Land and Sea-on you horse through the magical country full of culture and natur
Istria is situated in the north-west of Croatia, close to the borders of Italy and Slovenia. It is the largest green oasis in the Northern Adriatic. The coast and its surrounding islands are covered with pine woods, whilst its streams flow to the sea through deep valleys and gullies.
The Central region of Istria is known for its beautiful, lush, unspoilt and under-populated areas. It provides plenty of wilderness and greenery, and life is pleasantly laid back, with amicable locals wherever you go. Everything is warm-hearted and friendly here: nature, towns and people. Welcome to the land of history, beauty and vitality!
Riding through the interior of Istria is a special experience that every true nature and horse lover will be delighted with. The horses that you will ride are specially trained for this type of terrain. The trail takes you across open countryside, through valleys, over rolling hills, and past medieval towns, and at the end of each day, comfortable accommodations and traditional, local dishes await.
Day 1: Arrive at the airport where you will be met and transferred to the farm/ranch, or alternatively arrive by your own car. Settle into your accommodations. Once you are settled in, you will enjoy your first evening meal and be introduced to your host family and fellow riders. Schedule permitting, you may already visit the stables and look around the ranch in the afternoon/evening.
Day 2: After a traditional breakfast of fresh bread/rolls, ham, cheese and home-made preserves, you will go to the stables where a horse will be selected for you. Today is an easy riding day through open countryside, vineyards and olive groves. The first day’s riding will ensure that you are suited and happy with your mount.
The first stop, mid to late morning, will be at the small but fascinating caves of Feštinsko Kraljevstvo, which were accidentally discovered in the 1930’s underneath a vineyard, and are now open to the public. A 20-minute visit (entrance fee included) in the ‘Kingdom of Feštini’ will help show what forms the foundations of the Istrian Peninsula. A complimentary Medica (honey-flavoured grappa) will help to enhance the illusions and treasures that this underground little world has to offer. After a picnic lunch you shall continue the leisurely ride heading south. Along the way there are some amazing views of the peninsula, especially from a pilgrimage cross near village of Orihi, from where, on a clear day, the sea can be seen both east and west. Each season’s colours contribute to an ever-changing landscape. Although more and more visitors are drawn to discover the Istrian hinterland, it is still a unique pleasure to meander along the rural back roads. Late afternoon you shall arrive at a horse ranch in the village of Manjadvorci, where you shall have a well-deserved evening meal, before returning home to the riding centre
Day 3: After breakfast you shall return to the rested horses, and embark on a ride to Blaz Bay, where you shall spend some time riding/swimming in the water with the horses, have a picnic lunch and enjoy the tranquillity of this un-inhabited bay.
From the shore you shall take a ride uphill to Barban, a medieval town situated on a windy plateau and known for its traditional horse competition - Prstenac (The Ring). Here the horses will have a shower, before you continue to the overnight accommodations and dinner in a small village.
Day 4: Today you will experience new and varied landscapes as you ride eastwards into the heart of the Istrian peninsula. You will ride through the dense Cere Forest, known for its seasonal mushrooms, then through fields and villages with more and more of the peninsula opening up to you - you will be surprised by the variety of terrain, flora and fauna. At the end of the plateau, you will start a 3km descent into the Rasa Valley. You will enjoy a picnic lunch on the bank of the River Rasa, followed by a well deserved easy ride along the soft green river banks, with ample opportunities to gallop, and enjoy the fresh air in the traffic-free surroundings.
By late afternoon you will reach the family hamlet of Gologoricki Dol, nestled in a lush ravine, far from the madding crowd. This will be your resting place for the night, and this evening you shall enjoy a special meal, traditionally cooked in a ceramic pot under the glowing embers of an open fire. There is also a visit to the family wine cellar to taste home-produced wines. Day 5: After breakfast, this memorable day of riding will afford you stunning views of the sprawling Istrian countryside. This undulating lanscape is dotted with hilltop villages, vineyards and lonely churches, proudly fighting the forces of time. By lunchtime you shall reach the once-fortified town of Beram where you will have a typical Istrian lunch in the local tavern, and the opportunity to visit the local church. In the late afternoon you shall reach Rafo’s ranch, which will offer rest for your horses, and a delicious local dinner for you, including a taste of truffles, typical of this region.
This area differs completely from the entire surrounding karst region due to its wildlife and moist soil. The most common tree is the English or Brown Oak, and it is under these trees in the Motovun Forest that the rare and expensive fungus truffle is to be found. It grows underground, and trained dogs or pigs are used to sniff out the pungent speciality. Day 6: This morning you shall take our horses on a homebound trip, traversing the charming countryside, alongside ancient stone walls, the rich red soil adding to the colour and a contrast to the karst rock formations. Country roads will bring you to the village of Tinjan, from where you shall take a forest route down and up the Lim Valley, before reaching our lunch stop at the Horse Club Sokol. After a rest and picnic lunch you continue through fields and small vineyards. Riding along the slow and windy roads towards Karnevali will be a perfect time to reflect and feel at one with nature.
Day 7: On our last day you shall have a leisurely morning ride, across the former border area between the Hapsburg and Venetian Empires, to the medieval town of Svetvinc. The Grimani Castle dominates the now peaceful town, which once would have been the first defensive point on the Venetian side of the border. It has a charming church which overlooks an elegant square where many events are held, such as a competition for the most beautiful goat! The castle also attracts some of the biggest names in Croatia to come and perform in this otherwise sleepy settlement. After a coffee break, return home along forest trails to the farm for lunch.
This will be followed by an afternoon excursion to Rovinj, by car or by van. Rovinj is Istria’s most picturesque coastal town, better known as the St. Tropez of the Adriatic. Its old town has a distinct Venetian architectural influence. You will have a chance to visit the commanding church of St. Euphemia, offering marvellous views of the Rovinj archipelago and the western Istrian coastline. There will be time for exploring the town’s delightfully twisty streets, its attractive harbour, or weather permitting, having a swim in the clear Adriatic Sea. Day 8: Breakfast and departure.
The programme is based from the small, family-run farm/ranch in a small village. This is an ideal place to switch off and relax when not on horseback. The farm consists of several buildings around a courtyard, built in the traditional Istrian style (stone and red tiled roofs), and has modern amenities. There are four guestrooms, each with private bathroom facilities. Two rooms have twin beds and two rooms have double beds. All rooms were renovated in the spring of 2009, furnished in lovely colours, with solid rustic furniture and wooden floors. The bathrooms are spacious with either a large shower or a bathtub. There is central heating for the chilly mornings and evenings in early spring and autumn. Views are to the garden or the green valley at the back of the house. They are all non-smoking rooms. The rooms are in a separate building to the main house and the building has been arranged into a u-shape around a small courtyard. On one side of the building there is a common room for guests with a kitchen, living/dining room and an open fire, for use in cooler temperatures. Beside the building is a covered patio with barbecue where meals can be enjoyed outdoors. There is ample parking if guests arrive by car.
The food and wine offered is traditional and locally produced to leave a lasting impression of the local countryside. All food served is freshly made using local ingredients – no frozen supplies! Many products are grown on the farm, or supplied by the neighbours. Home-reared chickens provide fresh eggs and there is a myriad of Istrian traditional dishes for guests to taste. Although Istrians are known as big meat eaters, vegetarians are also catered for.
The local food is wholesome and often consists of home-made thick soups (based on a variety of beans, herbs and potatoes), thin soups, meat stews (wild boar, beef, venison, rabbit, chicken) served with local varieties of pasta. Barbecues are also very popular and will be offered at least once a week. Another dish that guests will have the opportunity to taste consists of potatoes and meat cooked in a ‘cripnja’ – a specialty that is common to other parts of Croatia, but with slight variations. A large tray with food is placed in the fireplace, covered with an iron-cast lid, and then submerged under the hot embers. Food then cooks in its own juices and is far superior to any roast prepared in a regular oven.
There is also the option of wild game. For those that have interest in game/bird hunting, excursions can be arranged to experience catching your own evening meal. This is dependant on the hunting season.
Of course, like the rest of Croatian coastline, locally made prsut (prosciutto) and cheese are very common. Istrian prsut has special international recognition and is now a regional trademark.
Local drinks include red and white wine, and a variety of strong drinks: grappa, walnut brandy, biska (mistletoe liquor), etc. (Subject to changes)