Some time ago, Martina Bochia, the author of the TachiaCavallo blog and founder of the brand of equestrian style foulard brand, asked me to share my three favorite summer riding destinations.
She then translated my stories for Cavallo magazine, and if you read Italian, you can find it in the link or in the Press section of my blog.
After these summer adventures, I thought of adding one more country to the list. So here is the updated text:
Well, I’ve been asked to share my three best equestrian summer destinations. I can easily make a top 10 list, but if you ask me about the most remarkable places, that would be Iceland, Russia, Spain, and Greece.
Being a blogger in quite a narrow niche of traveling on a horseback, I was always a bit envious of food and fashion bloggers. They’ve got enough material for daily posts. While drinking coffee, for example, they can just take a picture of coffee, try a new scarf on, take three pictures of it, and share it with the world, right? It looks really simple, so I decided not only to write this post about horses but also to add a bit of fashion, food, and travel tips to it. (Don’t judge me too harshly—it’s my first attempt.)
Let’s get started.
Iceland – Well, here is a note for you. If you’ve never been there, it’s probably better to avoid going there overall. Unless, of course, you are ready to miss this country every single day. No kidding. This mystical place will not let you go from the hook.
Horses: Ah, those fluffy Icelandic horses. You just cannot get enough of them. The most interesting thing about them is that these teddy bears of the equine world are exact copies of the horses ridden by the Vikings—no horses were imported to Iceland since the ninth century. And even now, once you exported a horse from Iceland, you cannot get it back. That’s the reason international Icelandic games are never held in Iceland.
Food: Eating local food in Iceland is like going on a blind date. No names of dishes are similar to what you heard before, and no taste is like something you tried in the past. Imagine how fun it could be to order kæstur hákarl and get a slice of a smelly piece of fermented shark meat. Maybe you fancy jellied sheep head? Or perhaps puffin? Not interested? Then try my personal favorite food: it’s called skyr, a milk-based product containing 18% of protein and 0% of fat; any fitness fan around the globe would love it. But you most likely will not find skyr in your nearby shops since the bacteria culture which is used to produce it is only found in Iceland. Another thing you have to try when in the south of Iceland are the lobsters at Fjorubordid Restaurant.
Fashion: I dare you not to buy any lopapeysa sweater or yarn in Iceland. Mission impossible.
I personally bought two kilos of yarn, and I knitted my very own circular yoke sweater, five pairs of socks, and two pairs of mittens, and I still have a pile of yarn waiting. And mind you, I live in Bahrain, where the average temperature is more than 30 degrees, so there is no chance to wear it at all :-)
What else will you learn there: You will see the places where the American continent meets Europe, beaches covered in black volcanic sand, and the famous Blue Lagoon, and you’ll see (and smell) geysers and will have a chance to observe whales and climb glaciers. Still need more inspiration? Visit Icelandair’s Instagram page @icelandair.
Russia – “We went on a four-day ride in the Altai area of Russia in the middle of July, and we still managed to play snowballs.” That is what I normally say when people ask me how my trip to Russia was.
Horses: Our horses didn’t belong to any particular breed, but all of them were selected for the special features which make them suitable for long trail rides—big hooves, broad chest and croup, short necks, and friendly characters.
Food: All the raw food for our trip was shared evenly among all riders and was packed in the special bags attached to the saddle. The everyday menu depended completely on our fantasy and culinary skills and mainly consisted of porridge, soups, and canned meat. Sounds too simple to enjoy? Believe me, anything tastes like heaven after six hours in the saddle and under the pouring rain. To add more variety and fun to our daily ration, we also collected eatable mushrooms and berries in the forest.
Fashion: Some people, including myself, bought nice, expensive hiking apparel and riding equipment specially for the occasion. Not smart, really. No brands are visible under the oversize oilskins; the only thing which can keep you more or less dry when the heavy rain starts. Also, because of the chilly temperature, we quickly got really experienced in layering up. But it had nothing to do with glamour as we quitted caring about the looks as long as our clothes were warm. After two rainy days in a row, we even stopped caring if our clothes were clean, and as long as they were dryish, they were declared good enough to wear.
What will you learn there: You will learn that you are tougher than you ever thought and that the survival skills of thousands of generations of your ancestors are still there in your genes. You will learn to enjoy basic things like finding the flat surface for your tent, tasting baked potato in charcoals, knowing the fact that you still have a pair of dry socks, or having the opportunity to wash dishes with warm water, something that you take for granted in your daily life. Also, you will learn how to brush horses with a piece of bark and untangle their mane and tail with tree branches.
Visit @konniy_tur_altay for tour booking and more information.
Spain – The eight-day dressage training at Real Escuela in Jerez de la Frontera was a gift for my birthday. I think it’s easily the best gift I’ve ever received.
Horses: I had the chance to ride the best Andalusian horses, watch the famous “How Andalusian Horses Dance” show, try the doma vaquera (a special type of Spanish shepherd’s dressage), visit a carriage museum and a breeding farm, and learn from the best riders in the world.
Food: You can try all the famous Spanish specialties like paella, gazpacho, and tortilla española there and of course visit numerous bodegas (vineries). One of them, Tio Pepe, has an amazing tradition—all the famous people visiting the place sign wine barrels—so the place kind of looks like a giant 3-D autograph book. A special unusual dish that you have to try is the melon pieces wrapped in slices of hamon.
Fashion: Street fashion in Spain is heavily influenced by the Disingular brand—clothes, bags, accessories—and distinctive bright and colorful looks are everywhere. Desingular’s retail team makes sure that no tourist will leave the country without a signature piece, so you can find the company’s shops in every small city and on every major street in large cities. And if you still manage to escape the temptation, you’ll still have a last chance to buy it in Barcelona’s Duty Free.
Another set of clothes you can buy literally anywhere are the famous brightly colored polka dot flamenco dresses. You most likely will not see them on the streets unless there is Feria celebration, but it makes a very good, although quite expensive, souvenir.
What else will you learn there: For sure, you’ll pick up few dozens of Spanish words. English is not commonly spoken and understood in Spain outside the large cities, so you are bound to speak some sort of Spanglish with heavily overused gestures.
Greece – There are plenty of places offering riding on the beaches of numerous Greek islands, but following the advice of a friend, we decided to go to Kokou stables on Paros Island, which offers sunrise and sunset beach rides (and swims with horses) for over 25 years.
Visit their Instagram page for more @kokou_riding_center
Horses: Majority of horses are crossbreeds of Skyros ponies with Arabian and thoroughbred horses. They are small, but as all local breeds, they are also pretty strong and sure-footed.
Food: Greece is famous for its simple and, as I call it, “honest,” food. I mean, if you are eating something, it has a strong natural taste without too many spices or complex cooking processes deceiving your taste buds. Portion sizes are honest too, so before ordering a dish, better ask how big the portion is; otherwise, you will end up unable to finish half of what you ordered.
Fashion: The main fashion rule in Greece is to wear the absolute minimum of clothing, and the ones you wear should be preferably transparent or crocheted with a lot of holes so nothing will be left to fantasize with.
What else will you learn there: After swimming with horses, followed by the two-hour ride, you will understand that having dry clothes (especially pants) is in the very bottom of your Maslow Pyramid.