Equine enthusiasts from all over the world come to Italy, to explore the remote areas of Tuscany on horseback.
Im mighty parched after moseying through the gulch to Gerfalco, so I ask the bartender to pour me a slug of dust-cutter while I brush the grit from my chaps before chuck. Or, to translate: Im rather thirsty after a days ride to the abandoned marble mines at Gerfalco, so I order a chilled beer and relax by the pool in my jodhpurs, prior to a four-course supper in the hotel restaurant.
There is something about being in the saddle for six hours a day that brings out the cowboy in you, even if the moseying is being done in Tuscany, rather than Texas. And the great thing about a riding holiday in Italy, I soon realized that you get all the romance and beauty, and none of the rattlesnakes and baked beans. Theres still the sense of man-and-beast communion with nature, but with an evensong of Chianti corks, instead of coyote calls.
As a horse-loving Italophile, I figured what could be better than combining saddles and Siena? So after stocking up on Polo mints at Stansted, I hopped on a flight to Pisa, took the train to the coastal town of Follonica, and arrived at the Hotel Prategiano, 700 metres above sea level in the untouched ruggedness of Maremma, on the slopes of the Poggio di Montieri, about 50 kilometres from Siena.
Quite apart from Sienas legendary polio race, which has seen bareback jockeys pelting around the campo in a perilous 75-second burst of ritual machismo every year since 1333, horses have been associated with the unsung, but stunning, Maremma region of Tuscany for centuries.
But riding holidays only really took off in Italy 40 year ago. In 1971, Rifugio Prategiano became one of the fist hotels in Italy to offer horse riding holidays on site, when Orazio Paradisi saw the appeal of exploring the breathtaking countryside around hit three star hotel from horseback. Now his grandsons continue the business today with 15 fit and willing horses and an inviting network of trails delving into the most hidden parts of Tuscany.