Holly Anthony and Sarah Ritchie, Far and Ride.
In February 2011, Holly and Sarah from Far and Ride took three clients to Kupres in Bosnia & Herzegovina for a week of horse riding and skiing. This is the ultimate budget holiday and although they don’t have the facilities and equipment of many of our destinations, Mate, Marko and their team certainly weren’t lacking in hospitality or fantastic riding countryside. A week of horse riding and skiing costs approximately £550 per person for full board accommodation, airport transfers and all activities. Pure riding holidays here are available from less than £400 per person, value for money that you won’t find anywhere else. Here’s what the Far and Ride girls had to say about their Bosnian adventure…
“When Far and Ride first received an email from Mate in 2010, he wrote “my English is not so good, but my offer is fantastic!”. In fact, his offer was so good that at first we thought he must have made a mistake. As we learnt more about these riding packages, it became clear to us that this had the potential to be an excellent budget option for riders looking for maximum adventure with minimum impact on their bank accounts. We sent a good Croatian friend to check it out for us and she was delighted with the people and the riding, as well as the warm welcome she received. Our first clients were so happy with their visit that they’ve already been back there and formed a great friendship with Mate and his business partner Marko.
We decided that we would travel there to test not only the riding but also the skiing tuition that they offer at the nearby ski resort. I had never skied before whereas Sarah had quite a bit of experience. Accompanied by three lovely clients, we set off not knowing quite what to expect but wanting to learn more about this destination so that we could sell it honestly to our clients.
We flew out on a Saturday with Croatia Airlines from London to Zagreb and then a connection to Split. The connection times were fairly tight but it was simple to navigate. There are plenty of direct flights available in the peak months and Mate or Marko will collect you from Split, Sarajevo or Zadar, all of which can be reached by budget airlines. We stayed in the rustic but cosy and comfortable log cabin but single guests or groups can also be accommodated in Mate’s house back in town, or in a separate apartment above his garage. The ground floor of his home is a bar run by Zoran, Mate’s brother, which was a lovely spot to enjoy a hot chocolate or mulled wine after skiing.
Next door to the accommodation cabin is a second cabin which has a bar stocked with a variety of drinks and a large cooking grill, somewhat like an indoor barbecue and an excellent focal point for our evening socialising. We helped ourselves to drinks, keeping a tally, and at the end of our stay we paid just one Euro per drink. There was local beer, vodka and all sorts of dangerous homemade schnapps to test, as well as usual mixers like coke and juice. Your preferred beverages can be bought in for you with prior notice. The cooking area produced some delicious food from grilled fresh trout to tasty sausages or steaks, always accompanied by bread and salad. Other meals included flavoursome goulash, ‘Kupres Pie’ (a secret recipe!) or a local recipe of minced meat wrapped in cabbage leaves. A particular highlight were Nada’s apple rolls of which I think we all ate at least three. Meals here are generally heavy on meat, potatoes and bread, though special dietary requirements can usually be catered for. It is also worth noting that many people here smoke inside the bars, it’s a very relaxed and sociable atmosphere.
The main cabin is in sight of the stables which are basic by English standards but certainly adequate – the horses and ponies all had automatic drinkers, a constant supply of hay and were cleaned out each day. Winter turnout is extremely limited as they have no fixed paddocks, usually depending on electric fencing (which isn’t suitable in the snow and cold winter temperatures but great the rest of the year), though some of the youngsters do roam free around the area in the daytime. The hay is homegrown, as are the oats which supplement the ponies’ diets. As we were to find out, the riding here is not for the faint-hearted. Limited winter turnout and the fact that many of the ponies are quite young means that some of them can be a challenging ride, though steady options like Rubi, Vidra and Grizli are available for the less experienced rider or those who are more nervous or just looking for a relaxing ride. In the warmer months, riding is more regular and there is plenty of turnout available, resulting in less excitable (but still fun!) mounts. As we expected, Bosnian standards are rather different to those in England. The horses and ponies are not well groomed and tack is very basic (as is the riding style!) but they certainly love their ponies and take great pride in them. They were in good health with trimmed hooves (they do not need to be shod most of the time), bright eyes and coats, though of course they were rather fluffy due to the cold weather! Riding equipment is difficult to source there but we are working to help them improve this so that it doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the wonderful riding here.
The riding here is based around Mate’s motto – “just enjoy”. There are no particular rules and although safe, they are very easygoing. This certainly isn’t nose to tail trail riding but it can be catered to the guests’ needs, rides being led by Mate or Marko who navigate the countryside. In general, the pace is fast with plenty of good gallops across the beautiful open expanses of countryside which have hardly any fences. The majority of the land is quite flat with streams winding through it, though there are hill climbs and lovely places to visit. As we went during a cold time of year we were more limited in our riding but we enjoyed all paces, sometimes cantering in the snow, and could see wolf prints in the snow beside us as well as termite nests destroyed by bears. We would not recommend this destination for novices in general, though there are quieter options to suit a novice rider, as the majority of mounts do require a confident rider. Confidence will get you further here than technical skill as these are basic and forward-going trail horses, not those which have been used in a school environment. Most are small Bosnian types or Bosnian Arab crosses but they are able to carry adult riders with ease, Bosnian ponies being extremely sturdy. They all had nice natures and in the case of those like Hamdani and Max, who did have their quirks about them, we were told beforehand. Overall the riding was fun and adventurous, unlike anything any of us had done before, and it was very refreshing. It made coming home to tuition and roadwork a real hardship!
The skiing was great fun and Mate offered excellent tuition. Experienced skiers may not find the slopes here so adventurous but for newcomers or lower level skiers it was excellent value for money and a superb experience. Mate has built ‘three person skis’ – he goes on the back, his ski instructor friend goes at the front and the person in the middle is a passenger. As far as we know, there is nowhere else that you can do this! For those who are brave enough, it is the most fabulous experience and they take great care of you.
The nature of this destination makes it ideal for the easy-going rider who is confident, adventurous and wants to explore this beautiful area on a fun horse without limitations. In combination with skiing it’s an excellent winter holiday but it’s an equally beautiful choice in the warmer months when the flowers are out and you can enjoy the expanses of countryside at their most green.”
“This was a truly amazing week and the hospitality was second to none, with riding suited to the bold and adventurous rider. For anyone seeking a week of adventure, amazing value for money, and breathtaking scenery – this is the holiday for you!
My week didn’t start as planned with my suitcase not turning up at Split Airport! The staff at the airport were very helpful and quickly located my case, which had not left Heathrow, but it was sent to me the very next day. All the ladies were so kind as to lend me anything I needed until then (for which I am very grateful!). The journey to Kupres was extremely simple, with a connecting flight from Zagreb to Split as it was not peak season. The flights were both very short and flew by and upon arrival at Split, we were greeted by Mate and his business partner Marko. We travelled in two cars across the border from Croatia into Bosnia, the journey taking little over two hours. The drive was scenic to say the least, and I found myself becoming even more excited about the week to come. I would be lying if I said I had not been questioned about my reasons for visiting such an unusual destination but the completely unspoilt countryside is stunning. Upon arrival at the farm we were shown around and introduced to family and friends of Mate and provided with welcoming drinks. The communal cabin is amazing, we all wanted one of our own! We were told that the guys built the cabins themselves, which left us pretty impressed. They have a real traditional, rustic feel but with all the modern day necessities required. I guess the best way to describe both the communal cabin and our cabin next door would be “extremely cosy and homely”.
Our accommodation was in the main cabin next door, which consisted of two double bedrooms, a shower room, a small kitchen area, a single bed in the upstairs gallery and a double sofa bed in the living room. I think the favourite feature for all of us was the log fire, which added to the traditional feel of the place. After settling in we headed back to the cabin next door for a delicious dinner, mostly consisting of meat! This suited me down to the ground and there is certainly no shortage of food here. Mate and Marko had even made sure to provide special bread at every meal for a client who suffers from a yeast allergy. It’s a real family effort at the Farm with Marko’s mother forever providing fresh bread, and Mate’s wife and son always on hand to help and get involved with the cooking and hosting.
After a good night’s sleep and a plentiful breakfast (this consisted daily of bread, cheese, ham, jams, honey, tea, coffee and juice) it was time to hit the slopes. The ski resort is very close to the farm but we made a brief stop at Mate’s house to get fitted for boots and skis. Mate certainly has a great selection of ski gear to fit all guests in his garage. Once we arrived at the resort, Mate took the ladies who had not skied before to a smaller slope so he could teach them, and left his son Marko (who became known as ‘little Marko’ to avoid confusion with myself and Ellie, both having skied previously. Ellie and I headed onto the slopes with little Marco and he was brilliant at taking care of us whilst we got back into the swing of things. We all had a great time skiing and the weather was perfect for it. We were pretty hungry after a mornings skiing so we headed back to the farm, after another brief stop at the bar in Mate’s house. Lunch was served in the cabin at the farm and often consisted of soup, followed by pork, potatoes and salad.
Time to meet the horses in the afternoon. We wandered down to the stables and were introduced to the horses, who all looked happy and well cared for. It’s obvious how much they value their horses. We were appropriately matched to horses according to our riding abilities and preferences and we were off on our first ride. The horses were all lively and eager to get going, however there are a few quieter horses for the less experienced riders, or those preferring a quieter mount. I have to admit I was completely taken aback by the amount of open space for riding, and the horses are so surefooted. We were given the choice of how long we wanted to ride for, and the ride was of a pretty fast pace, we enjoyed it thoroughly. After riding we were served another fabulous dinner in the cabin.
The days following consisting of a combination of skiing, riding and lots of food! On our third day we went on a longer ride, stopping on a hillside, where we were met by Marko and Lepi for a lunch and rest stop. On another occasion, we spent the afternoon in search of wild horses but unfortunately we did not find them this time. It was still a lovely drive and on the way home we had a great time doing some off-roading on the hills. There is never a shortage of activities here including paragliding, motocross and archery. The best thing about this holiday is the flexibility, we were always free to choose what we did, how long we rode for and pretty much planned our own itinerary. On the last riding day, Mate brought out the stallions for anyone wishing to have a ride in the round pen, an offer which was soon taken up by several of our group.
I would highly recommend this holiday to anyone wanting a value for money, extremely fun trip. I have never felt so welcomed and been treated so well in such a beautiful environment. I would certainly return without a shadow of a doubt and I can only imagine how scenic it must be in spring. Mate and Marko are truly fabulous hosts, who clearly enjoy having visitors and exchanging stories from various cultures.”
Read more about the ride here: Kupres Farm, Bosnia and Herzegovina.