Our head of Marketing Matt and his wife Amy travelled with Powder Byrne for a few days at Polo Valley in late summer to experience our new Couples Retreat weekend programme. New to riding and polo they had no idea what they were in for…
Our long weekend started early on Friday morning when we pulled up outside my in-laws to drop off our children. The tyres screeched as we raced off leaving the kids still in their pyjamas, bewildered looks on their little faces as Mummy and Daddy disappeared in the distance. We blasted on to Gatwick for our 9am flight to Malaga. Arriving in Malaga at 1pm local time we were met by the smiley and tanned Polo Valley concierge Elaine. We loaded our lightly-packed weekend bags (it was still 28 degrees in late September) into the gleaming white and purple Polo Valley pick-up track and set off for the 1 hour 30 minute transfer to Polo Valley, in the hills above Sotogrande.
Arriving through the gates at Polo Valley we were immediately struck by the size and scale of the ranch. They have over 50 ponies on site, ranging from young horses being broken in and worked on by the grooms, through to seasoned polo ponies playing fast and furious chukkas and everything in-between. The stables are immaculately clean and tidy and very pleasing on the eye. Even the hay barn was extremely well ordered with nothing out of place. First impressions were very good.
We settled into the authentically Andalucian Guesthouse and were ushered straight out on to the terrace by the wonderful cook Maria for a delicious lunch. Refreshing gazpacho followed by a traditional paella, washed down with a glass or two of local rosé. Our first afternoon was one for relaxing, so after lunch we dozed by the pool in the serene Guesthouse gardens, as the sounds of the polo farm carried on around us.
At 6pm we were cajoled into the short stroll through the stables and out to the polo field where the Polo Valley professionals and other accomplished polo playing guests were warming up for a few competitive chukkas. We settled into comfy pitch-side seats for gin & tonics made with local gin and fruit and served by our friendly host Elaine. The chukkas are extremely entertaining to watch and there is a great light-hearted atmosphere as guests, grooms, players and hosts all mingle together on the edge of the polo field.
Dinner on Friday evening was back on the al-fresco terrace of the Guesthouse for more delicious Spanish food and wine. Maria’s homemade tortilla is really something special and we’ve been dreaming about it ever since we returned home. Feeling extremely relaxed and content, an early night was on the cards, as Saturday was our big day, riding lesson in the morning and polo lesson in the afternoon.
I had never so much as patted a horse before, let alone sat on one, so I had no idea what to expect from our first lesson. My wife Amy was ever so slightly more accomplished having ridden for a few months in her teenage years. We needn’t have worried, as the Polo Valley professionals Christian and Santi were amazing from the word go. They explained everything from how to mount and dismount to the basic ‘controls’ and how to ask your horse nicely to move where you want them to go. It helps that the Polo Valley ponies are so well trained and drilled, that they know exactly what they’re doing even if you don’t. We soon built up our confidence trotting gently around the grounds and before our lesson was up, Christian and Santi had us playing a game of ‘polo tag’ which involved trying to catch each other for a tap on the helmet while maneuvering our ponies this way and that. We finished our lesson and dismounted feeling happy and confident that we were ready for our first polo lesson later in the day.
We had a few hours to relax before our afternoon lesson, so we retired to the Guesthouse for a swim, lunch and a siesta before Christian and Santi called us over to the polo field in the late afternoon. They ran through some basic rules (you have to play polo right handed - unlucky for my left handed wife) and got us to practice hitting the ball, feeling the weight of the mallet and practicing basic techniques before we mounted our horses (Snowy and Lulu) and tried for real.
After a few tentative swings and some nervous trotting we soon started to get the hang of it and within the hour I was galloping up and down the field, hitting the ball and chasing after it with a crazy grin spread wide across my face. It really was a thrilling experience and completely different to anything I’ve tried before. I can see how easy it would be to get hooked on such an exciting sport, but equally it is just as much fun to try as a one off break from the norm and a totally different experience.
On Saturday evening we watched more chukkas on the edge of the polo field, and this time we were keenly analysing every turn of a horse and swing of a mallet, fuelled by our own experience and of course the gin & tonics. For dinner we ventured to the local and very popular steak restaurant Cancha Dos for Argentinian steaks and red wine. A chance to glam up for the evening and a really wonderful meal in an atmospheric setting.
We woke on Sunday morning feeling a little sad that our adventure at Polo Valley was coming to an end, but we still had one final treat in store. We saddled up on Snowy and Lulu once again and set off with Christian and Santi for a hack in the beautiful and peaceful countryside that surrounds the Polo Valley ranch. The highlight of the hack has to be the Guadiaro river section. The horses love dipping in and out of the river and wading through the shallow (sometimes not so shallow) water. Back at the ranch we dismounted our ponies like pros and said a fond farewell as they were led away by the attentive grooms for a well earned rest.
Before we departed Polo Valley there was still time for one last meal and of course Maria had prepared a fresh and delicious lunchtime feast that ensured we snoozed all the way back to the airport as the unfazed Elaine drove us to the terminal door.
Back in the UK on Sunday evening and driving back to pick up our kids we couldn’t quite believe the experience we’d had and how much we had learned in two short days. Not only that, but the whole weekend had been made so seamless and easy by the set-up, organisation and professionalism of the Polo Valley team and not forgetting the treat of the amazing authentic Spanish food prepared by the wonderful Maria. We will definitely be heading back out to Polo Valley in the spring for another weekend retreat and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who will give me the airtime. Polo Valley is a really wonderful, relaxing, fun and exhilarating weekend all in one and a great experience to share together. See you again soon Snowy and Lulu!
Call our travel consultants on 020 8246 5300 or enquire online to book your Couples Retreat at Polo Valley.