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Cowboys and Andalucia may not seem a perfect fit. But as I saddle up in the Sierra Norte de Sevilla, a protected wilderness of rolling green hills, I start to feel like one of the celebrated bandits who once roamed the region.

Inland Andalucia is far removed from the Costa del Sol, with dozens of immense mountain ranges running through its eight provinces. With some 34 ,000 square miles of countryside (making it Spain’s second biggest region), it has many highlights, including Jaen’s Cazorla mountains, Granada’s Sierra Nevada and Malaga’s Serrania de Ronda.

But the 280-mile-long Sierra Morena that cuts through four provinces from Huelva to Jaen takes some beating. A lost pocket of rural Europe, dozens of Golden and Imperial eagles patrol its skies, while growing numbers of wolves and Iberian lynxes — the world’s rarest wildcat — stalk its woodland.

Saddle up: George Scott Rides' three and five-day wilderness escapes (pictured, file photo) promise rides ‘through spiky forests, as well as open meadows thickly clotted with wildflowers, before sleeping under the stars’

Saddle up: George Scott Rides’ three and five-day wilderness escapes (pictured, file photo) promise rides ‘through spiky forests, as well as open meadows thickly clotted with wildflowers, before sleeping under the stars’

Jon's odyssey takes him into the 280-mile-long Sierra Morena, a 'lost pocket of rural Europe'. Pictured is the region's Cascada de la Cimbarra waterfall

Jon’s odyssey takes him into the 280-mile-long Sierra Morena, a ‘lost pocket of rural Europe’. Pictured is the region’s Cascada de la Cimbarra waterfall

The Sierra Morena (or ‘Dark Range’) most likely got its name from its heavy carpet of oaks and chestnuts as well as its distinctive black rocks… although some say the name came from the region’s fabled bandits.

My adventure into these dark hills begins at the front gate of Trasierra, a historic 3,000-acre olive estate, in Cazalla de la Sierra, which has catered for everyone from royalty to supermodels over recent years.

My guide, George Scott, is the son of the owner and his three and five-day wilderness escapes promise rides ‘through spiky forests, as well as open meadows thickly clotted with wildflowers, before sleeping under the stars’.

While I’m anything but a fan of camping, George says I need not worry. ‘These are beautiful Rajasthani tents, with proper beds, cotton sheets and more,’ he promises.

They need to be, I tell him, having got used to luxuriating at his beautiful dozen-room pile, with its high white walls, vaulted ceilings and patchwork of pantile roofs.

'The Sierra Morena (or ‘Dark Range’) most likely got its name from its heavy carpet of oaks and chestnuts as well as its distinctive black rocks,' writes Jon. Pictured above is a view of the hills in the region

‘The Sierra Morena (or ‘Dark Range’) most likely got its name from its heavy carpet of oaks and chestnuts as well as its distinctive black rocks,’ writes Jon. Pictured above is a view of the hills in the region

With its all-pervading smell of jasmine and orange blossom, and hundreds of climbing roses it is not hard to imagine George’s aunt, the celebrated actress Dame Harriet Walter, walking around inspecting the gardens after her role as Winston Churchill’s wife, Clementine, in The Crown.

Just as I’m settling into a third cafe con leche, George’s mum, Charlotte — the Clementine of this Xanadu — suddenly appears with some gaiters for me. ‘Your steed awaits’ she trills rather joyfully.

It’s immediately apparent that this is not your usual holiday hack. For starters, George’s horses, a mixture of Spanish Arabian and Anglo-Arabian, are as responsive as a race car and itching for the off.

According to Jon, inland Andalucia has dozens of immense mountain ranges running through its eight provinces - such as Granada’s Sierra Nevada (pictured)

According to Jon, inland Andalucia has dozens of immense mountain ranges running through its eight provinces – such as Granada’s Sierra Nevada (pictured) 

An Iberian lynx — the world’s rarest wildcat — stalks the woodland of the Sierra Morena

One of the 'beautiful Rajasthani tents' on the George Scott Rides wilderness escape, which features 'proper beds, cotton sheets and more'

LEFT: An Iberian lynx — the world’s rarest wildcat — stalks the woodland of the Sierra Morena. RIGHT: One of the ‘beautiful Rajasthani tents’ on the George Scott Rides wilderness escape, which features ‘proper beds, cotton sheets and more’

Born into this equestrian world and schooled locally, he knows the region well and has long battled to keep open its ancient drovers paths, as well as cut many deals with fellow landowners to be able to pass through their land.

We find ourselves on winding dirt tracks through quiet and rolling woodland that’s as wild and beautiful as anywhere I’ve been in Europe.

It is incredibly peaceful, and I am soon lost in my thoughts as the hours drift by. ‘Rather like reading a book’, as George poetically describes it.

But the rides are certainly not predictable, he insists, citing a ‘sudden flight of a partridge or the slither of a snake’, so I cannot completely switch off.

And, of course, my moment comes when I’m suddenly confronted by a pair of foals that are running loose and, somewhat bizarrely, trying to give my horse a nip from behind.

Rearing up, my mount spins around and almost knocks me into a tree, leading to a ten-minute dismount as I gather my thoughts and George sends the delinquents packing with a couple of well-aimed pine cones.

Thankfully we are just a few minutes away from lunch and turn a corner to find a ruin transformed into the most welcoming site on a hot Spanish day: a shady picnic table loaded up with organic goodies from the local region.

This is stirrup cup extraordinaire, as a member of Trasierra’s team bounds over to greet us with a choice of ice cold fino, a local sparkling wine or a chilled Alhambra lager.

Jon begins and ends his trip at Trasierra, a historic 3,000-acre olive estate in the town of Cazalla de la Sierra (pictured above)

Jon begins and ends his trip at Trasierra, a historic 3,000-acre olive estate in the town of Cazalla de la Sierra (pictured above)

TRAVEL FACTS

Three-day trips with George Scott Rides, including accommodation and horses, from £1,000 (georgescottrides.com). Rooms at Trasierra (trasierra.com) from £208 per night. Ryanair (ryanair.com) London Stansted to Seville from £26 return.

To eat, there is a warm Spanish tortilla, fresh asparagus and two types of salad. A plate of cold cuts and cheeses bring up the rear.

The afternoon’s ride is merely a hop, no more than an hour, to the remarkable tented camp which sits in a shady glade surrounded by oak woodland.

The tents are equipped with crisp sheets, hot water bottles, beautiful dressing tables with mirrors and sinks, handmade soaps, fresh cologne and tea and coffee delivered every morning.

In addition, there’s a fully stocked bar and a selection of board games.

That night, after the obligatory campfire, buckets of vino and wonderful jamon Iberico, I sit outside looking at the stars and listening to nightingales.

I can get the hang of this, I think, and am rather disappointed to be heading back to Trasierra terra firma.

The final night at the ranch turns into an amazing feast — an outdoor barbecue by Gioconda, a true culinary star, who learned how to ‘fire cook’ in Argentina and helped to launch the Slow Food Movement in Spain.

The table is so perfectly set with flowers and linen, it could be a North London dinner party . . . apart from the warm spring temperature and the occasional whinny from a horse somewhere off in the dark. 

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Top of my holiday wishlist is another trip to Disney World, for I have discovered my happy place – and inner Minnie. Having never visited the Orlando resort as a child, I’ve always felt I’d missed out, so when I was invited to give a lecture on the Royal Family in Miami, it seemed the perfect opportunity to make a detour with my husband Chris and children Matilda, nine, and George, four.

As we pulled up at Disney Yacht and Beach Club Resort, we let out a collective gasp. The sheer size of the place is mind-boggling. ‘I can’t believe we are in Disney World!’ Matilda squealed. Neither could I.

At check-in we were given Mickey Mouse wristbands which give access to all the parks and contain passes that let us skip ride queues.

Fantasy life: You’ll find Mickey and Minnie and all their friends at Disney World’s four parks

Fantasy life: You’ll find Mickey and Minnie and all their friends at Disney World’s four parks

Too excited to unpack, we grabbed a day-bag stuffed with essentials: sunscreen, plenty of water, fold-away umbrella (for standing in long queues in the heat) and the sugar-laden Mickey Mouse cupcakes left in our room.

As we headed to Epcot, complete with an Eiffel Tower and a vast lake, I marvelled at the scale of the park. Disney World isn’t just America’s top tourist destination, it’s a county in its own right, complete with a municipal district.

The sophisticated transport infrastructure makes getting around easy. The new cable-cars afford bird’s-eye views, boat rides make for a scenic experience while the monorail and Walt Disney World Bus Service whisk you quickly between the parks.

Proudly sporting our newly purchased Mickey and Minnie ears (a must!), we strolled around the World Showcase, stopping at England with a quaint pub, lipstick-red post boxes and beautifully manicured gardens where we chanced upon Mary Poppins, much to Matilda and George’s delight.

Fast track: Katie and her husband get to try out the Slinky Dog rollercoaster, pictured above

Fast track: Katie and her husband get to try out the Slinky Dog rollercoaster, pictured above 

Super nanny: Katie’s children meet Mary Poppins in the 'England' corner of the resort's World Showcase

Super nanny: Katie’s children meet Mary Poppins in the ‘England’ corner of the resort’s World Showcase 

It was a hop and a skip across to Norway, where we sailed through the fantastical world of Frozen on a Viking ship. With music from the film and amazing 3D technology that makes the models marvellously realistic, I loved the ride so much that we did it three times and even got to meet Elsa and Anna.

With George being so young, we were limited at Epcot, which has some of the more exhilarating rides. However, Spaceship Earth, located in a giant golfball-like dome that lights up at night, was suitable for all ages, while a journey from the Stone Age through to the Digital Age on slightly rickety trains was educational and fun.

The kids also loved The Seas With Nemo And Friends – a ride on a ‘clamobile’ which spins and turns as the underwater world of Finding Nemo whooshes past.

My highlight was Soarin’ Around The World – a virtual-reality hang-gliding ride. Matilda, who just met the height restriction, bagged us first-row seats, which meant we had a thrilling view as we flew over an African savanna alongside a herd of elephants.

Then we towered over the Taj Mahal before heading to the North Pole, where an icy blast of air caught us by surprise and the delight of seeing a very realistic polar bear and her cub jump into the sea actually brought a tear to my eye.

Epcot stages the most incredible nightly fireworks display over the lake that is set to music and a state-of-the-art light show.

The kids were exhausted and fell asleep on the train back to the hotel, but I stayed up plotting the next day’s itinerary.

We wanted to squeeze all four parks into just three days, which is ambitious but just about possible. There is simply so much to see and do that you probably really need at least five days here, so planning is essential. And it’s worth staying at a Disney hotel, as guests can enjoy crowd-free ‘magic hours’ in the morning before the parks open to the public.

According to Katie, there's no need to carry cash at Disney World. She says: 'Just charge everything to your Disney account, which is linked to your Mickey Mouse wristband'

According to Katie, there’s no need to carry cash at Disney World. She says: ‘Just charge everything to your Disney account, which is linked to your Mickey Mouse wristband’

The Disney Genie Service is also a brilliant way of navigating and checking waiting times for rides. It can get you passes to bypass queues, reserve dining (essential if you want waiter service) and pre-order food to cut waiting times.

There’s no need to carry cash: just charge everything to your Disney account, which is linked to your Mickey Mouse wristband – the one piece of kit you don’t want to lose.

If you can stretch to paying for a VIP tour guide, rates range from £315 to £630 per hour, depending on the season, with a minimum booking of seven hours and a maximum of ten guests per tour.

'We dedicated the whole of our last day to exploring the Magic Kingdom and its four lands: Frontierland, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland and Adventureland,' says Katie. Pictured is the resort's Cinderella castle, which is the gateway to Fantasyland

‘We dedicated the whole of our last day to exploring the Magic Kingdom and its four lands: Frontierland, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland and Adventureland,’ says Katie. Pictured is the resort’s Cinderella castle, which is the gateway to Fantasyland 

You enjoy the luxury of being chauffeured around the parks in SUVs, and from snacks on arrival to wet wipes for sticky hands, the service is five-star.

Our charming guide Mark knew every nook and cranny, and his shortcuts as we tackled Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom on day two meant we got around at lightning speed. He also had a pass that meant we never had to queue more than ten minutes for even the most popular rides.

The children were too small for some of them, but Mark was happy to keep them entertained so my husband and I could experience the Tower Of Terror (a sheer drop in the dark – never again) and the Slinky Dog rollercoaster.

Minnie adventure: A fireworks show at Walt Disney World Resort. 'The whole experience was a sensory overload,' says Katie

Minnie adventure: A fireworks show at Walt Disney World Resort. ‘The whole experience was a sensory overload,’ says Katie 

TRAVEL FACTS 

Katie Nicholl was a guest of Disney. Virgin Atlantic Holidays offers seven nights at Walt Disney World from £5,284 for a family of four, excluding flights, departing on August 27. Includes Disney Magic Tickets with Disney Genie+ service (virginholidays.co.uk).

The shows at Hollywood Studios are brilliantly produced – we enjoyed Beauty And The Beast and the Little Mermaid – and they provide some much needed time out from the sun and crowds.

We then headed to Animal Kingdom, home to ‘Africa’ and ‘Asia’ and the incredible World Of Avatar, which includes a spectacular ride down the film’s Na’vi river. The children loved riding in a jeep around the park, where we got to see hippos, lions, crocodiles and giraffes.

We dedicated the whole of our last day to exploring the Magic Kingdom and its four lands: Frontierland, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland and Adventureland.

Matilda was desperate to visit the castle so we made a reservation for lunch with Cinderella and the other Disney princesses.

Watching the children’s faces as they met the stars of movies they love was wonderful, and when I discovered Disney champagne I was in second heaven!

The whole experience was a sensory overload with parades, music, fireworks like I’ve never seen and magical rides.

After a pretty tough year and a half, what I loved most about Disney was the escapism. I forgot about the real world and simply revelled in being a kid all over again.

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