Toscana Cucina is a perfect combination of horse riding, genuine Italian cookery classes and cultural and historical sightseeing around Sienna. This is a great choice for riders and non-riders looking to enjoy a holiday together!
The circular stone walls of the Castello, a medieval hamlet built on the foundations of a 12th century castle, serve as a hospitable central base. After your superb ride or excursion you'll return to the convivial atmosphere of the Castello's spacious dining room and Tuscan kitchen. There's plenty of time to relax and pampering massages can be booked on-site.
Accommodation is in lovingly restored suites which have retained their atmosphere while offering every modern convenience. The entire basis of this ride is history and a connection with the land. This means your hosts picking their own organically grown ingredients for the menus prepared in the cookery classes. Menus and food follow the seasons: truffle hunting, olive and grape harvesting and sausage making to name but a few. Apart from the cookerymclasses, there are fine wine tastings in medieval cellars, city tours, visits to local food producers and to a shepherd's farmhouse to assist in the making of pecorino cheese.
This is an exceptional itinerary with above average service levels for lovers of food, fine wine and fantastic riding. Non-riders can enjoy a range of activities and will feel thoroughly well looked after while the riders are out.
Short breaks are also available on request.
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 DW of Bollier on 23/06/2017
Arrival and pick up at 18.30 at the train station of Sienna. Welcome drink and overnight at Castello di Tocchi.
Ride to explore the beautiful valley surrounding Castello di Belagio. Climb up an ancient stone road to visit a horse farm which specialises in breeding Maremmano, the horses historically used by Italians for working cattle. Indulge in a picnic lunch “Italian style” before returning to the stables by a different route. Assist the Chef in preparing dinner at the Castello with recipes from La Cucina Del Castello.
No riding today. In the morning learn to prepare a traditional Tuscan recipe with a Chef Mama. After lunch, visit the towns of Buonconvento and Montalcino and enjoy tasting the famous Brunello di Montalcino wine at the fortress of this medieval town, then on to dinner at a restaurant favoured by the locals.
Mount up and ride past medieval villages to the hamlet of Orgia for an elaborate picnic lunch. In the afternoon ride for about two hours with trots and canters along the crest of the hills with beautiful views of the southern province of Sienna, returning to the Castello for a cooking lesson with the Chef, and dinner and conversation
This is a non-riding day. Lunch at the Castello following a cooking class with a Chef Mama. Then on to visit the best preserved and most famous medieval town in Tuscany: San Gimignano. You will taste Vernaccia de S. Gimignano, the famous white wine produced there and mentioned by Dante in his Divine Comedy. Have dinner at a traditional local restaurant before returning to the Castello. If time allows, on the way back to San Gimignano we will visit the local tack shop.
There will be some long trots and canters through huge pine forests and along a river today. The destination is San Galgano Abbey, an inspiring structure that has been partially restored but remains open to the sky, where you will see the famous ‘sword in the rock’. The abbey, associated chapel and beautiful surrounding valley will invoke images of the times of wandering knights and cavaliers. There will be plenty of time to learn about the area and hear intriguing tales over an Italian-style lunch. Return to Castello di Tocchi for a memorable last dinner and overnight.
Depart for Sienna after breakfast
For groups of 10 or more people (including non-riders), the accommodation can be upgraded to Villa Ferraia, a 13th century renovated villa with individually decorated apartments each with twin or double rooms with private bathrooms. 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.
We're avid readers here at Unicorn Trails and have selected several books connected to this ride. If you're interested in reading more about the area before you travel, or want to get into the cultural background, here are some suggestions that may inspire you. Click on the links for more information.
A Room with a View - E.M Forster
A Traveller in Italy - HV Morton
and anything by Italo Calvino.
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. This is a trail for those already comfortable with cantering as there are many long trots and controlled canters over the fields and through forests. The pace is slower in the area of steep terrain. The routes are interesting and well thought out so you can enjoy as much scenery as possible on the trail.
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 and due to the complete isolation of the villa, it 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 telescopes. Vittorio has a close affinity with the land and takes pride in growing most items for the kitchen right on the grounds of the villa.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Castello di Tocchi is a medieval village dating from 1100. Despite being at the centre of the wars between Florence and Siena, its medieval walls and the magnificent arched entrance have remained intact and still exude an antique charm. Accommodation at Castello di Tocchi is in individually decorated apartments 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 origional features, each still has an original log fireplace for atmospheric evenings. Groups of 8 or more can upgrade to the fantastic Villa Ferraia for a supplement (based on sharing double rooms).
Dinner on all rides is either at Castello di Tocci 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, a 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 wtih 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 dressings, veal and capers, cream custard and toasted pine nut cake, coffee and liqueurs.
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: email@example.com.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The 6 night ride runs from spring through to autumn, except in the months of July and August. 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
There are no particular health issues associated with this ride
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. 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 7d/6n programme with 3 days riding available on set dates. Please enquire for groups of 2 or more for other dates. For groups of 10-27 private departures can be arranged with an upgrade to one of the top rental villas in Italy. On this option there is a parallel programme for non-riders which includes: cookery classes, mountain biking, hiking, shopping and sight seeing, spa and massage treatments, on-site observatory star viewing sessions and many more.
2019: 3, 24 Mar; 14 Apr; 19 May; 2, 30 Jun; 12 Aug; 15 Sept; 13 Oct; 10 Nov.
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.