Editor's Note: This is the first postcard in a series of six as Janice Booth takes part in Cross Country International's Valentine's ride through the countryside outside of Rome, Italy.
Feb. 13, 2005 -- True confession No. 1: I have not returned to Italy for 15 years because my first visit here (actually, more than a visit--I lived in Northern Italy for many months) was so spectacular that it has taken on epic proportions in my memory. While I was excited to come to Rome, I harbored inside a small resignation that this trip could not live up to my prior experience. I would need to render any disappointment as unavoidable.
I needn't have worried.
From the moment I landed in Italy on Feb. 12, everything was as I remembered it: friendly and helpful people, beautiful scenery, delectable food, copious wine, great conversations, peerless hospitality, attractive men...
Upon my arrival at Leonardo da Vinci airport, Matteo whisked me away to I due Laghi, the 400-acre working farm that he manages that stables at least 65 diverse and talented horses, cows, sheep, dogs, pigs, cats and a mynah bird. I quickly unpacked after my 13 hours of travel and napped just long enough to be ready to join the Saturday group of hunt riders for lunch.
I arrived at the restaurant on time, but they were nowhere to be seen, so I was delighted to find a full-size billiard table in the game room. I occupied myself by making spectacularly bad shots until the riders, a little damp from the rain and out of breath from the excitement, finally arrived en masse.
I think this is the point where any concerns about my expectations faded away. The hotel served a divine four-course meal with never-ending servings of red wine, followed by dessert and coffee, and punctuated all the way through with lively and entertaining conversation. What is one to do after a lunch like that but go to sleep for a few hours and prepare for dinner?
This morning, at the most civilized hour of 10 a.m., I reported to the stables for a lesson and a ride out into the country. My horse, named (appropriately--and those who know me are laughing) Enigma, was an eminently pleasant dun who seemed unflappable and quite capable of anything I asked. Joining me for my lesson was the producer of the movie The Patriot, along with a few other guests.
After we successfully navigated a number of small obstacles in the sand arena, it was time go hacking across the countryside. The sun shone, the birds sang and as we crested the top of the first hill, Lake Bracciano glittered and shimmered in the distance.
We rode past the goat barn where the farm makes cheese and raises lambs (which are delicious, by the way). Our sure-footed horses navigated hills, small streams and cantered in hand along lovely, well-worn roads, eventually returning us back to the hotel for another delicious lunch. Later, we returned to the barn for an afternoon ride on different horses and along different paths.
Cross Country International riders began arriving that afternoon, and once everyone was situated at the hotel, we gathered at 8 p.m. for wine tasting and introductions. Matteo shared his impressive knowledge of history and wines, and so began our first night together as a group. Of course, we swapped our horror stories and our anecdotes, joined by Irish Willy (one of our guides) who was more than happy to embellish and out-do any story that came across the table. Maria, our patient and skilled riding instructor, smiled knowingly. Of course, our waiter pretended he didn't hear a thing.
A fine first beginning to what will no doubt be another epic adventure.
Born in British Columbia, Janice Booth is an avid lifelong rider and solo traveler. She is a professional photographer who specializes in equestrian events, but in her other life she is the CEO of a Girl Scout council in North Carolina. This is Janice's fourth equestrian vacation.