Fierra dei Poggi

We all know that Tuscany is renowned for its wines, museums and its glorious art cities. Without a doubt, this is a fantastic destination for those looking to enjoy the gastronomical attractions and cityscapes... but for me, Tuscany is all about the picturesque terrain. For this reason, equine tourism has boomed in the past 5 years. 

Astonishingly a great deal of the spectacular landscapes of Tuscany are actually located within a short drive of Florence - so it is wholly possible to get the best out of both worlds.

These hills are full of ancient tracks once used by merchants, soldiers and most recently; second world war partisans. 
These trails; forged centuries ago before the era of the automobile are generally accessible only by foot or horseback, thus for one wishing to cover a fair amount of ground in these vertical and often taxing hillsides, a surefooted horse is a welcome alternative to walking.

Horse riding offers a chance to experience the splendour of nature in a traditional manner whilst incorporating a personal passion for both animals and adventure. In a world dominated by modern technology; where we often spend more time on our computer than with our families; getting out on the trail is a forced return to nature. No laptops allowed, and use your cell phone at your own risk (speaking from the personal experience of two broken phones, and a very expensive camera lost en route). 

 Horse riding is a risk sport (don't let anyone tell you otherwise); these are not machines, and sometimes even the most docile horses will rebel. 
This trip was not touristic. This was an authentic Italian horse riding trip that riders and merchants have done since the middle ages - and that was precisely why I was so keen to go.

The annual pilgrimage to the antique and historic animal and produce fair “la Fiera dei Poggi” was located at the Muraglione mountain pass between Tuscany and Emilia Romagna.
Historically this fair was the annual meeting point for animal and produce traders from both sides of the border. A chance to buy and sell, and catch up on what was happening on the other side of the mountain range.

These days, though the tradition of bringing animals up the challenging mountain pass from both Tuscany and Emilia Romagna for a weekend remains… the purpose is solely festive these days.
We set off from our base early in the morning.
I rode my little Arab Taribo, sure-footed and brave, and as keen for an adventure as I was.

We rode the horses to meet Riccardo. It was early, fresh and the horses were keen to go. Running late, we cantered them through the easier sections - trails through pine forests and over the rolling tawny coloured cattle fields. Riccardo met us outside his house on his big bay mare, and we rode down to Vicchio to meet the rest of the group.

The ride involved a river crossing near the village. It was a peaceful little spot, sparkling river, shady clearing etc. Our horses were all experts in water, so this was no problem. I noticed a small monument and asked Riccardo about it. “That's where the monster of Florence killed two of his victims”, he told me. It was actually in July (23 years earlier) that the murder took place. Claudio (21) and his girlfriend Pia (18) were shot at point-blank range and stabbed in their fiat panda. Pia was also mutilated. The Monster of Florence killed a total of 16 people between 1968 and 1985.

We began picking our way upward through the magnificent alpine area of Monte Falterona, Campigna and the Casentinesi national park after stopping briefly near Dicomano to water the horses and top up our energy with a strong espresso offered to us by a kind elderly farmer who had once been a cavalry officer for the Italian military.crossing rivers and trailing our way through heavy forests. The horses loved this type of ride: ears pricked, forward moving, seemingly enjoying the chance to be out amongst the wilderness as much as their riders. I found myself completely astounded by the scenery that surrounded me. Alpine peaks rose sharply, giving way to sheer rock faces and dense forest. Above our heads, great alpine birds of prey circled with swooping wings, fully demonstrating the freedom they held high in the sky.

At one stage we had to stop due to a fallen tree. I was leading my horse at this point, as the trail fell away steeply on one side. All the men ganged up on me (pregnant and risking my life), so I dismounted for this section. One of the guys ‘Marco’, was riding a huge black Maremmano horse. He dismounted and passed the horse to me, foraged in the back of his saddle pack; and came out with a saw! He proceeded to saw the tree (a long process) and we all passed through. This was real wilderness riding, and I wondered what else he carried in his saddlebags!

After stopping for a break beside an alpine stream, where both human and horse could quench their thirsts with pure mountain spring water, we tied the horses and ate a basic but enjoyable lunch of bread, cheese and prosciutto. After offering Taribo a few of my now bruised and sad looking apples, we carried on the trail weaving our way down to an awe-inspiring opening of chest-high ferns that thickly covered an area the size of a football field. The horses picked through the ferns which luckily were parted down the middle by a thin dirt track. The sensation of what it must have felt like for knights of times long passed was clearly felt by all, as we laughed about being Templar knights or partisans exploring new lands. We decide to pass by the stunning Acquacheta waterfalls on the final section of our journey. This area is immortalized by Dante in his description of "The Inferno" in The Divine Comedy.(Inferno, Canto XVI, 94/105).

Before long we emerged from the stunning wilderness onto a flat expanse of fields wedged amongst the forest and looking out over the Alps, after nearly 7 hours of spectacular scenery, and tough trails we had arrived at the Fierra.

The Fierra could have been in Texas or California - girls wore denim miniskirts, and men had stetsons and wranglers. There were a few problems with disorganization. Water was in short supply, so extra trucks had to be sent up. We had forgotten our horse's passports (with their proof of a recent codgkins test) so we had to build a paddock on the outskirts of the camp.

Hay was bountiful (a local farmer supplied it) and the horses were a magnificent sight grazing in their fields. There were groups from all over Tuscany and Emilia; Appaloosa’s through to Spanish PRE’s. We set up our tents in the woods close to our horses.

The fiera itself really kicked off around 8 pm, where around 300 more individuals (horse enthusiasts and party-goers) of all ages and from both sides of the border arrived for the night of festivities. The fact that so many people had made the effort to either ride, cycle or drive up to an area so isolated, raw and historic was truly exceptional. The horses dozed in their specially designed paddocks, whilst the public dined on a three-course feast, supplemented with Chianti wine and local beer. Later on, a festive mood prevailed as the Grappa was brought out to provide some dutch courage for those hesitant to ride the sinister looking mechanical bull.

Fire eaters, trick riders, and Flamenco dancers entertained crowds whilst the DJ played a mix of music to satisfy all tastes and revellers danced away until the early hours of the morning before retiring to their tents for a few hours kip prior to commencing the western style riding competitions the following morning. We didn't stick around for this, but competitive riders had trailered their horse up especially for this.

The Fierra dei Poggi is an annual event held generally on the third weekend of July. For those interested in exploring the Tuscan/ Romagna Apennines and Acquacheta waterfalls check out the website