SARDINIAN DONKEYS – And Superyachts!
Posted March 22, 2012, 3:27 p.m.
SARDINIAN DONKEYS – And Superyachts!
By Colin Squire
Donkeys you may ask? What do donkeys and yachts have to do with each other? Well firstly these are not just any old donkeys, these are rare Sardinian racing donkeys. Smart donkeys, not stupid asses like those to be found in other parts of Europe giving children beach rides, or those that spend their lives as companions to somebody’s ageing pet horse or as beasts of burden. No, these donkeys are fast and fearless and have been bred for racing over many generations by the inhabitants of the small villages that abound on this beautiful island. The people here are proud of these animals and the riders are village heroes, men that risk their lives as they compete to take the honours home.
Just to see these animals arrive for an event would stop you in your tracks. Not a smart modern trailer or lorry for these beasts. They will arrive, standing proud and fearless, in the back of an open top truck ready to take on all they are confronted with. The trucks are driven by the jockeys, who will partner them, bareback, in this dangerous sport, proudly wearing vibrant silks in the colours of the village from where they came.
But why are you reading about donkeys in a Superyacht magazine, I am sure you are thinking? Is the editor mad? No, it’s because the animals are not going to take part in just any old race, this is the Palio Degli Asinelli in the square of the stunning mountain village of San Pantaleo, which conveniently for us sits nestled in the mountains just 15 minutes by road from Port Cervo and the nearby bay of Cala Di Volpe. From here you can scent the clean Mediterranean air as it is brought in on the breeze from the sea, just a stones throw away.
This extraordinary event takes place at end of the first week of August when the marinas and bays of the Costa Smeralda are overflowing with yachts, as full as they ever will be at any time throughout the year. Yacht crew will spend their days working, looking after their special guests and the guests themselves will be relaxing, swimming, sunbathing, chilling and reaping the rewards for the hard work that many have had to put in over the previous 12 months. But there is always that search for something special to do, a ruin to visit, maybe a band to watch, a special restaurant, something to make this trip memorable, well I now bring you the San Pantaleo Donkey Race and Fiesta.
For me August is the month that I travel the length of the Mediterranean coast and its islands delivering my magazines to all of the yachts that I can find. This epic journey always takes me to Sardinia, the island that amusingly gave its name to the humble sardine, yes they used to shoal here in abundance. Two years ago I was invited to be a guest of the village through my good friend Renato Ezara to witness the first staging of what had been his lifelong ambition, to stage this donkey race and festival.
San Pantaleo is without doubt a hidden gem and famed amongst the locals on the island for its restaurants and old world charm. Over the past two years the Palio, held in the town square, has become an event that is enjoyed by all of the neighbouring villages that supply their own famed village champion to take part. It is also about the fascinating piazzetta (little square) of the village, which for the day is miraculously turned into a sand covered race track in every respect, where those precious donkeys are the protagonists.
But it’s not just the racing that attracts the crowds that fill the stands around the square. It is also a cultural event that is a showcase for the historic charm that has evolved on Sardinia over past centuries. It is to be seen in the parade before the main event begins as skilled flag-bearers, drummer-boys, tenors, folk bands, horsemen and locals in traditional dress entertain.
An unforgettable evening of ‘pure’ sport unfolds here, with competitive spirit and passion, enthusiasm and skill, as well as fun for all, but as will be witnessed, paramount above all is the respect for the animals that are the centrepiece. What does the champion take home with him? Simply a cup, the and the applause and cheers of the crowd. The winner will also be awarded the San Pantaleo donkey-race banner that will be displayed proudly for one year inside their home-town hall.
For those of you tempted to visit the village on this special day may I suggest that you round your evening off with a meal in one of the superb restaurants to be found here, and may I also suggest that you contact Renato early to make your booking (+39 0789 906021 or [email protected]
). If you make it I am sure I will see you there. Personally I wouldn’t miss it for the world!