Horses enjoy the views, too!

Let me introduce myself: I am Silver, Jenny’s guide horse. I have been working with her for twenty years, so I am familiar with the rides even more than she is. I know that if she is uncertain which trail to take she rides on a loose rein and leaves me to choose which way to go ( l aways get it right, of course). Well, she is very busy at the moment so she has asked me to write her blog for her this time.
I thought I would show you some of the views that I have enjoyed over the last season. Of course Jenny takes the photos but I do the posing! Sometimes my ears are not both pricked: that is because I put one of them back to hear her switch her camera on (I have to know what’s going on behind me). She should wait for a few seconds until I have put my ears forward again. And I do think that she should tidy up my mane a bit before snapping me, after all I am an Arab and I have my pride! Has she never heard of a bridle path?

A couple of local photos first. Here you can see how wonderful the poppies are in May. I'm sorry about my ears being skew-whiff (Jenny's fault).

A couple of local photos first. Here you can see how wonderful the poppies are in May. I’m sorry about my ears being skew-whiff (Jenny’s fault).

An Autumn picture this time, taken near home. You can see it's October as the vineyards have turned colour and my ears are furry (at least she got them right this time).

An Autumn picture this time, taken near home. You can see it’s October as the vineyards have turned colour and my ears are furry (at least she got them right this time).

She takes most of her photos on the Chianti ride as the views are really spectacular. Here we are the first day of our journey, stopping beneath the castle of Cennina and looking back over the Arno valley. Ears satisfactory, mane so-so.

She takes most of her photos on the Chianti ride as the views are really spectacular. Here we are the first day of our journey, stopping beneath the castle of Cennina and looking back over the Arno valley. Ears satisfactory, mane so-so.

 

This is an avenue that we go along on the second day of our journey. The avenue's not bad but my mane and forelock are a disaster.

This is an avenue that we go along on the second day of our journey. The avenue’s not bad but my mane and forelock are a disaster.

 Jenny took this picture of me and my daughter Arabis on our rest-day in the Chianti. Arabis insisted on being in the photo, too (women are so vain!).

Jenny took this picture of me and my daughter Arabis on our rest-day in the Chianti. Arabis insisted on being in the photo, too (women are so vain!).

This is a view of the castle of Brolio which we see on the fourth day. Ears fine, mane messy again. Can you NEVER get it right, Jenny? We don't all want to look as dishevelled as you!

This is a view of the castle of Brolio which we see on the fourth day. Ears fine, mane messy again. Can you NEVER get it right, Jenny? We don’t all want to look as dishevelled as you!

Here we are above the castle and village of Montegonzi on our way home. Look at my ears and mane! Words fail me.

Here we are above the castle and village of Montegonzi on our way home. Look at my ears and mane! Words fail me.

Jenny speaking now. Thank you, Silver, for filling in for me. I gather that we must take a mane comb with us next time, though. You call your daughter vain, but what about you?

Yet another family reunion!

Last year – no, the year before, it was 2011, how the years fly! – Betty Bannerot from the States came to Rendola with a friend to take part in a Discover Tuscany programme. This lively, bright-eyed lady enjoyed herself so much that she decided to have a family reunion at Rendola. (it’s becoming quite a fashion!) So in 2012 she arrived with a large family in tow spanning three generations: her daughter Leslie brought Annie and Ellie, both teenagers and her other daughter Lynn brought Sage, Cedar and Stretton: eight of them altogether and here they are outside the stables.

family 4 Stretton was the youngest and the only male but he held his own. The poor fellow had a tummy-ache, bravely endured, when he arrived – as you can see, he doesn’t look too happy in the photo of our picnic outside a boarhunter’s hut.

family 5But he revived by the time the family visited Arezzo: here he is performing as a sundial in the main square.

family 6I took them to the village of Loro Ciuffenna where we enjoyed an excellent icecream. Here we are again standing on the medieval bridge.

family 1
What was wonderful was that the whole family, from granny Betty to the youngest member of the family, Stretton, were all riders. Here is a picture during a ride taken from the front…

family 3and another from the back!

family 2
I have rarely met such a beautiful, happy family: I never heard a cross word from any of them during their whole stay. People like these restore my faith in human nature.

 

Autumn colours

Last spring I was able to show you some of the wonderful flowers that blossom in the Tuscan countryside: the fragrant lilac, the foaming tree heather, the yellow broom, the wild roses, the cushions of purple thyme and everywhere poppies, poppies, poppies. In the autumn, of course, there are not so many flowers, but there are a few which bloom only during this season. In the fields, for example, there are clouds of yellow toadflax and in some woodland areas literally thousands of tiny pink cyclamen. I haven’t managed to take a photograph of these delicate little flowers, as I pass them on horseback and anyway, I think I need a better camera. autumn crocusesI do have a photo of some yellow autumn crocuses or fall daffodils, though, growing at Podernovo, the farmhouse where we stable the horses when we ride in the Chianti region. We have some at Rendola, too, growing along the drive. Incidentally, they are neither crocuses nor daffodils, botanically speaking!

Here in Tuscany Autumn’s glory is not really in its flowers but in its vineyards, where the leaves turn red, yellow and orange towards the end of October. This year, unfortunately, we had a cold snap at the end of the month (there was actually a powdering of snow on Pratomagno, the long mountain ridge which we can see from my house at Rendola). As a consequence most of the vine leaves shrivelled and went brown: only those on higher ground kept some of their yellow leaves. Last year, however, the vineyards were ablaze with colour and here are some of the photos I took.

Rendola house autumn

This one is of our house, taken from the vineyards of a neighbour.

autumn leaves

Here is a close-up of some vines where you can see a variety of vivid colours.

 

 

silver autumn

I took this photo while I was riding Silver: in the background you can see that the chestnuts in the woods are beginning to turn.

 

DSC06616

This is a photo of one of my pupils, Alessia, riding Arabis on the road to the tower of Galatrona: this vineyard is well-known locally for its strip of brilliant red vines.

The commonest tree in this area is the oak, which turns only at the end of November. Next time I go for a walk I will see if I can take some good photos, but I do need sunlight and at the moment the sky is grey and threatens rain.

A family riunion at Rendola

If I’ve neglected my blog this Autumn it’s because we’ve been terribly busy.

At the beginning of September we had a cooking course and soon after followed five riding programmes back to back: three Discover Tuscany weeks, two Chianti Castles weeks, all of which ran smoothly with only one fall and mostly reasonable weather.

At the end of October we had a week with the house full of eleven members of a family: an elderly couple, their two daughters and their husbands, the daughter of one of them with her boyfriend and the two children of the other one.

Organization was complicated as some wanted to ride all the time, some wanted to mix riding and culture and some wanted culture and no riding at all, but plenty of walking. Somehow we managed to satisfy everybody – two even had a cooking lesson, making tagliatelle by hand under the supervision of Franca – and the fine weather was a bonus: we had cloudless days the whole week and it was so warm that they were all sitting outside after supper still in their shirtsleeves. It began to rain only in the afternoon of their departure.

The success of the week gave me an idea: why don’t YOU choose Rendola for a family riunion? Of course, we do expect some of you to ride but not all, and there are plenty of other things to do here, even if it’s just reading a novel with a glass of Chianti in your hand.

People often opt for Italy for their marriage ceremony but not for family reunions: think about it!

vive la jeunesse!

Well, my friends, we have just finished seven weeks of children’s courses – and have survived. Can you imagine having 15 exuberant children in your house for seven weeks? Well, exactly. Not always, of course, the same children, as the courses vary from one week to two weeks in length, but after a bit you confuse one child with another and during the last course you can’t remember the components of the first one. Some, of course, stand out from the others: the two Russian sisters Luisa and Sasha, both as beautiful as their mother, Ludovica with her affectionate hugs and dimply smile, Francesca with her extraordinary pencilled in eyebrows, Gabriele obsessed with insects, Lucrezia who loved learning English (unlike most of her compatriots, I’m afraid), Uberta who at eighteen has been coming for seven years and is like a mother with the younger children…I could go on.
What makes a child came back time and time again? Well, I think the freedom is a great attraction. Most of these children live in the city and can’t just wander out of the house just when they please, as they can at Rendola. In the evening I sometimes showed them a video – Black Beauty and Flicka are the perennial favourites – but usually they amused themselves, playing cards, table football or pingpong, kicking a ball round the ring till it got too dark to see it, chatting or playing with their i-phones. Then, of courses, there is the riding, which on most days they can do twice, either in the ring with Eraldo, both feared and adored, or out in the countryside with me. The average age is about twelve, when girls are going through their horsey stage and having to get up early and clean the horses at seven thirty does not weigh on them at all (teenagers tend to be more reluctant and sometimes had to be dragged from their beds). I do realize that most children consider the English lessons a necessary evil, but I do my best to make them fun and horse-orientated and the three foreign girls – Magda from Poland, Livia from Hungary and Valerie from Holland – were there to speak English to the children up at the stables and supplement my teaching. Trips to the swimming-pool are a welcome diversion, particularly so this summer with temperatures over 30°C every day. An important aspect are the friendships that are formed during the children’s stay. Facebooks and SMS’s help them to keep in contact after the holiday and many arrange to come back again together: I gather we will see many of them next year, too.
Any dramas? Not really. Only three falls, which considering that over this period we provide over a thousand riding hours, is a pretty good record. None was serious, luckily. Then Ludovica got a bruised toe because she left her foot under Nerone’s – I refuse to let children say that the horse stepped on them. Oh yes, and for the first time in forty years we had an outbreak of lice in the fourth group! It’s such a common occurrence in schools nowadays that there is no longer a stigma attached, as in the past when lice were considered a sign of unhygienic habits. Only five children were affected and under the supervision of Uberta (one of the victims) special shampoos were regularly applied and lice combs put to work, so by the end of the stay the beasts were eliminated and didn’t appear again. Then, with the same group, some of the children got chilled at the Teatro di Paglia, the straw theatre, which kept them up till after eleven at night, and were sick the next morning, the day of their departure. An unlucky group, you could say, though at least the trip into the Chianti with a bivouac near the Castle of Brolio went very smoothly. Otherwise, no mishaps at all, as is usually the case. As you can imagine, the responsibility weighs heavily on me, so once again I was able to heave a sigh of relief when the courses were over. The next day the house seemed strangely silent, as for all the time we had been used to a high decibel count, especially at meal-times.
One thing that strikes me about the Italian children is how well-behaved they are. This may surprise you, as I have already told you how exuberant they are: but their exuberance may exceed in decibels but never turns into rudeness or unsociable behaviour. Okay, some of them have to be chivvied into making their beds, but they keep their bedrooms reasonably tidy (I do inspect them once a day!), and not all of them observe the rule of silence after eleven o’clock (I bang on bedroom doors to make them shut up) but on the whole they observe the rules, necessary when you have a houseful of eighteen people. So – vive la jeunesse! The horsey jeunesse, at any rate.

Across the Chianti Rockies!

We at Rendola have always prided ourselves on our safe itineraries. We reckon that people don’t come to Italy to run risks, as they can always do that in the wilder parts of the planet, not in beautiful but domesticated Tuscany. However, the unexpected can always happen, even here. In Spring we had a second visit from a group of not-so-young English ladies (others may consider us elderly, but we don’t). Last year they enjoyed our Discover Tuscany trip so much that they decided to come back this spring and do the Chianti Castles ride. Everything went smoothly till the last day.

I was guiding them along a track leading away from the castle of Brolio, a route I must have followed for at least thirty years, when I was confronted by a sturdy metal fence running along and obliterating the trail with loose but small stones. We picked our way along the fence and everything was hunky dory, until we turned a corner and suddenly our route became hazardous. The stones were now big boulders and there was a steep bank on our left which made it impossible for us to turn round. I told the riders to dismount and we stumbled on for another two hundred yards, holding our reins with one hand and clinging to the fence with the other. The horses were magnificent and managed to clamber over the rocks without stepping on their riders, but one of the ladies had a panic attack, not surprising when you consider that she had two  artificial knees that were not really designed for that kind of terrain. Her horse jumped down the bank but another lady was able to retrieve it and finally we came to the end of our ordeal when the fence turned another corner and we were able to continue along our original route. The only damage was a pair of broken reins so we considered ourselves lucky.
That was obviously not an experience to repeat. The following week Sergio had to go back to the Chianti to clear up the stables we use near the castle, so I went with him. First he dropped me at the village of Castagnoli and I set out along a trail which I hoped would substitute the hazardous one. The trail plunged down into a deep, wooded valley and was so steep and stony I decided quite soon that it would not be usable. Not only that: on three occasions young wild boar crossed the route, and as their mothers must have been in the vicinity I began to feel apprehensive. However I reached the Mulino di Brolio without mishap and sought a new route up to my point of departure. On the way I found myself near the fence that was the cause of our alarm the previous week. I could not resist taking photos of our precipitous route and here are a couple for you to see. The rest of the route was uneventful, though there will be three gates to open and shut. Now that there are so many wild boar in the area farmers naturally need to protect their crops and vineyards, but the gates do not make our trails easier to follow. Luckily they are as yet few and far between.

 

Yet more flowers of the Tuscan spring

Hallo, I’ve been so busy riding that I’ve not had much time for writing, but now that spring is at its apex I’ve been able to take more pictures of the flowers that we see on our rides. I advise you to enlarge the photos to see them better. Do come and join me next spring so that you can enjoy the flowers with me!

Another picture of poppies, which have been particularly splendid this spring, seen through Silver’s ears…

Wild roses, too, have been very prolific this spring.

A magnificent bush of broom flowers, with the castle of Brolio in the background.

Cornflowers and poppies against a typical view in the Chianti hills.

Back to Rendola: geraniums and jasmin outside our front door.

Damn the weather? No, the weathermen!

Do you listen to weather forecasts? I don’t: what’s going to come will come anyway, whether we know it in advance or not. But if you do, stop it, as forecasts are so often wrong, anyway! Listen to what happened to me recently. At the beginning of the week a couple phoned from Rome to book for the following weekend. They wanted to stay a couple of nights and ride on the mornings of Saturday and Sunday. I was pleased, as I already had a booking for four people for Sunday and Monday nights so we were going to have a busy long weekend. Then, as you have already guessed, the weathermen predicted stormy weather for that period and all those bookings were cancelled.
And what was the weather like, in fact? On the Saturday morning I gave two lessons without a hint of rain. In the afternoon I had no bookings for riding so I went off on my Vespa to take photos of poppies: as you can see in the photo the sun is shining and there are few clouds in the sky. On the Sunday I took two people for a two-hour ride and gave two lessons in the afternoon. Later in the evening it did start to rain and there was a heavy downpour during the night. However, the next morning there was brilliant sunshine and I went to Cortona for a guided tour of the town. The weather was fine for the rest of the day.
In conclusion, if those six people had come they could have done all the riding and sightseeing they wanted without getting wet at all.
It reminds me of an episode in “Three Men in a Boat”. I haven’t a copy in the house so I am relying on my rather defective memory, however the gist of the story is as follows: on a public holiday the three men (George, Harry and the author, not to mention the dog Montmorency) all stayed at home one public holiday because a local countryman had predicted bad weather. As entire families passed the house on their way to the beach carrying buckets and spades and picnic baskets, our heroes rubbed their hands together thinking how all those unfortunate people were going to get a drenching, while they themselves planned to stay at home and keep dry. As the morning passed they took comfort in the idea that in the afternoon there would be a violent rainstorm. Well, of course, the weather stayed fine right through to the evening and our heroes missed the opportunity of a happy day on the beach. All because they listened to weather forecasts. Served them right.
Of course, it does rain sometimes, I must admit. Sometimes a guest asks me anxiously if it is going to rain the next day. If I have heard from Sergio that rain is predicted I reply airily: “I think the weather will be variable.” Well, that covers all contingencies, doesn’t it. Unless of course it rains all day without ceasing, which doesn’t happen often, anyway. Rain is often very local, too: it can rain in Montevarchi, four miles away and not at Rendola. Or vice versa, of course. I remember once I went for a two hour ride with a group of people. We could see storms taking place to the right and the left of us but by good luck never where we were riding. It rained heavily at Rendola, however, and Pietro lit the fire in the sittingroom so that we could dry our clothes after the ride, and he also put on the kettle so that he could make us a warming cup of tea. You can imagine his astonishment when we returned home completely dry!

the glory of spring in Tuscany

Look at the lilac down by my clothes-line! I’m sure it must give a delicate perfume to my sheets. It gave me the idea to take my camera for a walk to show you the glories of a Tuscan spring.

The tree heather is billowing clouds of white flowers along the woodland trails, filling the air with the bittersweet smell of almonds. If you look carefully at the photo you can see the tower of Galatrona in the background.

Among the oak trees straggle the first yellow flowers of broom…

 

 

 

 

…while underfoot there are purple cushions of fragrant thyme.

As I walk a nightingale sings fearlessly from a branch above me, his song punctuated by a cuckoo calling in the blue distance.

Always expect the worst….

When I realized that we had only two people for this week’s Discover Tuscany programme and they were from very different age-groups I expected that things were going to be sticky. One was an Australian lady in her fifties, the other a fifteen-year-old from London: what on earth would they have in common?
As things turned out I needn’t have worried at all, as they got on like a house of fire. Margaret, the Australian lady, was a retired English teacher and had a lively, enquiring mind, while Susie was a sweet and intelligent girl ready to try everything (except liver). They were both quick to learn during my lesson on Italian pronunciation and even managed to pronounce words like “ghiaccio” and”prezzemolo”. They both enjoyed shopping: Margaret picked up some scarves and a dress at Montevarchi market, while Susie bought a fabulous pair of blue ear-rings – “only five Euros,” she said proudly (have you noticed that people fall into two categories: those who boast how little they paid for something and those who boast how much?). Both keen and proficient riders, they were able to try different horses during their stay and they both enjoyed the variety of dishes set before them at meal-times. In conclusion, if people have interests in common it doesn’t matter one whit if there is a forty-year age gap between them.
Another worry was the weather forecast: it was expected to rain all week. Of course, all riders must resign themselves to the fact that they are going to get wet sooner or later, but the idea of getting wet every day can please only the masochists among us. Well, it did rain frequently and sometimes very hard, but by some miracle it never rained (or only just a sprinkle) when we were on horseback, which was, after all, every day. Even on Margaret’s last day (Susie had already returned to London in time for school) and we set out on a long ride with heavy rainclouds massed on the horizon in every direction, somehow the rain kept off until we had taken shelter in a barn to eat our sandwiches (washed down, naturally, with Chianti wine). So we sat munching happily in front of a view of a cypress avenue leading up to a castle as the rain came merrily down and when it had finished we set off home, arriving perfectly dry.
So, as I say, always expect the worst and maybe, just to prove you wrong, it won’t happen anyway.

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