After your morning arrival at the Palermo airport we’ll visit the historical center of Palermo including the Vucciria street market in the old city that has been operating for the past 700 years, ancient cathedrals, the grand square of Piazza Pretoria which features a splendid fountain, erected in the 16th century during the Spanish Inquisition surrounded by a myriad of mythological statues and Quattro Canti the crossroad marking the heart of Palermo's old historic district. Many of Palermo's monuments, artistic churches and other sights of historical and touristic interest are located within walking distance of the Quattro Canti. Each of the four buildings that comprise the Quattro Canti, has three levels covered with Baroque sculptures that illustrate various themes.
We’ll enjoy a typical Palermo lunch during our sightseeing after which we will travel by van about an hour along the picturesque Mediterranean coast to our evening destination, the village of Castelbuono.
Many of the towns nestled into the Madonie Mountains date from around the ninth century and grew into larger villages under the conquering Normans. Several are built upon the remains of Greek and Roman settlements.
The land itself is beautifully wooded with giant holly (some over three hundred years old), wild olives, and the rare Sicilian Fir, as well as the flowering Manna Ash. Like many "micro-regions," the Madonie has its own cuisine, and a typically rural lifestyle.
These small mountain towns and villages, many of which were founded by the Arabs and Normans to defend the hinterland, offer a glimpse of the past which has remained almost intact. Castelbuono boasts exquisite pastries and liqueurs along with an important winery, Abbazia Santa Anastasia, a former convent surrounded by vine-covered hills. Castelbuono is an ancient medieval village built by the Ventimiglia family, barons of the area during the XIV century. The town grew around their magnificent castle which has been perfectly restored in the past few years. The Ventimiglia private chapel inside the castle is outstanding. The Ventimiglia family were horse lovers who engaged the best horse trainers of the time to form the “Academy of the Star” the most famous horse riding school of that time in all of Europe. The Star Academy riders did incredible, very complicated parades and even theater on horseback.
After settling in to your rooms at the cozy Villa Letizia Bed & Breakfast we’ll have dinner at the Romitaggio Restaurant.
After breakfast at Villa Letizia you’ll meet your horses in the arena. Ed will conduct a riding clinic during the morning hours so you can establish a relationship of respect, trust and leadership with your horses and practice the correct cues for speed and direction control with your horse. This will be a time to become familiar with your horse and tack and make any adjustments necessary so everyone is comfortable and ready to go out riding.
We’ll return to Romitaggio restaurant for lunch. Our afternoon ride will be an easy two hour ride through some picturesque foothills. This will be a continuation of our morning clinic in that you will now have an opportunity to grow accustomed to your horse in the open during a relaxed ride.
We’ll enjoy another delicious dinner at the Romitaggio restaurant before retiring for the night in Villa Letizia. The comfortable, quiet environment, offers a friendly welcome and hospitality recalling the origins of the Sicilian country tradition.
Our morning ride will take us through the spectacular Piano Sempria. On this ride we will have the possibility of reaching the incredible forest of Piano Pomo which is one of the most interesting botanical sites in Madonie Park. Some of the trees here are more than 300 hundred years old. This area gives the appearance of a magical fairy tale enchanted forest, in which elves, goblins and fairies might suddenly appear to welcome you.
After descending from the forest we’ll ride through the streets of Castelbuono. Riding through the narrow cobblestone streets was a favorite of everyone on our April trip. From the children standing on balconies to the old men sitting around the town square, the residents are always excited to see us and the horses like an impromptu parade.
After lunch at the Romitaggio we will be given a private tour of the 16th Castle around which the village of Castelbuono was built. The remainder of the afternoon you on your own to walk around and shop in Castelbuono or return to the Villa for a rest. Another wonderful, traditional Sicilian dinner awaits us at the Romitaggio restaurant.
After breakfast we head out for a full day spectacular trek over the top of the Madonie Mountains above timber line. We’ll enjoy a rest and picnic lunch on the way. Descending on the other side of the mountains, we will spend two nights at the Terra Vecchia ( http://www.agriturismoterravecchia.it ) which is a beautiful sprawling hacienda built with traditional Spanish influence architecture. The ranch features a large lodge decorated in equestrian motif. Relax in the plush furniture surrounding the fireplace in the gathering room. Gourmet meals of local fresh produce will be served in the large dining room and then retire to your comfortable bedroom or take a walk on the property to enjoy billions of stars in the night sky.
After a hearty breakfast your morning options give you the freedom to choose whatever you want to do individually from the following possibilities:
- Go on a 2 hour cantering ride
- Go on a separate 2 hour walk / trot easy ride
- Have private lessons with Ed in the arena
- Sleep, read, relax by the pool
After lunch the whole group will ride through the village of Castellana. Not only is it great fun to ride through the villages but a special highlight of this ride will be visiting our good friend’s Mauricio's pastry shop where you may indulge in his exquisite pastries!
In the late afternoon we will visit the quaint mountain village of Poliza Generosa by car to enjoy the incredible sunset view over the mountain range. This magnificent view can only be seen from the vantage point of the city’s park. If we are lucky we may witness a fascinating phenomenon of nature in which the clouds settle in the valley below the village. From the village wall we are actually looking down at the clouds from above. This amazing image mimics the ocean with the mountain tops as islands in the sea of clouds.
Another wonderful dinner and a good night’s sleep await us back at Terra Vecchia.
After breakfast we venture forth for an all day ride through the mountains. We’ll enjoy a rest and picnic lunch on the way. In the late afternoon we will arrive at an ancient monastery which is now the Abbazia Santa Anastasia winery (www.abbaziasantanastasia.it). Abbazia Santa Anastasia is a pure Sicilian Eden. Steeped in a natural landscape of breathtaking beauty between the Mediterranean and the Madonie mountain range, it forms a world of its own, a tightly knit community much as the original abbey would have been in the 1100s, when it was founded.
Adjacent to the winery is our home for two enchanted nights, the beautiful five star Relais Santa Anastasia hotel and restaurant (www.santa-anastasia-relais.it). After settling into your luxurious rooms and freshening up, we’ll be given a private tour of the winery. A fabulous, world class gourmet dinner will be served in the formal dining room. (Dressy attire required).
Today you have your choice of a beautiful ride or relaxing around the large pool enjoying the splendid panorama of the verdant valley below. The ride will take us along a high ridge from which you will be able to view the magnificent mountains on one side and the sparkling coastline of the Mediterranean Sea on the other. We’ll have a picnic lunch on the beach. We’ll return for another memorable meal and evening at the Relais Santa Anastasia.
After a leisurely breakfast we’ll take a mid-day ride of a few hours to arrive back in Castelbuono for one last ride through the village.
A special dinner is planned for us at Romitaggio complete with talented local musicians. Might as well stay up late and savor every moment on our last night in Castelbuono.
After a farewell to all our new friends we are driven to the Palermo airport for our journey back to reality.
A plethora of useful and educational information all about Sicily can be found at www.bestofsicily.com