Forget everything you think you know about mountain riding - this is faster and more varied than you would think. Ride along old smuggler's routes on this linear trail through the heartland of Catalonia where the red and yellow flag flies proudly with many opportunities to swim/cross and play in the rivers and lakes along the way.
Discover three distinct landscapes: the fertile prairies near the river Fluvià, the mighty peaks of the Pyrenees (climbing to an altitude of 2000m) and the warm wooded hills of the Garrotxa, an interesting mixture with plenty of gallops. The lower reaches are inundated with architectural heritage, churches, castles and monuments aplenty. Onwards and upwards to the mountain peaks riding through beech forests and meadows. Gallops galore as you ride past gushing mountain streams with opportunities to swim with your horses. Horses graze, herds of cows doze and eagles circle above.
This trail is also a gastronomic experience - food in the mountain hotels is of a high culinary standard and many different typically Catalan dishes are served. Comfortable accommodation completes the picture to make up an adventure with comfort.
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 YL of Auckland on 24/07/2017
DAY 1: WELCOME
Upon arrival in the evening you will meet your guide. Over dinner we will talk about the week’s programme and learn about the special characteristics of our Spanish and Arab crossbred horses used for this trail.
DAY 2: RACECOURSE - LA PALMA
Up early for a big breakfast, and then it's off to prepare our horses and leave for our first ride of the holiday.
We cross the river Fluviá to reach Báscaras’ hippodrome where we will test our skills with a long canter. Next, we will have a picnic and get to know each other a bit more before riding again through prairies and Mediterranean forests to the hotel Masía La Palma, an ancient farm transformed in a country house.
DAY 3: TO BESALU - CAN JOU - DE LA MARTANA
The peaks of the Alta Garrotxa are all around us today. The air is poignant with the smell of wild herbs and Mediterranean fragrances. Later after some long canters, in the far distance we can make out the medieval village of Besalú where we will enjoy our picnic at lunch time and after coffee we will visit the village - a jewel of a Romanesque city, with its bridge over the two rivers and Jewish past, with its old neighborhood almost intact. The ride is upbeat. The strong Andalusian horses are still full of strength. Their trots are long and rhythmic along the small climbing paths between country cottages until Can Jou, with amazing views of the Pyrenees. We will then sleep at Los Jardines de la Martana, surrounded by beautiful gardens, where an impressive library is located.
DAY 4 : SMUGGLERS TRAIL
Having tacked up we set off down into the valley of the river Fluviá, Girona´s largest river and following a gushing stream we canter across the plains and into the spectacular gorge of Sant Aniol at the junction with Llierca river. This is the beginning of a historic smuggling trail between France and Spain. We stop for our picnic next to a big river pool, underneath an impressive Romanesque bridge. Excellent for a refreshing swim before lunch.
This spectacular scenery is the gateway to the region of the Alta Garrotxa, one of the regions most beautiful natural parks. Up the mountain, in a very big oak forest, we let our horses to pasture and we go to sleep to Besalú. Dinner and overnight at de la Martana again. Afterwards, we will discover this Medieval’s town nightlife.
DAY 5: BEGET
In the morning we leave the gorge with its sculptured rock formations and we ascend higher into the mountains. We ride through Talaxa, a typical lost mountain village. From here we have spectacular views of "La Costa Bona" and our goal for this journey, the Queen of the Pyrenean peaks, can be seen in the far distance.
After a walk down into the next valley we eat a delicious picnic next to a little river. This is an ideal spot to swim with your horse.
In the evening we arrive at Beget, a beautiful mountain village, nestled amidst the gentle mountain scenery. This village maintains all of its original charm, famous for its Romanesque church, original tower and its Black Madonna, a gem of Romanesque architecture. Our hotel for the night is El Forn, it was the village bakery and now it is a well-known restaurant in the region. Famous for the “nouvelle cuisine” of the local Catalan dishes and the local mountain wine is excellent, even Richard Gere got lost here…
DAY 6: UP TO THE HIGHEST PEAKS
Today after the best breakfast you have ever had we continue our journey riding through beech forests and meadows carpeted in wild flowers. The local farmhouses are huge buildings built by the local aristocracy and wealthy Barcelona merchants in the 16th century. Again, Catalonian Romanesque architecture is ever present in the arches, doors, windows and churches of this region, making for wonderful photography.
Our destination is the village of Espinavell, another small smugglers village untouched by the passing of time, just 5 kilometers from the French border. We stay in a family-run mountain hotel with the beautiful presence of "La Costa Bona" in the background. The speciality of this restaurant is its delicious “vadella” with mushroom, wild boar civet and Ratafia, the home made liquor.
DAY 7: WHERE THE EAGLES FLY
Today we will be riding up into the highest mountains of our journey. After an early start we begin to climb a winding track alongside a river.
Soon we leave the track as up here it is only rolling mountain meadows and wild flowers where we enjoy some very nice canters and gallops.
The views are immense and breathtaking, the light is that of the Pyrenees. We pass herds of cows and wild horses grazing up here for the summer. Up here it is very common to see eagles, vultures and herds of wild goats and deer. After days of riding in the countryside it is nice to arrive in Camprodon, a lively market town, favoured by the Catalan aristocracy in the past. A great opportunity to do some shopping and visit the local bars. The hotel is situated right in the centre and the restaurant is famous for its meat and fish dishes.
DAY 8 : ADIOS AMIGOS
Breakfast and departure and we hope to see each other again soon (or why not ride one week more on the beach?).
Please note the hotels named in this itinerary are subject to change without notice for another hotel of similar standard
Please follow this link for a map of the start point of this itinerary: Smugglers Trail
We think our hosts in Catalonia are some of the best in the business! They offer a range of rides and in the unusual event of a ride not confirming ie. there are 3 or less riders, an alternative rail or based ride will be offered and the difference in price refunded so you can book your flights with confidence.
On this horse riding holiday, you will need to dismount and walk next to your horse over short distances so good walking boots are required.
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 used for rides are well schooled pure or crossbred Andalusians. They have all been carefully chosen and most are between 14.2hh (150cm) and 16hh (165cm) and are of a medium build. They are sure-footed, fit, forward going, responsive to ride and well adapted to the requirements of the sometimes rough terrain. The horses are all trained using natural horsemanship techniques which helps to create an enthusiastic, good natured horse that is keen to collaborate with its rider, and really enjoys its work. The tack is English and trekking style and most horses are ridden in snaffles. English saddles and trekking saddles are utilised. Saddle bags are provided to carry items required during the day and for picnic lunches. On this horse riding holiday, you will need to dismount and walk next to your horse over short distances so good walking boots are required.
To participate in this trip you must be a reasonably competent rider (English style). You should be well balanced, comfortable and secure in the saddle and able to control a well-schooled horse outside at all paces. Riders are expected to be able to cope with a variety of different going and different types of terrain. All the rides are aimed at reasonably capable riders, who are also fairly fit and riding regularly.
Participants are expected to ride regularly in the months before they go to ensure they can cope with the hours in the saddle. There are also places on the rides where you will need to dismount and lead your horse - if the ground gets rough or steep, and for a short time to warm the horses up and cool them down each day. Riders are expected to groom and tack up their own horse each day in preparation for rides.
Your guide will go over the week's programme when you first arrive (usually at dinner on the first night), explaining the special characteristics of the Andalusian trail horse and of the tack used, then discussing each rider's ability, experience and their preference as to the kind of horse they would like to ride. The minimum age for this ride is 14 years.
The weight limit for this ride is 14 st/198 lb/90 kg, please enquire if you are an experienced rider exceeding this weight.
This trail has a mix of hotels, starting at Can Sort which is your hosts home and where the horses are stabled. Over the course of the trail you will stay in various country houses which reflect the atmosphere of this special Catalan region; the hosts are ever-welcoming and spirits are high. Gastronomy is an important part of your holiday and the food in the hotels is of a high standard. The meals are plentiful and contain many typically Catalan dishes as well as regular European dishes. Breakfast is substantial, lunches are either saddle-bag picnics (extensive with quiche/salted cakes/chorizo/Catalan cured meat/fruit/cheese/ham/wine/biscuits/chocolate) or sit-down lunches at a table prepared by the back-up team (hot food/mixed salads/cheese/biscuits/fruit). Dinners are 3-4 course and accompanied by good local wines. A bottle of local cava is never far away and the atmosphere is very welcoming. The team always tries to showcase their regional and Catalan products resulting in beautifully prepared meals for all to enjoy!
Vegetarian or other dietary requirements can be accommodated with advanced notice. Please contact Unicorn Trails with requests.
Due to the interaction of Mediterranean and mountain climate in this region, you will find ideal conditions for horse back riding the whole year round. In spring the climate is mild, summer is not too hot, the autumn pleasantly warm and winter with its clear air, not too cold. Especially recommended are February, March and April as well as November!
Good quality film is widely available for purchase as well as batteries (normal, alkaline and lithium). There is electricity available each night to recharge cameras and batteries. There is good mobile reception in some parts of most days. At the base the mobile reception is variable but there is free wifi.
We recommend wearing jodhpurs, as these protect your legs from soreness, and you will find a light-weight, cotton pair, more comfortable during the summer months. You may need two pairs if you are on one of the longer rides.
Your riding boots should have a sole with tread and be comfortable for walking, as you are certain to lead your horse on some occasions. Jodhpur boots and half-chaps are a more flexible combination for comfort and leg protection than long riding boots.
A long-sleeved shirt is recommended for protection against the sun and against scratches when riding through undergrowth.
Lightweight riding gloves are useful, as is a "bum bag" to contain your camera and any other items you may need during your ride.
We strongly recommend taking a water-bottle, especially on trail rides, which can be refilled en-route; these can be carried in the saddle-bags provided.
A light cotton scarf can help to avoid breathing in too much dust in dry areas.
Bring sunglasses, also to protect your eyes from dust.
Suncream and lip balm are also recommended.
It is essential that you bring good wet weather gear. Although it rains very little, when it does it is normally a heavy downpour, consequently a jacket or cape and waterproof trousers are a good idea.
Please bring a photocopy of your travel insurance certificate with you.
Last, but not least: do not forget your bathing suit!
This is an 8 day/7 night programme with riding on 6 days available on set dates which can be confirmed online. Please let us know if you wish to book another date, we can confirm new dates on request for 4 or more riders between February and November.
2017: 9, 23, 30 Jul; 27 Aug.
2018: 8, 22, 28 Jul; 26 Aug.
Other dates on request
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The flora and fauna in this region is plentiful and varied. On the plains you'll come across plenty of livestock such as herds of sheep and cattle as well as wild boar, deer and many species of birds. As you climb higher into the mountains you may be lucky to see mountain goats and eagles soaring. The flora is really special. Meadows of sweet smelling and colourful wild flowers such as, lavender, thyme and sunflowers. Walnut groves, beech and oak forests make for cool riding and provide perfect shade for a relaxing picnic.
It is possible for non-riders to join this trail and meet up with their riding companions every evening. Depending on where the chosen lunch spot is, they may also be able to join riders for lunch (if it is a 'saddlebag picnic' lunch that day then it will not be possible due to the riders being in an inaccessible location.)
Car-hire is recommended although there is also the option to travel with the back-up team. Please be aware however that the back-up team may take different routes due to logistical and geographical reasons and althought they love to have non-riders travelling with them, they will be busy setting up lunches/picking up luggage etc.
Please note that non-rider lunches are not included in the non-rider price.
Spain is a beautiful and diverse country, the second largest in Europe. The official language is Castilian Spanish but Catalan, Galician and Basque are also spoken. Territory includes two island archipelagos – the Balearics and the Canaries – and two enclaves on the North African coast, bordering Morocco – Ceuta and Melilla. The African influence can be found throughout Spain but especially in the south, for example the guitar was invented by the Spanish when they added a sixth string to the Arab lute. Music and art permeates Spanish culture, most obviously displayed in the fire and passion of the Flamenco and the stunning modern architecture found in the cities.
The famous siesta is still enjoyed by the majority of Spaniards, most shops close at lunchtime for two or three hours so everyone can escape the often scorching afternoon sun. Evening meals are served late into the evening with plenty of wine or sangria. Often meals can last two or three hours, especially if your host is serving Tapas, small and varied dishes of meats, bread, vegetables. Paella is also a delight and very popular across the country.
Spain 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 for Spain is +34.