.
The food is a real feature here. The Villa marries the local gastronomic tradition with the natural oasis that surrounds it. The cooks revive forgotten flavours that the guests can enjoy in the wood-scented dining room with its imposing stone fireplace, or on the terrace in fine weather. The menu offers an unexpected exploration of the senses. The vegetables cultivated in the garden and the fruit are carefully selected, making the most of biodiversity. The full-bodied taste of the meat is enhanced in rich Tuscan recipes: pieces of pig’s liver and fennel seeds, local sausages, the traditional bread and bean soup called ribollita and then pasta with black-leaf kale pesto, baked squash and chestnut mousse. Every meal is accompanied solely by quality wines, specially selected to bring out the flavours of the local cooking.
Please note: All itineraries are given for your guidance only and it may be altered on the ground and in accordance with the prevailing conditions by the organising team.
The horses are a stable of extremely fit and well-schooled hunter types ridden English style, although western saddles are available. They are friendly, forward-going and responsive. Breeds include Warmblood and X, Anglo Arab, Lippizaner and Thoroughbred and X, Scicilian and Maremma. They vary in height from about 15hh-16.3hh.
Horses will be prepared, saddled and cared for by the grooms and guides, but the spirit is friendly and informal and anyone wanting to help will be very welcome. The grooms and guides unsaddle the horses at lunchtimes and check them carefully. They also ensure a good warm up and cool down for them.
Vittorio, your guide, has lived in the area since birth and is passionate about all things Italian, Tuscan and equine. He is extremely knowledgeable, has a great sense of humour and is interested in wide variety of subjects from Italian art, gastronomy, slow food and ancient pig breeds to astronomy. In fact he has a professional observatory on-site which, due to the complete isolation of the Castello, is perfect for star gazing. If the weather is suitable he may take you up to the observatory and, under the guidance of a local professor, you can view distant galaxies through professional telepscopes.
Vittorio has a close affinity with the land and takes pride in growing most items for the kitchen right on the grounds of the castello.
The set dates are not suitable for children under 15. All rides are for reasonably experienced, fit and confident riders who enjoy (and can manage) an energetic riding pace. You should be able to mount a horse without help, be confident on and around horses and comfortable, relaxed and secure in the saddle at all paces from a walk to a fast canter. Also, as some of the ground is uneven and the horses are forward going, you should have an independent and balanced seat.
There is no jumping on the rides, but some experience over low jumps is an advantage that you will find helps when riding over uneven terrain and up and down small hills etc. You should also be reasonably riding fit and should have a fairly good level of general fitness as there can be long periods of trot and canter. If you do not ride regularly at home we recommend you do so in the months and weeks before you go to get used to the hours you will spend in the saddle.
The pace of the rides is moderate overall, with good opportunities to trot and canter most days, although the pace will vary from day to day and where necessary will be limited by the terrain. Most of the faster riding is on the chalky white dirt tracks that criss-cross through this part of Italy. These offer firm, in places quite hard, but safe going that the horses are used to. There are also good opportunities to trot and canter when the going is flat and open, for instance when you cross agricultural land and ride through vineyards. At other times, when you ride through hilly, wooded country and along narrow winding paths (old Roman roads) that can be stony, or on areas where the ground is uneven or where there may be holes, the pace will necessarily be slow.
Most of the tack is English as is the riding style but a few western style saddles are available, please ask if you would like this.
Vittorio, your guide, wears a helmet and will strongly recommend all riders do so and has a selection available. However helmets are not compulsory for riders over 18. You may be asked to sign a disclaimer if you choose not to wear a helmet.
The weight limit for this ride is 242 lb/110 kg, please enquire if you are an experienced rider exceeding this weight.
Your base is in a medieval village dating from 1100. Despite being at the centre of the wars between Florence and Sienna, its medieval walls and the magnificent arched entrance have remained intact and still exude an antique charm. Accommodation is in individually decorated appartments each with twin or double rooms with private bathrooms. The Castello has been tastefully refurbished with antique furniture to provide all modern comforts without affecting the original features, each still has an original log fireplace for atmospheric evenings. Please note that one of the available apartments is slightly smaller with less luxurious bathroom which is shared between the two bedrooms.
Groups of 10 or more can upgrade to the fantastic Villa Ferraia for a supplement (based on sharing double rooms).
Dinner on all rides is either at the village or local restaurants. The food is a real feature of this ride. Even the breakfast table groans with the weight of the dishes: freshly ground coffee, selection of green and herbal teas, hot and cold milk, yoghurts and honey, home made muesli, cornflakes, bread, toast, various fresh juices, water, fruit selection (grapes, melon, seasonal fruits), freshly baked Italian breakfast cake, fried eggs, scrambled eggs with pecorino, bacon, cheese, tomato and basil. The majority of the produce utilised here is produced on-site organically or locally sourced.
Picnic lunches are similarly expansive with table service and warm food.
A sample dinner might be: red/white wine, freshly made pasta of varying types, organic salads picked from the garden with own recipe dressing, veal and capers, cream custard and toasted pine nut cake, coffee and liquers.
Where restaurant meals are enjoyed an effort has been made to showcase the best cuisine in the region. Typically you might start with something like crostini with mushrooms, olives or fresh tomatoes, or perhaps a plate of antipasta - delicious locally produced salamis and hams. There is then usually a pasta course, with many varieties of homemade pasta or perhaps a typical pasta and bean soup and this is followed by a main meat dish which might include wild boar, rabbit, guinea fowl or other game. Fresh fruit or a traditional cake may be served for pudding. Local wines, water and coffee are included with dinner.
Vegetarian or other dietary requirements can be accommodated with advanced notice. Please contact Unicorn Trails with requests.
Please note that it is your responsibility to ensure you have the correct documentation in place for your trip. If Visa’s are required the requirements can change from year to year depending on diplomatic relations. Please request information from the appropriate Consulate in your home country. Unicorn Trails will assist with any questions you have or supply any necessary supporting documents as required by the consulate on request.
Visa are not required for U.K. or other European nationals. In the UK the British Foreign Office gives travel advice on travel insurance, passport and visas issues and emergency issues. They can be reached on 0207 008 0232/0233 or at www.fco.gov.uk.
The British Embassy can be found at Via XX Settembre 80a, I-00187 Roma RM. Tel: + (39) 06 4220 0001. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Italian Embassy in the U.K can be found at 14 Three Kings Yard, Davies Street, London W1K 4EH. Telephone: (020) 7312 2200. Email: email@example.com.
The 6 night ride runs from spring through to autumn.. In early April it is mild and pleasant with daytime temperatures around 15 degrees C, sometimes a little warmer. In May / June daytime temperatures are around the mid 20’s C and it is usually lovely for riding with many wild flowers and fields of poppies and sunflowers which are at their best in June. September and October are usually mild, generally around 20 degrees C and the countryside is full of colours of the harvest, with fruit and olives ripening and mushrooms growing. It can rain at anytime with rain more likely in the spring and autumn although rain is rarely particularly intrusive.
We advise taking plenty of sunscreen!
For up to date information on specific health concerns please contact the Medical Advisors For Travellers Abroad. Their website can be found at www.masta.org
Voltage is the same as in the UK and most appliances such as battery chargers for videos, hair dryers etc. can be plugged in with appropriate adapters. These are available for purchase at most airports and travel shops.
Good quality film is widely available for purchase as well as batteries (normal, alkaline and lithium). There will be access to power every evening to charge equipment, eg telephones and cameras. Mobile phone coverage can vary and you are recommended to contact your supplier for details.
Layered clothing is recommended on most of the departure dates, remember that mid summer can be hot (July and August). You need a riding helmet or a broad rimmed hat which must stay on firmly (we strongly recommend wearing an approved correctly-fitted riding helmet) and sunglasses with string. 2 pairs of riding trousers (cycling shorts for men), half chaps are recommended and can be borrowed, riding gloves, jersey, warm jacket (spring and autumn), shorts, long sleeves shirts, T-shirts, raincoat (seasonal), sunblock, camera on a shoulder strap with a pouch which can be secured to your belt, binoculars, 2 pairs of lightweight riding boots or trainers.
The horses have saddle bags equipped with bottled water attached to the front of the saddle.
This is a 7 day/6 night programme with 5 days riding available on set dates. Please enquire for groups of 2 or more for other dates. On this option parallel programmes for non-riders are available and include activities such as: cookery classes, mountain biking, hiking, shopping and sight seeing, spa and massage treatments, on-site observatory star viewing sessions and many more.
2021: 16 December
Other dates available on request.
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Lisa St Aubyn de Teram ‘A House In Italy’, E.M Forster ‘A Room With A View’, HV Morton ‘A Traveller in Italy’ and anything by Italo Calvino. For the equestrian traveller who would like to see what is possible on horseback visit www.thelongridersguild.com also a fantastic place to acquire your equestrian travel books is www.horsetravelbooks.com
The trail includes many cultural aspects with some outings to local archeological sites and historic towns and opportunities for shopping if wanted. It also includes wine tasting in this established wine producing area. Massages can be arranged on-site for a reasonable fee.
Italy forms a peninsula in Southern Europe extending into the central Mediterranean Sea, including the islands of Sicily and Sardinia, Elba and about 70 other smaller islands. It is mostly mountainous, though between the Apennines (which form the spine of Italy) and the eastern coastline there are the fertile plains of Emilia-Romagna in the north and of Puglia in the south. The Alps in the north divide Italy from France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia.
The Roman Empire was once the most powerful in the world, covering Europe and extending into modern day Asia. Their horsemanship skills second only to the Mongols further east. The incredibly cultured and refined Roman culture still leaves its mark across Europe and has been the foundation for countless artistic movements, including the Renaissance, through cities such as Florence and the medieval university city of Bologna.
Italians are understandably proud of their heritage and are renowned as people of great taste and as having an eye for the aesthetic. Their architecture and fashion leave most of the world in their shadow, appearance is very important to them and the majority of Italians will never leave the house without ensuring they are impeccably and elegantly attired.
Italian food, from pizza to pasta, has been commandeered by the rest of the world but you will never taste a better pizza anywhere else. As with the rest of mainland Europe meals are eaten late with plenty of wine and preferably al fresco.
Italy is one hour ahead of GMT and they use the metric weights and measures system, so kilometres and kilograms instead of miles and pounds. (There is approximately 1.6 kilometres in a mile and 2.2 pounds in a kilogram).
The international dialling code is +39.
Important information regarding rail travel:
Visitors are often caught unawares by train and transport systems requiring validation. Tickets bought in Italy for Regionale and Regionale Veloce trains are not marked for any particular time or train and become valid only when time-stamped at a validation machine. Without this validation, train operators assume the rider is trying to fare dodge, since the ticket could be reused. So validation is absolutely essential before boarding, and there are small boxes in the station or near the platform. After being time-stamped, the ticket is valid for the amount of time shown on the ticket.