When I was a teenager I remember hiking up Stone Mountain (the one in North Carolina) with my dad and him telling me that he would take that moment-- being up on top of the mountain breathing in the fresh clean air and watching the hawks circle above the beautiful patchworked landscape-- and savour it, bringing it back into his conciousness during the week at the office and using it to dispel moments of stress or boredom. When you're a teenager such things seem wierd and cheesy-- you're too busy concentrating on the moment (is my hair ok? do I look fat? is she calling me stupid?) to think about anything else. But more and more I've come to learn from the lesson my dad unwittingly gave me years ago and when I'm in a particularly beautiful or peaceful place I'll attempt to take in as many details as I can to be able to call up the sensation of being there at will.
One of these places which always inspires a feeling of inner peace and wonder at the beauty of our planet and the life which inhabits it is the Sierra de Gredos mountain range and foothills in central Spain. It may not be as majestic as the Himalayas, as rugged as the Rockies or as picturesque as the Alps, but its understated yellow-dotted meadows with babbling brooks running through, its green-grey peaks often dusted with snow and its honest-to-goodness subsistence farmland and olive groves give it an element of absolute authenticity which makes one feel privileged to be permitted to take part in. Its towns are charming, rustic and display many historical elements from centuries past, but you'll find few "reconstructions" catering to tourists. Far more common are 200 year old private houses whose owners invite you in for sangría, medieval cathedrals still in use or half-ruined castles standing guard over the stoplights and subdivisions of modern life.
Gredos Ecuestre) in the heart of this incredible countryside whose cheerful and caring owner, Gabriel, specialises in showing both outsiders and locals the hidden treats Gredos has to offer. With the healthiest, happiest and most spirited herd of horses I've ever seen and always accompanied by midday tapas and sips from a shared wineskin, Gaby leads his groups through a surprising array of landscapes, over crystal clear rivers, along sandy creekbeds, up and down rocky mountainsides and through fairytale forests, ending nearly always with a shared picnic with his family back at the stable. I've been on many routes with Gaby now, not least of which was a 5 day trek along the Camino de Santiago from O' Cebreiro to Santiago de Compostela, however when I need inspiration or inner peace I always bring up the feeling of riding through Gredos in good company (both human and equine).
- FEBRUARY: LA CANDELARIA AT EL ROCÍO
Days 2, 3, 4 and 5
- MARCH: FOLLOWING IN VIRIATO’S FOOTSTEPS
3 day ride through Mediterranean pasture land and oak forests, following the ancient paths and roads which Viriato used in his struggle against Roman domination of Iberia. Sierra de San Vicente (Toledo).
Days 17, 18 and 19
- MAY: CRISTO DE LA LUZ ROMERÍA (PILGRIMAGE)
Festive weekend filled with cookies, lemonade, ice-cold beer and great paths for galloping!
Days 26 and 27
- JUNE: CAMINO DE SANTIAGO-VÍA DE LA PLATA
First of several stages in order to travel by horseback from La Parra to Fisterre (the very end of the Camino de Santiago whose Latin name means “End of the World”). This year we’ll ride as far as Zamora.
Days 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9
- AUGUST: FULL MOON OVER GREDOS
We’ll ride up the Sierra de Gredos by moonlight yet again this year and enjoy a night camped out under the stars.
Days 2, 3 and 4
- OCTOBER: GR-10 FOLLOWING THE ALBERCHE RIVER
New territories await our discovery along the banks of the Alberche river.
Days 12, 13 and 14