Having celebrated my birthday on horseback in 2012, it was decided that the experience should be repeated this year. Thanks to my sister and other members of my family, I spent a week in Kefalonia (NB: choice of spelling is personal, there are a variety of ways!) riding around the mountains. We stretched out my celebrations this year, visiting the island in April, although my birthday is in March.
The stables on Kefalonia are inhabited by Haflingers: to many people, this would not be their first choice for breed of horse in the region, but they work amazingly well. The terrain is rough and rocky, as well as humid. Although it may not appear this way from pictures, the beaches are almost exclusively pebbled rather than sandy.
What is true to life is the standard of the scenery: my sister and I were expecting the weather to be good but not stunning in April, and had prepared ourselves for the beaches to look less polished than in the guidebooks and on the internet. We had one day during the week when the weather was “bad” – and bad in this instance means cloudy rather than sunny – and temperatures topped 30⁰C/86⁰F. The water was as clear as the pictures we had viewed prior to our trip showed: the pictures here were taken by us and have not been edited in any way. It was simply stunning.
The terrain only allows for riding at a leisurely pace, but that doesn’t mean that experienced riders will get bored. Not only is there plenty to relax and enjoy in terms of the scenery – and the conversation with the fantastic guides – but there are some rides which are unsuitable for beginners, due to the nature of the paths. Whether they are carrying novices or advanced riders, the Haflingers are sure-footed, fit and beautifully cared for. Visitors can also have dressage or jumping sessions in the ménage if they wish, and the horses will work under standard or Western saddles.
One of the highlights of the trip for me was swimming with the horses – something I was sadly unable to do in South Africa due to an escapee crocodile. We took a long ride to the beach and rode bareback in the sea with our steeds. It takes some getting used to, but I much prefer it to swimming independently – the horses are better swimmers than I am!
We rode each morning during our stay and took trips to the beach and other towns on the island in the afternoons. Throughout the hottest of the summer months, riding begins very early, so that the horses are home before noon, as the temperature is too high and uncomfortable otherwise. My favourite town on the island was Fiskardo, and Myrtos beach is unmissable.
The stables are located just outside of Sami – the town which was the principal shooting location for the Hollywood adaptation of the Louis de Bernieres novel Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – and, although high season was yet to begin when we visited, there are still many charming tavernas to choose from in order to sample local cuisine.
The stillness and beauty of Kefalonia were balanced by our visits to ruins of villages which were damaged by a devastating earthquake in 1953. My sister and I also experienced an earthquake for the first time – a non-optional extra which we didn’t have to pay for! – during the middle of the night, as if the island were proving to us that it still lives and breathes in that way.
It was a brilliant week, and further proof of my assertion that the world is better-viewed when framed by a horse’s ears came when we returned our hire car prior to flying home: Kefalonia is only a small island, but we were assured by the local car hire representative that we had seen more of the island in a week than she had in her lifetime, as we had been able to access parts which cannot easily be reached on foot. The exchange reminded me that horses are kind and gracious enough to show us these things when we ask them.
The full album of pictures from our trip to Greece can be found here.
For those who ride, what’s the best thing you’ve seen from horseback?