As we neared the sandy hillock, a flash of water flittered across the skyline. A little breeze riffled across the grass and a seagull cried out as it wheeled away towards the distant town. The sea slowly spread out in shades of turquoise, jade green, deep purple and bright blue. My horse’s ears pricked as she snorted the sea-salt scented air and did a little jig of anticipation.
“Tana thinks she’s going for a canter along the beach, but we can’t ride there between May and October,” explained Gemma, my riding instructor and owner of Son Bou Rutas a Cavall. We walked nearer to the sea and stopped to admire the stunning view. To our left stretched a long sandy beach and the popular resort of Son Bou. To our right, rocky cliffs edged the ocean and a clearly marked path wound its way along the northern coast of Menorca.
We were on the Cami de Cavalls, a historic route that circles the coast of Menorca (Minorca), an island off the coast of mainland Spain. Restored and fully opened in 2011, this ancient path may have been used by the Knights of James II in the 14th c. During the 1730s Governor Richard Kane had it cleared for use by the occupying British troops and it was marked on the first map of Menorca, drawn up by French cartographer in 1780.
The Cami de Cavalls
Totalling 185 km, the Cami de Cavalls is divided up into 20 stages, and ” … crosses gullies, rocky zones, valleys, wetland and farming areas; it connects ancient watchtowers, lighthouses and trenches and it leads to a great deal of coves and spots of the island. (Cami de Cavalls 360) Menorca is a MAB (Man and Biosphere) UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, which recognises its significance balancing socio-economic development and the preservation of the environment. Menorca has a unique combination of dune systems, gorges, marshlands and other geological attractions, with pre-historic archaeological remains and a traditional agricultural system. The Cami de Cavalls passes by all these areas, ensuring a fascinatingly diverse route, including Mahon, the capital and Ciutadella, the old capital. Popular with walkers, cyclists, mountain bikers and runners, without doubt the most enjoyable way to travel this route is on horseback.
On arrival at the Rutas a Cavall Riding School, I met Gemma who has over 30 horses as well as a few donekeys and chickens. “I love horses and have rescued many since the recession hit our country. You’ll be riding Tana, a Menorcan Horse; she has a lovely temperament and is very gentle. She was winner of ‘Most Beautiful Mare’ in the fiestas a few years ago.” I was absolutely delighted to be riding a Menorcan Horse. This breed is renowned for its grace and agility during the famous Menorca Fiestas, where they rear up on their hind legs in the midst of enthusiastic revellers. I’ve been on many family holidays to Menorca but never had the chance to ride one of these majestic horses before.
Mounting Tana seemed a bit daunting (I hadn’t been riding for many years and wasn’t very fit!) but Gemma provided a stool to step up onto. She takes people of all levels and ages, going from gentle walk to hearty gallop, depending on ability. Having checked stirrups and tightened Tana’s girth, Gemma mounted her horse, Estelle, a magnificent black stallion with lots of fiesta experience. The Cami de Cavalls goes past the stables and we were soon ambling along a narrow, tree-shaded path, with spring flowers on either side and early butterflies drifting about.
The path opened out into a wide valley. Gemma told me, “This gorge has one of only two working water wheels left on the island. There are turtles breeding again in the river and we occasionally see eagles here. A nature reserve ensures all the wildlife is protected.” It was really peaceful riding along this track, occasionally passed by walkers and once, a group of cyclists who were half way round the island on a cycling club holiday.
Lying under a tree, a huge bull gazed placidly over his harem as they grazed on lush spring grass. A family of holiday-makers hurried by on their way to the beach. Two women with sturdy walking sticks said a cheery good morning and a group of Spanish runners jogged by, waving water bottles as they passed. Every so often Gemma dismounted to open a gate. She has an ingenious way to keep it open whilst other riders go through; she places a stone in the angle between the gate post and gate. I eventually got the knack of dislodging it as I rode through, enabling it to swing shut. Menorcan gates as things of beauty; carved by master-carpenters, they’re made from olive wood and have a graceful curve.
Eventually we came out to Son Bou beach, the longest on Menorca. In the distance wind-surfers were zipping over the waves and a tiny yacht sailed off towards Majorca. We walked up the sandhills to the top, from where we got a splendid view of the north coastline. The sea glittered enticingly beneath us and the sun enveloped us in a warm embrace. Tana stood very patiently whilst Gemma took lots of photos to capture the moment, whilst passing walkers admired our beautiful horses.
Being early in the season (May) there were not too many people about, so we posed to our heart’s content …
Eventually we had to return, though I would have been happy to ride on for much longer. As we went past a herd of horses, a young mare came galloping down the hill. Gemma shooed her away – apparently she was especially interested in our very fine stallion, Estelle. On the horizon a young foal raised its head and gazed across the meadow at us, whilst its mother and other horses grazed nearby.
Clouds were starting to roll in … Spring in Menorca is a lovely time to visit but the weather is quite changeable and rain looked imminent. “Shall we trot?” asked Gemma. “OK, I’ll give it a go.” With a gentle nudge, Tana set off at a brisk trot and I managed to keep my balance. Fortunately it wasn’t far to go and as pretty wild flowers flew by, I got into a bit of a rhythm as we came up the lane back to the riding school. Dismounting rather shakily I gave Tana a piece of carrot and a big hug; she really had made a dream come true …
Video: Horse Riding along the Cami de Cavalls
You can find out more about Son Bou Rutas a Cavall – Horse Riding in Son Bou here