We love hearing all the news from our In The Saddle destinations and this letter from Jenny and the team at Rendola in Italy really brought a smile! We love how honest and personal she is when she writes to us and her passion for riding, and life in general, is infectious! We can’t wait to go back to Rendola…
First of all, may I wish you all a Happy New Year! Somehow the number 2015 has a nice feel to it, don’t you think (is it because it is divisible by three and five?), and I hope that this will be reflected in the months to come.
I have to admit that 2014 was not a particularly good year for Rendola (though it had ups as well as downs). Bookings for riding weeks were rather a little lower than usual and the Italian recession has reduced the local clientele; but what was worse for us olive-growers was the fact that the olive-oil crop was a complete disaster. Because of the mild winter 2013-2014, followed by an uncharacteristically cool and rainy summer, the olives were attacked by a parasitic insect: they were, as we (!) Tuscans say here, ‘bacati’. At first we thought that only the olives that had fallen to the ground were affected, but when Sergio (Pietro’s son) started picking the ones still on the tree he found that those were rotten, too. So we didn’t have just a SHORTAGE of oil this year, but simply not a SINGLE DROP! Farmers had the same experience all over Tuscany and also elsewhere, maybe it will have been a coup di grace for Tuscan agriculture. Luckily we still have quite a lot of oil left over from last year and we are guarding this jealously so that you will still have some to drizzle on your salad (just a drizzle, mind you) when you visit us this year. As some of you have already planned to do: I see that our bookings are up this year, with several amongst you making return visits. (No one, however, can beat Margaret, for whom it will be her twelfth riding week at Rendola!)
Of course we like to have new guests as well. I have just had a booking from a couple living in KwaZulu Natal, wanting to organize a family gathering over the Easter holidays. (No, I didn’t know where it is either, though the word ‘Zulu’ gives us a clue.) There will be eleven of them spanning three generations. We have had at least four similar groups, sometimes coming from different countries, it makes me feel as if Rendola is in the centre of the world, rather like Jerusalem on medieval maps! Such groups have always been great fun, with a lot of merriment as well a certain amount of amicable bickering as various strong-willed family members of different generations can’t come to an agreement as to a programme: some are interested in Culture, others decidedly are not, some want to ride – usually the girls, whatever their age, from 8 to 80 – others are terrified of horses, some are furiously active while others intend to enjoy a bit of dolce far niente. Usually in the end they split into different groups each doing his own thing, and then they all meet up for dinner in the evening. I expect it’ll be the same this time, the important thing is that they should all have fun in their own way.
I’ve been having fun, too, working on the new website. One of our problems is that the best time for horseback riding is in the spring and the autumn, which means that for much of the year work is slack. So in this new website we are going to try to reach out to a wider range of client, not just riders. After all, the very best time to visit the art cities is in the winter, when there are no crowds or queues and you can enjoy looking at artworks without a horde of other visitors holding up and clicking away on their i-phones or i-tablets or whatever – WITHOUT ACTUALLY LOOKING AT THE ARTWORKS AT ALL! It drives me mad. The months of March and November, cool but not cold, are the best for cycling, while the summer, too hot for riding, is ideal for joining a cookery course as there are so many kinds of seasonal fruit and vegetable available, often from our own kitchen garden. Now don’t get me wrong, riding is still our main activity; but in order to survive in this competitive world (and pay the taxes, very high in this country – for those who pay them) we must widen our appeal and that is the aim of this new website. (Getting people to see it is another kettle of fish: perhaps you can give me a hand?) Do have a look at it, anyway.
Some of you will see your own photos on the website and I have to apologise now if I didn’t ask for your permission to publish them, for the simple reason that I can’t remember who sent which. And if your photos have NOT been published, please do not be offended! There is not room for more than a certain number, so from time to time we will change them, as I am told that we have to do to keep the website alive (makes it sound like a baby bird that constantly needs feeding). However, I think you will agree that it is a lovely and original website with none of those irritating gimmicks that get on your nerves (my nerves, anyway). It’s possibly a little old-fashioned – like its creator…
Cut the cackle, you may say, but what about the horses? Most of you have already been to Rendola and will be glad to hear that all last year’s horses are still with us. Some of the oldies, of course, work mainly in the ring, but there are plenty of younger horses to take on the rides out: though even Silver, one of the veterans, is still raring to go! There is a new horse, however, Gina Lollo, a nine-year-old black Sicilian mare with a very gentle nature, whom I believe will be good in the school as well as the trail, being very responsive to the aids. We may buy in another horse as spring approaches.
And how is THIS veteran, the one writing this letter? Well, last winter I had a fall – not from a horse, what did you think? No, I slipped on some wet leaves while walking downhill. This made me lame for a while, though riding was luckily no problem. The fall had brought on a borsitis in my hip, but this has almost disappeared after a few physiotherapy sessions. This year I have been furthering my studies of medieval art, which has become a passion, so stop me if I start boring you with my newly acquired knowledge… I have also been working on my autobiography – only as owner of a riding centre, so nothing TOO personal! As for the Rendola team, we have great news about our instructor Eraldo and his wife Martina: they are now the proud parents of a baby son, Laerte Raduel. Sergio, with the help of his daughter Sara and her husband Francesco (they married last June), Marco and Franca have been organizing dinners down at our restaurant in the village of Rendola. These dinners are centred on a particular ingredient, such as pumpkin, turkey, duck and so on, and have become increasingly popular among the locals. Franca has also held a couple of cooking courses here in our kitchen, which I know were very successful.(I have only the role of interpreter, don’t worry, I know my cooking skills are very limited.) She needs to improve her English, so this winter I am giving her another series of lessons: “Now I am putting a slice of mortadella on each slice of beef” – that sort of thing. Oh yes, I have also proposed ‘English weekends (full immersion)’ on the Italian version of the website. This obviously will not interest any of YOU, but have a look all the same as there is an unusually glamorous picture of me actually wearing a DRESS! (A very rare occurrence, I can tell you).
Yes, I knew I’d forgotten something. I must now pay tribute to all the ‘workawayers’ who have helped us over the season, both in the stables and in the house. They get full board and lodging and riding in exchange for work and I must say that I don’t know how we could manage without them. They are Mareike (Germany), Aurélie (France), Katie (USA), Ali (USA), Sandra(the Netherlands), Nikki (Germany) Katie (GB) and Sophie (Ireland). There was also Katarina who came to write a book and did sterling work in the kitchen. I am sincerely grateful to you all. If I’ve forgotten anyone please forgive me, as my memory was never my strong point and it’s not getting any better.
Well, I do hope that some of you will return to Rendola, to ride, cycle, walk or whatever. And if you can’t for some reason come, could you tell your friends about us? The show must go on!
Jenny and her team