Our readers share tales of their rambles around the world.
Who: Joseph and Rosetta McKinney of Brandy Station
Where, when, why: An inn-to-inn horseback tour of the Renaissance chateaux of the Loire Valley. In the early 1980s, while stationed with the Army in Germany, we spent a few days driving down the Loire Valley and were impressed by the chateaux of the French royalty. We’re avid riders, and 20 years ago, when we first heard of the horseback tour, we decided that it was the “vacation of a lifetime.” Last year, since we’re not getting any younger, we decided that it was time to make the trip.
Highlights and high points: Trotting during rush hour through the center of Montrichard, a town on the River Cher overlooked by a medieval castle. Hearing the horses’ hooves clattering on the pavement as cars and trucks passed us in both directions made for the kind of riding that one cannot experience in the United States.
Cultural connection or disconnect: On this type of vacation, the most important connection one can make is with one’s horse. We were impressed by the quality of the horses and the care they were given by our guides from the tour company, Ferme Equestre des Abrons. From the first morning when we mounted up until the last evening when we unsaddled, these horses were a pleasure to ride.
Biggest laugh or cry: One afternoon on the trail, we unexpectedly came upon the camp of a traveling circus. With loose circus ponies charging in and out of our column, we made our way through the camp as our horses shied away from peacocks, llamas, snorting stallions tied on tethers and lions in a cage. As we left the camp, a growling pit bull, defending his turf, charged us from beneath a trailer. That night over dinner — and after a few glasses of wine — we praised each others’ equestrian skills in four languages.
How unexpected: The chateaux were as spectacular as we remembered, but our previous visit had been in March. This trip was an entirely different — and better — experience. Each day we rode on trails and farm roads past crop fields and lush pastures, through vineyards with grapes on the vine, in what were once royal forest preserves, and around gardens in bloom. The scenery alone was worth the peak-season airfare.
Fondest memento or memory: We were the only Americans in our group of nine riders. The others were from Switzerland, Germany, Norway, Sweden and Canada. A love of riding was our common bond, and during the trek we became comrades and friends. Dinner on our last evening was somewhat sad, because we knew that the next morning we would scatter to our homes, never to meet again.