Tuscany is probably the Italian region we love the most. We can’t help it! Every time we feel the urge of escaping the city we head straight there! There is something about Tuscany that always mesmerised us, perhaps the smile of its people or the colours of its countryside. But this time it was even better. It was a Friday night – of a spring dressed up like a summer – and we were driving through the hills at dusk, overwhelmed by the sweet smell of wildflowers and humid grass. We knew that something special was going to happen because this time we made things differently booking a horse riding weekend in the Tuscan hills. Here, the connection between humans and horses holds tight since the Etruscans time. How could we possibly miss an adventure like this?!
So here we are, in a 280-hectare wine estate and Quarter horse stud farm dating back to the Renaissance period, when it was owned by the Strozzi family of Florence: the Castellare di Tonda in Montaione, in the province of Florence. Welcomed by a simple yet wonderfully authentic cuisine (try the pappardelle al ragù di cinghiale aka fresh pasta with wild boar sauce) and a delicious red wine (from the estate, of course) we realised we couldn’t have picked a better place to experience Tuscany like a local.
Horse riding in Tuscany
After a regenerating night sleep in one of the twelve farmhouses decorated in perfect Tuscan style and a filling breakfast made of delicious homemade pastries, we headed to the stables where our local guide Jess was waiting for us! After months spent talking about horse riding the time has finally come: Will was getting on a horse for the first time! Proud and fearless he took on the quick class and the precious tips on how to stop his horse, Banderas, from eating all the grass of the valley! This was the first time we saw Tuscany so green! Being used to visiting this area during the hottest months of summer we learned to appreciate the arid land dotted by olive trees and dark green cypress lined up like little soldiers. But, as I said, this time was different, magical I would say! The countryside was lush, every plant was in bloom and Banderas – the horse – was really greedy…
Watch the video of our adventure
While horse riding in the beautiful Tuscan hills we learned more about the area and about the two horses we were riding, Banderas and Boy, two beautiful Argentinian horses with a tough past. The trail we followed had a beautiful variety of landscapes: from shady Mediterranean forests to rolling green hills, vineyards and olive trees. We also saw a baby deer! Our horse riding experience was beyond compare, but staying at the Castellare di Tonda for more than two days you can also plan full days horse riding activities and ride through vineyards, discover ancient castle ruins in the forest and visit abandoned churches on horseback!! How cool is that?
After the exciting horseback riding in the Tuscan hills we had only one thing in mind: take the pain away! Time to visit the Wellness Center of the Castellare di Tonda. Sauna, Turkish bath, steam bath, ice cave, emotional and aromatic showers, massage area, relaxing armchairs overlooking the countryside, and (drumroll) a heated Jacuzzi set in the open to enjoy the view of the Tuscan hills at sunset!
Exploring Tuscany and its ancient cities
The Castellare di Tonda is located between Pisa and Florence, above the medieval village of Montaione – in the very heart of the Chianti Region – and just a stone’s throw away from the historical cities of Siena, San Gimignano, Volterra and San Miniato. Siena, with the shell-shaped Piazza del Campo – where the passionate horse race Palio di Siena takes place – and the breathtaking Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta is, without a doubt, our favourite. Followed by San Gimignano, UNESCO World Heritage Site. We particularly like it because of its 14 towers (once where 72!) standing mighty over the town and its ancient shape, when you go in through the gate you feel protected by the walls of this old village, it’s like traveling to the past, and somehow we can feel a magic energy that remains there.
But as we already visited those beautiful Tuscan villages – we will tell you everything about them in a new post – this time we explored the charming little town of San Miniato. Its origins go back to the Etruscan-Roman age. At the peak of the hill where the town lies stands the San Miniato tower (entrance 4€) where we enjoyed a scenic view on the typical Tuscan landscape and on the Cathedral, built in 1200. On one side of the town runs the via Francigena, the ancient pilgrimage route that in medieval times connected Canterbury to Rome and to the harbours of Apulia.
A little extra…
Ask the locals and you will always end up in the coolest place of the area! That’s how we ended up in the abandoned town of Toiano alle Brota, one of the many little known but absolutely stunning places in Tuscany. The ancient castle settlement, as suggestive as it is isolated, can be reached only be an unsealed road just 3 meters wide. Reaching the end of the road we’ve been caught by a magnificent panorama, the towns of Volterra and San Miniato at the horizon and the absolute silence of the surrounding area. To tell the truth, the village has nothing to offer apart from its old city walls, its houses and the view from the south-facing terrace, but it definitely worth a visit.
The best time to visit is at sunset, when vineyards, farmhouses and olive groves light up with all the shades of red and yellows and a mysterious air falls over the village. In fact, the forest surrounding Toiano holds a dark secret. In the late ’40s, it was the scene of one of the most brutal murders of the first post-war period that dominated the news throughout Italy. The victim was the beautiful Elvira Orlandini that went to fetch water from the well of Botro della Lupa and never returned. The boyfriend, originally blamed, was let free due to lack of evidence and the crime remains unsolved. The townspeople still talk about this event and blame the desertion of the village on Elvira’s ghost who still haunts the quiet streets …