I like to report this nice article on a riding holiday at Il Paretaio as it can give a good idea of what this horse riding holidays centre can offer
Brush up on your riding skills in the breathtaking scenery of Tuscany, writes Charlotte Ricca-Smith- this riding holiday is an experience you'll want to repeat
If I’m honest, I’ve never been interested in going on a riding holiday. Lucky enough to have my own horse, I thought it would be something of a busman’s holiday, and doubted the horses would match up to my trusty steed back home. However, a few things have changed over the years. I no longer own a horse, I’ve become a covert dressage fan and I’ve had two children. What I needed was a break from the routine, an uninterrupted horse-fix and some serious help with my lateral work. Oh and a pool with a view, would be nice. In short, I needed Il paretaio. set in the heart of the tuscan countryside, Il paretaio is no ordinary equestrian centre. photos can’t do justice to the beauty and tranquility of its setting. the first thing you see as you drive through its rather grand gates is a pool, with a truly breathtaking backdrop. Hoorah! Laid back atmosphere I soon discovered the whole of Il paretaio has postcard-picturesque views – from the 20m X 40m arena, to the 18th century accommodation. this is tuscany, after all, and the riding centre sits perched on the edge of a valley, with rolling hills and olive trees as far as the eye can see. How anyone gets any work done here is beyond me. On a number of occasions I found myself gazing off dreamily into the distance when I should have been focusing on my shoulder-in. Luckily my instructor was on hand to keep me on – or should that be ‘off’ – track. Whether you want to learn elementary dressage movements or are riding for the first time, husband and wife team Giovanni and Cristina De marchi are only too happy to help. the couple’s passion for their horses and their work is evident – and infectious. From the chefs in the kitchen to the grooms on the yard, everyone does their utmost to give you a great holiday. When I arrive mid-afternoon – too late for lunch, but a long way off dinner – I ask if I could have a bite to eat. What I am presented with is a lovingly prepared, very large salad, complete with fresh bread and jug of local wine. their energy and enthusiasm also mean those staying with them want to be the best rider they can to please their surrogate parents. Cristina clucks around her guests like a proud mother hen, while Giovanni sits back and lets his riding – and his wife – do all the talking. It is their charm which makes Il paretaio such a success. It feels like a family home, which is exactly what it is – complete with a range of friendly, laid back dogs wandering about, in search of a shady spot or a comfy lap. the De marchi’s son, pietro, also teaches there, when he’s not competing in showjumping. And their daughter, Georgia, plans to return to the centre after finishing her degree at the University of Florence. the family atmosphere also fostered a feeling of camaraderie in the group – even though most of us had arrived alone and came from all around the globe. I was the only brit during my stay there, sharing the dinner table with riders from switzerland, Germany, sweden, Italy, singapore and Japan. Food glorious food Our talk each evening was of what we had achieved on our ponies that day, and hoped to achieve tomorrow. We also talked about the incredible food. A lot. breakfast is buffet style, complete with homemade yoghurt, jams, fresh bread, cake (cake for breakfast? Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it), and strong, Italian coffee. the evening meal is a more formal affair. Course after course of traditional tuscan food was brought to our table, washed down with a seemingly bottomless jug of local Chianti. In Italy you not only have a starter (antipasto), they also enjoy pasta or risotto before their main meat dish. Accommodation is an 18th century Tuscan farmhouse.
At Il Paretaio you get a few months worth of lessons crammed into one week
The impressive stables of this stunning riding holiday centre are home to well-trained horses (an Italian breed traditionally used for herding cattle) was assigned to me for my first lesson. It soon became apparent I can’t ride a corner correctly, let alone leg-yield. No wonder I’m having problems at home. I was regretting using the phrase ‘very experienced’ when asked about my level of riding. In fairness, I often have these negative feelings when a dressage lesson doesn’t quite go to plan. I can’t ride, I know nothing, I am beyond help... And then I don’t see my instructor for another two weeks, by which time I’ve forgotten what little I learnt. this is a pattern that has repeated itself for many years and one of the main things holding me back – irregular lessons, combined with a lack of self belief. What is so great about riding at Il paretaio is you get a few months worth of lessons crammed into one week. What I learnt – and failed at – in the lesson on my first morning, I was able to have another go at later that afternoon. And you know what? second time out, I really wasn’t so bad. things started to click into place. For the first time I understood the importance of the outside aids and I (kind of) felt like I could ‘do’ dressage. squib became softer and more responsive, my position improved and my confidence soared. It also helped that Cristina was endlessly optimistic and complimentary about my riding. Giovanni was slightly more pragmatic in his approach, but nonetheless encouraging, and I found myself sitting that little bit taller in the saddle and trying to really ride those corners in hope of receiving another “benissimo” [excellent]. On other days I rode a gorgeous young mérens, a breed more used to negotiating the French pyrenees than a dressage arena. When I first got on, his stocky build and voluptuous mane felt like I was riding Aslan When Pietro isn’t competing he helps train the horses – and riders Everything you need to know l Half board at Il paretaio costs from €70 to €105 per night (based on two people sharing). this includes a buffet breakfast and a four-course dinner with wine. single supplements are €28 per day. l Airport transfers start at €85 one way, for a car with up to four seats. l Children aged five to 14 years, sharing with two adults, receive a 50 per cent discount. those four and under go free. l A 50-minute group lesson (maximum three people) costs €35 for beginners and €46 for a dressage lesson. Individual dressage lessons cost €59. l A half-day hack is €55. l Alternatively you can book a weekly riding programme, which includes seven days half board, plus six days or lessons and/or hacking. prices start at €915. l For more information or to book your holiday, visit: www.ilparetaio.it Getting there there are a number of airports, all within an easy drive of Il paretaio. Florence is the closest (around 40 minutes drive), but often the most expensive to fly to. However, you can get a bus to the local village barberino Val d’ elsa, which cuts down on transfer/car hire costs. Other airports close by are pisa (around one hour) and bologna (around two hours). the best option is to hire a car, so you can explore the local area. Airlines serving the area are easyJet (www.easyjet.com), ryanair (www. ryanair.com), british Airways (www. britishairways.com/) and Vueling Airlines (www.vueling.com). prices start from as little as £80 return. the earlier you book, the cheaper the flights. Il paretaio recommends using www.skyscanner.net for the best price. With each course I tried to save room for the next, and somehow always managed to find a small space for the delicious desserts. After all that riding, swimming and eating our group bid each other “buona notte” by 10.30pm each evening. most of the bedrooms are in the main house, which is simply decorated in a sympathetic Italian style, with original terracotta floors, wooden beams, stones walls and arched ceilings. there is also an apartment, complete with small kitchen, which is ideal for friends or families. Clicking into place Giovanni and Cristina moved from milan to the tuscan countryside 28 years ago, wanting to share their love for horses and promote a sympathetic way of riding. Usignol was more Aslan than Valegro, but Charlotte was smitten both trained with the likes of Louis Valenca – one of the chief riders in the portuguese equestrian school – and pedro de Almeida, who was a student of dressage master Nuno Oliveira. As a result, Il paretaio is a riding holiday centre that specialises in classical dressage and has around 30 quality horses, trained by themselves, ranging from Italian sport horses to english thoroughbreds and French mountain horses. Following an assessment on day one, each rider is matched to the most suitable horse, according to their ability and aims of the riding holiday. mine was to master lateral movements, such as shoulder-in. I have been trying to teach these to a lovely horse I took on as a share a year ago, but frankly it’s like the blind leading the blind. I hoped a schoolmaster would help clarify things for me, so squib – an Arab X maremmano rather than Valegro, but what Usignol lacked in height and elegance he made up for in attitude. Only recently backed, he was quick to learn, eager to please and had very promising paces. I began to wonder if I could ship him home. Wining and riding You don’t need to be a dressage fan to ride here, as the centre caters for all abilities. One woman had never ridden before, while a couple from Naples on their honeymoon learnt together a year ago and wanted to progress. Now that’s the kind of marriage guidance I would happily sign up for. If you want to ride out, you can explore the beautiful tuscan countryside, although according to Cristina most who plan to spend their week hacking out, decide to book more lessons instead as this riding holiday centre is specialized in classical riding. One experience not to be missed – but also not to be repeated by me – was a two-hour ride to a local vineyard for some wine tasting. I say ‘tasting’ in the loosest possible way, as it was more a case of drinking several glasses, encouraged by our lovely guide and Il paretaio groom Natalie. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the ride, or the fabulous wines we sampled, it was dealing with the dressage lesson when I got back to the stables that was less favourable. I can only describe dressage after a few glasses of vino as a unique experience, and I can’t say I’m in a hurry to try it again... I am, however, keen to return to Il Paretaio for another riding holiday, as my riding improved during my short stay and I’m eager to learn more. It seems I am not alone, as many of the guests there are regulars, coming each year for a week or two to top up their equestrian skills. they also come for the fantastic scenery, fabulous food and De marchi friendship. What more could you ask from a riding holiday? Il Paretaio is set in the heart of the Tuscan countryside