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Enjoy the Holidays by Horseback

The Wine Carriage

We may not have a white Christmas in Sonoma, but that doesn’t mean we can’t fantasize about horse drawn carriages and sleigh bells. Or, simply enough, horses (we can hum the sleigh bell song in our heads if need be).

Here are some horse-themed experiences, to fit budgets ranging from less than $200 to nearly $2,000. However ho-ho-ho hopeful you’re feeling for the holidays, either would make a lovely excursion with your special someone. And read on – there’s even a way to get into the holiday horse spirit, in a most heartwarming way, for just $1.

Le Mars lobby

Hotel Les Mars

Hotel Les Mars is a member of the exclusive Relais & Chateaux collection. As such, this exquisite jewel in downtown Healdsburg has the highest standards to meet. Chalk Hill Vineyards Estate and Winery is a premier winery in the mountains of Healdsburg, and internationally recognized for its highly acclaimed wines. Put the two together, and you’ve got a connoisseurs’ dream with the new “Ultimate Wine Country Experience,” and “The Equine Adventure.” Both packages blend a wine country retreat with wine tasting, fine dining and a bit of high-end horsey fun.

Ultimate Wine Country Experience: Unpack your bags for a two-night stay at Les Mars. Then prepare for an exclusive 2-1/2 hour culinary experience at Chalk Hill Estate featuring a guided tour of the estate’s organic gardens, its vineyards, and the breathtaking Estate Pavilion conservatory that overlooks the Olympic-sized dressage riding arena and Alaskan golden cedar-crafted equestrian center. There, you’ll enjoy a sit-down wine tasting paired with imaginative small plates prepared by the winery’s chef Didier Ageorges. And there’s more:

• Luxurious accommodations for two nights in a lavish, European-chic guest room with fireplace
• French continental breakfast for two in your room each morning
• Afternoon wine and cheese reception
• Two 60-minute spa treatments in the privacy of your guest room
• Guided Culinary Tour of Chalk Hill Estate Vineyards & Winery
• Wine tasting paired with small plates
• Chalk Hill Estate signature gift (one per room booking)
Package rates start at $1525 weekdays and $1725 on weekends (excluding service fee and taxes), and the offer is available through December 2011.

The Equine Adventure: Take a peek into the pleasures of world-class winemaking while trail riding across the spectacular 1,400 acre Chalk Hill Estate. One-hour rides are guided by Wine Country Trail Rides through the vineyards and nature preserve. Next, it’s a private tasting of Chalk Hill Estate wines and specialty wines paired with artisan cheeses from local purveyors in the hidden wine cellar of Estate proprietor Bill Foley. There’s more:

• Luxurious accommodations for two nights in a lavish, European-chic guest room with fireplace
• French continental breakfast for two in your room each morning
• Afternoon wine and cheese reception
• Two 60-minute spa treatments in the privacy of your guest room
• Guided Horseback Tour of Chalk Hill Estate Vineyards & Winery
• Tour of Bill Foley’s private wine cellar
• Wine tasting paired with artisan cheeses

Package rates start at $1425 weekdays and $1735 on weekends (excluding service fee and taxes), and the offer is available through December 2011.

Details: Hotel Les Mars, 27 North St., Healdsburg, 707-433-4211, hotellesmars.com. Chalk Hill Winery, 10300 Chalk Hill Rd., Healdsburg, 707-838-4306, chalkhill.com.

The Wine Carriage

This stylish alternative to Wine Country travel offers an up-close-and-personal view of Healdsburg’s gorgeous vineyards, in the most open-air setting imaginable. Lucky riders journey through the vines and on private back-road lanes in a carriage pulled by two magnificent draft horses, stopping at award-winning wineries for premium tastings and extras like wine cave tours.

Along the way, their guide offers an insider's view of the history of Alexander Valley, the life cycle of the vines and the winemaking process, while guests indulge in a gourmet lunch of fresh baguettes, herbed meats, imported and local cheeses, organic strawberries and wine-filled chocolate truffles.

The wine cave tour with barrel tasting begins at 11 a.m. in the Alexander Valley Vineyards tasting room, continuing on to beautiful properties such as Hanna Winery and Soda Rock Winery, and returning around 3:30 p.m.

$145 includes lunch and all tasting fees.

Details: The Wine Carriage, 707-849-8989, thewinecarriage.com.

A Christmas Horse for Us All

Joe and Cathy Shelton run TBfriends, a non-profit thoroughbred rescue ranch in Woodland, near Sacramento. They rescue racehorses which have been abandoned or neglected, often saving them from death at rendering facilities in Mexico or Canada. Each year, they save hundreds of horses, placing them in loving homes.

Yet not everyone can house or afford a thoroughbred. So this year, the Sheltons have started a “Christmas Horse” program. The community is banding together to rescue one extra horse from a feedlot slaughter yard. For $1, anyone can be part owner of the horse, and receive updates on his progress. Since the program started in October, there are now 822 owners of Magic, a name determined by democratic vote of the supporters so far.

Joe just received this letter from Ami, age 11, in Tokyo, Japan. Ami writes: “Here is my American dollar. My dad says this is a hoax. I hope it's real. Owning part of a rescued thoroughbred is a dream for me.”

It is indeed very, very real. I have adopted a horse from Joe and can vouch for it. To help Magic come home, send $1 to Joe Shelton at 15891 County Road 92C, Woodland, Ca. 95695 (hint, a donation make a wonderful holiday gift for anyone!). And follow Joe’s blog at tbfriends.com to learn more about Magic, plus his hundreds of friends in Northern California.

Details: TBfriends, tbfriends.com.

Tip: How do you get to your holiday horse experience? How about in Green style? Pure Luxury Transportation is a member of Green Ride Global™, certifying its executive sedans, SUVS, limos and luxury limousine buses as earth friendly.

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