Ever since I took a horse-riding trip into the Apennines in north Italy some six years ago, I have been trying to persuade my colleagues at Wild Frontiers to run trips in Western Europe. Sadly, I made little impact.
‘We must stick to the developing world,’ they said. ‘That’s what we’re known for, that’s where we’ve built our brand.’
While I knew from a strictly business perspective this argument was strong, I also knew from various travels there were many amazing hidden locations all over the Continent, from Iceland to the Iberian Peninsula, from Poland to the Peloponnese. So I bided my time, and waited.
And then Covid came along. With serious long-haul travel a seemingly distant dream, developing trips closer to home was no longer seen by our management team as the boss’s whimsical vanity project, but as a means of survival. Ironically, the destructive coronavirus had given me the chance I’d been looking for.
And so it was that in early October, just as the second wave of the pandemic was advancing across Europe, I found myself with a small group back in Italy, back with my old friend Domenico Mocchi, leading a trip through one of the most beautiful and undiscovered parts of Europe, back in the Apennines.
Dom is one of my oldest friends in travel. We met in Pakistan in 1996 when Dom had a small horse trekking business and I was writing my second book, For A Pagan Song. We hit it off instantly and did some journeys together in Pakistan as Wild Frontiers got started. However, in 1998 Dom decided Pakistan was becoming too unstable and so moved his business over the mountains to Kyrgyzstan where he again started organising horse trips. He helped me on my long horse ride along the Silk Road in 1999, the outcome of which was my second book, Silk Dreams, Troubled Road, and we set up our first commercial ride for WF in 2003. While there, Dom met his lovely wife, Nargiza, and after a decade of leading horse treks for us in the stunning Tien Shan mountains (and having two gorgeous children, that are now of a schooling age), they returned to Italy where they have set up a small agritourism business. With WF generally focusing on the developing world, apart from the afore mentioned horse ride we did with Dom along the Apennines in 2014 and a few truffle weekends, we have not done any trips together. But now with Covid changing everything, and Wild Frontiers now developing trips in Spain, Portugal, Greece, Iceland, Scotland, Poland and Slovakia I asked Dom to set up a walking and wine tour, off-the-beaten-track, in Italy and that’s exactly what we got.
The walking was among the best I have ever done, as we climbed high into the Apennines, that mighty ridge that forms the spine of the country, along remote trails, through canyons, across high pastures. We stayed not only in Dom and Nargiza’s lovely home, but also the magical Slowcanda on a ridge on the side of Monte Nerone. We ate like kings and sampled delicious local wine. And in Urbino and Gubbio, we experienced all the culture this most magical of countries can offer, in epic architecture, exquisite art, fascinating history and fine dining.
As much as I love the mighty Himalayas, the Andes, the Tien Shan and the Pamirs, this trip proved you don’t have to travel all the way to the other side of the world for a great outdoor experience… they are here, right on our doorstep.