Recently I’ve had quite a few people, even strangers, contacting me and asking for advice on how to work abroad and/or get involved with horses in different places… And this has got me thinking about where it all began for me. Aside from all my amazing childhood equine experiences, one of the most defining experiences in my life thus far has been the mighty Vallebona.
Vallebona is an agriturismo (working farm hotel) in the hills close to Florence in Italy. I have worked here on and off since I was 18 years old and consider if just as much a home as my own real home. If I don’t get my Vallebona fix at least once a year I ain’t a happy gal. I don’t think I would be who I am today if it wasn’t for Vallebona… I know for a fact that I wouldnt be here in the States right now if it wasn’t for Vallebona, as I met Trish (my Durango contact and lovely host) while working there last September.
I have ridden with many different businesses and in many different countries since my first experience at Vallebona and have never ever found anywhere that does it for me like that place does. What is it that’s so special? First of all I would have to say the horses.. So many trekking centres seem to have worked all personality out of their horses, they simply follow nose to tail and never stray from the path. But the horses at Valle have been treated in such a way to keep their unique natures intact and therefore can be matched so well to each guest or staff member that every person gets what they are looking for from the experience rather than just another robot horse. There is nothing better than galloping through the vineyards on a special mount and stopping to pick fresh figs from the trees on the way home!
Then we have the food. The food!!! Traditional Tuscan dishes, high quality local ingredients, their own olive oil… My mouth is watering just at the thought of it. You will never eat pasta as good as Vallebona pasta anywhere else in the world, and don’t even get me started on the homemade pizza baked in the very walls of the beautiful old farmhouse. The local wine goes without saying (wine-tasting tours on horseback should be on everyone’s bucket list).
But of course the most important aspect of all is the people you will share your time with there. This isn’t some impersonal hotel… This is the real deal. You become part of the life of a very special local family. Franco is a very gifted horseman and watching him work will send shivers down your spine… Not to mention the regular singing along to his brilliant guitar playing in the evenings (start rehearsing your Bob Dylan, guys). His wife, Raimonda, is my favourite old witch of all time and will ensure your every need is met. And I can’t even begin to list all the staff I’ve shared my time with there over the years, I consider many of them my best friends and love them like my own family even if we don’t see each other as often as I would like.
Every week a new set of guests would arrive and the strength of bond that would grow between us staff and the guests in just one week was very special. I shed many tears on the departure days, but have stayed in touch with so many people. I had guests from Vallebona come to stay on Corrour! It was this special relationship between guests and staff that helped to inspire the atmosphere created on Corrour too.
I hope to get my Vallebona fix of 2016 later this year, in the mean time I will reminisce fondly and talk at anyone who will listen about the midnight gallops, the fire riding and the sweet sweet Chianti.
If you’re looking for the riding holiday of a lifetime, check out http://www.vallebona.it. You won’t be disappointed!
Trish Lemke at http://www.joyistheride.com also offers one of her unique packages there.
(Most of these photos are from before the days of me having a good camera. A few are from the talented http://www.katrinklatt.com)