Although we’ve not yet arrived at Halloween, it’s never too early to start thinking about the ultimate special occasion or holiday gift for the entire family, especially if family members are more into experiences rather than things and have a passion for horseback riding.
This is certainly the mindset of Emmy Award-winning producer and author Darley Newman, who created and hosts the PBS series Equitrekking. While her travel books certainly make great presents for casual or experienced equestrians, as a mom with an active family she’ll insist there is nothing more fun than getting the whole family involved in planning a journey along trails in far-off places that will lead into explorations of new foods, interactions with residents and other interesting discoveries. Here are a few of Newman’s favorite equestrian destinations overseas, accented with sights and attractions unique to that country.
“Ireland is a fantastic place to saddle up as a family, especially at Castle Leslie, a family-owned castle reminiscent of Downton Abbey. Located in Glaslough,” said Newman. “This real-life castle and equestrian lover’s destination is an hour and a half north of Dublin just outside the Northern Ireland border, and features more than 300 cross-country jumps sprinkled throughout the 1,000-acre estate.”
“Beyond the trails, the resort includes a “horse stimulator,” a mechanical horse used for indoor lessons to get familiar with the English style of riding practiced here. Kids over 7 can ride and during special weeks of the year, can participate in a program where they can “own” a pony for a week. Non-equestrians can enjoy a horse-drawn carriage ride, and everybody can participate in other country activities such as falconry, archery, cycling, fishing, walking trails and boating.”
Epic Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies is known for its mountains and ski culture, but did you know Canada’s oldest national park is also home to the Banff Trail Riders, which has been taking travelers out on horseback since 1962?
“Snow-capped mountains, glacial lakes and verdant trees surround you as you meander along trails through the backcountry,” said Newman. “Families may choose to stay in a rustic lodge or tented accommodations, thanks to the fact that Banff Trail Riders has established camps in the park. This means that although you may be in a tent, you’ll also enjoy meals cooked by a cowgirl chef. Nighttime entertainment may include campfire s’mores by a roaring fire. Those who prefer hotel lodging can select one of the company’s shorter trail rides. However, please be advised that the weather can change on a dime, so rain gear and layers are a must.”
“Riding in the land of fire and ice is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that’s a great fit for families,” mused Newman. “Icelandic horses are smaller in stature, but are super strong and able to carry both kids and adults. These fun horses have a unique gait or way of moving, making them a very smooth mode of transportation across Iceland’s rugged lava fields, black-sand beaches and verdant hillsides. Trek to waterfalls, spend time with Icelandic farmers or drive sheep into the highlands.”
Newman recommends Ishestar, leading riders for more than 30 years and running trips throughout Iceland, and as the journey is effectively the destination, riders may also learn about Icelandic sagas, hidden elves and other fascinating history and folklore on their adventures.
Beaches, countryside and rainforests make Costa Rica a top spot for adventure travel as well as a wondrous place to discover on horseback. Serendipity Adventures takes travelers of all riding skill levels out on rollicking sojourns through sugarcane fields and farmland, close to Arenal Volcano and cool off by swimming through a river on horseback.
“You’ll see rural Costa Rica in a whole new way, along with wildlife viewing on horseback,” Newman said. “The great thing about a vacation in Costa Rica is that you can combine horseback riding with many other adventure activities, like hiking, rafting and climbing. There’s nothing more unforgettable than views of the beach from the saddle and, better yet, riding on the beach at sunset.”
This nation’s Okavango Delta, the world’s largest inland delta, provides the backdrop for ultimate safari on horseback, according to Newman. “If your kids are 12 or older, this is one of the best places on the planet to view wildlife and as the fall starts, winter ends in this Southern Hemisphere destination,” she said. “The skies are beautiful this time of year and flowers are in bloom. Gallop with giraffes, zebra and wildebeest. View elephants, as you ride through channels of water. Dinners are served outdoors, sometimes on private islands, in this area that will truly allow you to unplug from the rest of the world. Nights are spent in more luxurious tents.”
Zermatt’s colorful ski boutique-lined Bahnhofstrasse, stylish apartment-style lodgings of every description and views of the Matterhorn from every angle make up one of Europe’s most family-friendly destinations — and it certainly does not hurt that it is proclaimed the “world’s best ski resort” by organizations like SnowOnline.com year after year. During the warmer months, meanwhile, you will see many family groups with kids strolling the shopping streets (sometimes alongside a herd of about 50 free-range Valais Blackneck goats around 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.), enjoying fondue and pizza at nearby cafés, and taking advantage of the many hiking and bike trails.
San Diego is a great destination for families looking for fun no matter what time of year it is, but this fall, there is plenty to do for everyone — even when you have a budget. Thanks to year-round sunshine, the best way to explore this city is by heading outdoors and enjoying the beautiful weather.
Just because the kids have gone back to school and the days have started getting shorter doesn’t mean summer fun has to end. There are still plenty of opportunities to enjoy what’s left of the dwindling season. You can extend your warm weather adventures with these activities all over the country.
By Hainan Airlines
The movies and cruise vacations actually have a lot in common: fascinating ports of call, making friends with interesting people, new sensory experiences, the constant change of scenery. When you think about it, it’s no surprise many classic comedies and romances are set aboard cruise ships, including Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) with Marilyn Monroe, Royal Wedding (1951), An Affair to Remember (1957) with Cary Grant, the more recent and kid-friendly Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation, and the long-running television series Love Boat.