The views from the top of each hill we climbed were breathtaking. One perfect evening we cantered through the cork-oak forest, over little gullies and ditches, dodging the low branches of ripening acorns, the air warm and the sunlight mellowing to a gentle golden glow.
The Andalusian countryside was beautiful ― parched to gold and unbelievably peaceful. This is the stuff that feeds the soul!
Birdsong, our horses’ hooves, and the occasional barking of hunting dogs echoing across the valley were often the only sounds we heard. Sometimes there would be a goat bleat, a deep bovine moo, or the excited whinnying of another horse on hearing us approach.
Almost everyone appeared to own a horse. Horsemanship is a huge part of the culture in this area of Spain, as is bullfighting (some horses are used for training the bulls) and flamenco dancing.
Andalusia is a poor area of Europe, and horses are actually still used as a means of transportation for some people. We even found one horse “parked” outside our pension one morning!
The horses were a pleasure to ride and virtually bombproof. We galloped over farmland with farm dogs snapping at our heels, shuffled down steep descents and strode up long ascents. We trotted passed hunting kennels, sending whole packs of dogs into frenzied barking, alerting shy wild deer to our presence in the Parque Forestal, one of Spain’s many National Parks.
We wandered over pastures where goats and toffee-colored cows either scattered on seeing us, or looked up at us with lazy curiosity.
After a hard morning’s riding in the Spanish sun, what lunch could be better than perfectly chilled gazpacho, crusty bread, warm tortilla, and Tinto Verano (an Andalusian summer-drink of Rioja wine and lemonade), followed by a shaded siesta under a giant oak tree?
Natalie personally trains all her horses and they all have superb manners. They are fit, responsive and very, very happy, with acres on which to run about, including a pond to splash in at the end of the day.
I have never seen horses so relaxed and joyful, rolling in the summer dust each evening after a cooling dip in their pond. Even sick Shorty had a roll ― an encouraging sign. At the end of each day we eagerly helped out with un-tacking, (you can do as much or little as you wish!). We washed down our horses and helped feed them.
Our informal evenings were spent at cozy restaurants and bars in the village, eating alongside the locals under the stars. The menus were local and seasonal, and always featured the Andalusian speciality of jamon ― the ham made from the acorn-feeding pigs we encountered on our daily horse treks.
We ended our trip with the promised two days in Seville ― the capital city of Andalusia. With over 3,000 years of history, it is a beautiful, magnificent, romantic, Baroque and Moorish City, with fantastic shops and plenty of culture, arts, museums, cathedrals and ancient buildings for those who like sightseeing.
Down cobbled streets are amazing hidden churches. There is a huge bull ring, numerous bars and restaurants, as well as green spaces. Transport around the city is in horse-drawn carriages or air-conditioned tourist buses.
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