Horsing around in... Argentina

| May 27, 2009

Heather Fitsell, Cox & Kings’ Quality Control Executive, recently spent some time horse riding in Argentina.

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After a busy week inspecting hotels across Argentina, it was a pleasure to slow down and enjoy some time in the vicinity of Córdoba, horse riding across the varied Argentine countryside.

I stayed at two different estancias, with my first stop being Estancia de Charme El Colibri. El Colibri was opened in 2005 by Raoul and Stéphanie Fenestraz, who came here from France, in search of ‘The Argentine Dream’. Set in 410 acres of grounds, the focus at El Colibri is on relaxation.

Estancia de Charme El Colibri
Having been introduced to Raoul and his family over breakfast, I then met Mauro the Encargado de Campo(Farm Manager) who had brought my Crillo horse Poroto to the front of the estancia. As the sun rose, we set off to explore the estancia. At El Colibri they produce a lot of their own fruit and vegetables, they also keep chickens as well as cattle for milk and the famous Argentine steak.

A direct descendant of horses brought from the New World following the arrival of Columbus, the Crillo is the ride of choice for the Argentine gaucho and the breed you are most likely to ride in Argentina. There are a mixture of Crillos and polo ponies at El Colibri.

Our ride took us through fields, the river Santa Catalina, and past many of the new foals born just months before, most of which will be added to the estancia’s collection of 80 polo ponies. Raoul is a keen polo player and El Colibri has it’s own polo team. There may be the opportunity for guests to play, or watch a polo game during their stay at the estancia.

The midday heat is best avoided when riding, but it allowed me the chance to relax after lunch and during such times, guests can take advantage of the spa treatments on offer. If it is not too cold, meals are served outdoors under the cover of the Summer House. The food is delicious here, with all dishes being based on seasonal ingredients, and my request for a second helping of the superb apple crumble and cinnamon ice cream delighted Alejandro the waiter.

After a refreshing swim in the pool and some time relaxing, that evening I headed out for a second ride, this time riding General with my gaucho guide Javier and a couple of dogs for company. Our route was different to the one I had taken that morning, through more of the estancia’s grounds and past a couple of lamas (little did I know I would try some rather tasty lama leg for dinner that night).

Depending upon the number of people staying, horse rides can be arranged at times to suit guests. I took advantage of this on my final morning when I arranged for my third and final ride to be at 8:30am. At this time of day the air is much fresher and Javier was my gaucho guide again with a new steed Costero. We took a gentle ride, which was perfect for listening to the early morning sounds of nature, a great way to end my stay at El Colibri.

Estancia Los Potreros
Estancia Los Potreros were my hosts for the next two days. The estancia has been in the Begg family for four generations and is currently run by Kevin and his wife Louisa. Kevin’s great-grandfather first came to Argentina from Scotland as a child in the 1880’s. It was his grandfather Robin Begg who settled just outside Córdoba in the tranquil Sierras Chicas and built Los Potreros with his wife Louisa in the early twentieth century. This is very much a family home, with photos on display throughout the property. Many of the buildings are several hundred years old and it is furnished with antiques, including the warm, comfortable beds.

I had arrived in time for the evening ride and after afternoon tea with home made cake; we headed off to ‘The Top of the World’. Margarita my polo pony for the evening and I, reached the aptly named ‘Top of the World’, at sunset. From here you can see three nearby towns and it was at this point I regretted leaving my camera behind as the views were stunning.

Dinner is an estancia family affair; each guest is allocated a napkin ring with the name of one of the estancia's horses on it, which remains with you throughout your stay at Los Potreros. At each meal you find your place setting around the large table, by searching for your napkin ring. This encourages everyone to talk to each other, share stories and adds to the atmosphere of the estancia and its ethos ‘Nil Sine Amicitia’ – ‘Nothing Without Friendship’. The food is made as much as possible from ingredients grown on the estancia’s 6,000 acres. Kevin and Louisa also organise local post dinner entertainment, and we had traditional folk songs sung by a Córdoban gentleman and his guitar on the first night, and a wine tasting session, which included Los Potreros’ own brand, on the second.

The focus at Los Potreros is the horses, all 150 of them, and with a morning and an evening ride, you will have sufficient opportunity to ride many different horses from the estancias collection of 85 tame riding horses. Most of the riding horses have been bred on the farm and consist of approximately two-thirds crillo/polo ponies and one-third Paso Peruanos. Paso Peruanos have a lovely temperament and are very comfortable horses to ride due to their fifth gait, which is essentially a running walk. The daily rides are split into groups based upon rider ability, which on the first morning gave me the opportunity for a couple of thrilling gallops across the land on Polera, along with my fellow riders, a father and his three teenage daughters. On the evening of my second day, I was lucky enough to experience riding one of the estancia's Paso Peruanos called Sol, the extra gait is so delightful it is almost sleep inducing.

The time between rides provides guests with opportunities to relax, have a siesta, swim in the pool or to take one of the self guided walks to explore the local flora and fauna, and no doubt one of the many Labradors would happily accompany you.Sunday afternoon is always time off for riders, horses and staff, but not before we had tried our hand at a mini polo tournament. The weather was on our side and so our informal competition went ahead. This was my first attempt to play polo and to do so in what is now the home of polo - Argentina - was a great privilege. We were given an introduction to the use of the polo stick and how to hit the ball, followed by a brief solo-hitting practise, before we commenced with the game. I can honestly say that this was one of the most exhilarating, thrilling and adrenalin fuelled sports I have ever tried. I loved it! Sadly having won the first game, my team lost our second game. I could have played all day, but I’m sure my polo pony Margarita had had enough after two games and as she cooled off under the shade of the trees, I sat down with my glass of fresh lemonade to watch the concluding matches; a perfect end to my time in Argentina.

Cox & Kings can arrange stays at El Colibri and Los Potreros in Argentina. Please call 020 7873 5000 to discuss tailor-made options with one of our Latin America experts.

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