Magic of Istria, Croatia, Escorted Trail, May 2010
Emma Thompson, Far and Ride
The trip began with a good flight from London Stansted to Pula and we were greeted by glorious sunshine. Petar (the owner of the horses and organiser of this ride) transferred us to the ranch and it felt good to be back in such a beautiful country after my last visit in November. After some time to relax, dinner began with a traditional home-made soup, followed by pasta with a tasty chicken sauce. Dessert was a bowl of mini doughnut pieces covered in sugar, we all looked at the bowl and said “we will never eat all of those.” How wrong we were! We drank locally produced wine and mistletoe liqueur whilst getting to know each other. Then it was time for bed so we would be ready to meet our horses in the morning.
Breakfast, served at 8.30, consisted of coffee and tea (we brought tea bags over!), bread, butter, home-made jam, salami, cheeses and ham. Some of us walked with Petar to collect the horses whilst the others went in the car. I was introduced to Michelle – a 6yr old Appaloosa mare of around 16hh. My first impressions were that she seemed spirited and a little insecure. The other horses were Vita (4yr old coloured mare, solid type), Sharon (10yr old Appaloosa, 16hh), Valentino (Petar’s horse, 15.2hh and 20 yrs old!), Victoria (15.3hh, 15yr old bay mare) and Fulia (16.2hh warmblood type, chestnut, gentle giant!). Sue and I lunged our younger horses (Vita and Michelle) and although Vita did not want to comply to start with, she soon learned to trust Sue. Michelle had nice paces and listened well.
We mounted and learned that the horses were forward going and ready for the journey ahead. After the first few trots the horses began to settle as we trekked through paths, meadows and stony tracks. The lush green countryside was home to wild orchids. We stopped at the caves of Feštinsko kraljevstvo and this was followed by a tipple of sweet honey schnapps. After the caves we enjoyed our first canter uphill where I discovered that Michelle had a lovely balanced canter that I could control.
We were unfortunate with the weather as the rain fell but this made our lunch stop very welcome! We were served hot drinks before plenty of thick, hot soup with bread. This was a traditional meaty soup with beans and noodles which set us up for the ride home as the rain began to ease. After the ride back and another delicious dinner, the evening was spent playing cards and drinking the local wine in front of the open fire.
Our itinerary changed slightly due to the weather and Tuesday’s visit to Brijuni was swapped for Monday. We drove to Fažana and took the 15 minute boat trip over to the island. The tour was around 4 hours long and consisted of a ‘train’ ride of the island, including a safari, and some time learning about the island’s history with visits to a small church and museum. The afternoon was spent in Rovinj where the sun shined and we enjoyed a spot of shopping, looked at the market and admired the views around the coastline. Once again we enjoyed a great meal before bed.
The following day’s riding took us to Dvigad, the ghost town, where we started to explore more of the countryside and the views it has to offer. This was accompanied by a picnic lunch in a small cave and more delicious food in the evening which included a fabulous wild asparagus and potato soup and then strawberries and ice cream for dessert.
I found that the best days for riding were experienced at Gologoricki Dol, and during the journey there, when the views were simply stunning. The pace here is also faster as there is more ground to cover and the scenery is different to that of the first few days – more vast open countryside, mountains and lush meadows with meandering streams and rivers. I also got a chance to ride Petar’s horse Valentino for a couple of days where I enjoyed some bouncy canters and fast gallops! Meals at the agroturismo were delicious with lots of wine available from their own cellar. This is a warm and friendly family business which they take much pride in and therefore you and your horse and very well cared for.
I recommend this trail for riders that are fairly fit (you will be expected to walk up and down steep terrain with your horse) of intermediate standard and above. It is a truly beautiful part of Europe. Petar was attentive but does expect his guests to be able to tack up, ride his horses well and to be able to mount unaided most of the time (he will help if needed). This trail also allows you to mix riding with some general tourism of the coastal towns and/or on Brijuni Island. The people you meet are friendly and welcoming and this includes the older generations that cannot speak English but who will still communicate with you in some way. This is a holiday with lasting memories of beautiful sights, great riding and new-found friends.
Read more about the ride here: Magic of Istria, Croatia.