Croatia has a very diverse landscape, from its fabled coast, rugged mountain terrain and flat, open Slavonian plains. Each area paints the natural beauty of the country in a different light, and you can explore them on horseback. If you are looking for a true off-the-beaten-path adventure, you have come to the right place.
The rich heritage of horse breeding in Croatia spans centuries. The famous Lipizzaner stud farm in Đakovo was founded in 1506, and its elegant horses impressed Queen Elizabeth II at the opening of the Olympic Games in 1972 so much that she came to inspect them personally in Đakovo soon after.
Croatia’s most famous horse riding event, that is held each August, is the Sinjska Alka, the last remaining knights’ tournament in Europe. Taking place each year to commemorate the victory over Ottomans during the Siege of Sinj in 1715, the Alka is one of the most important cultural events in the Croatian calendar. The magnificent horsemen (Alkari) in full centuries-old regalia riding their perfectly groomed galloping horses down the race track and holding a raised lance aimed at a small metal ring (alka) hanging above them is quite a spectacle.
Fortunately, you do not have to be royalty upholding an ancient tradition to explore Croatia on horseback. With more and more tourists looking to discover Croatia beyond its beaches and main cities, horseback riding, and adventure tourism in general, is on the rise.
There are a growing number of ranches in Croatia, which offer accommodation and horse riding, as well as tours which take the slow road to major attractions, stopping at small villages and farms along the way, which make those authentic memories that tourists with less time always miss.
Among these is the Plitvice Trail, a multi-day ride originating in Split and taking in the woods, fields and mountains surrounding the famous Plitvice Lakes National Park. Having cantered at leisure and marvelled at the magic of the lakes, ride on to a lake and swim with your horses, before heading on to the mountain peak, at 1,613 metres high, to admire glorious Croatia and its magnificent vistas. There are also several ranches within easy reach of the lakes, offering easy access to the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Alka may have made Sinj a symbol of horse riding, but inland Dalmatia is also one of the centres of the horse riding tourism. The nature is divine, and there are established tours along the mighty Cetina River and Peruca Lake, taking in Roman and Napoleonic roads, forgotten cattle trails and abandoned Dalmatian villages. And the not-so-abandoned ones. There is a chance to meet friendly locals along the way, enjoy a glass or rakija and other local produce. More than 2,000 years of nature, history and tradition to take in at your leisure. Priceless.
Looking to get adventurous with an eye on movie history? Prepare your saddle and set out for the Paklenica National Park, a region of breath-taking beauty. It was also the filming location for the legendary Winnetou back in the 1960s. There are no Cowboys or Indians these days, so enjoy your horse ride through this beautiful rugged park, and take in the fabulous views of the Adriatic.
Horseback riding and the national and nature parks of Croatia seem to have a close relationship. There are horseback riding opportunities for everyone, providing the tourists with yet another magical way to explore the country, which has given 10% of its land to protected parks. Parks such as the Papuk Nature Park, which can be accessed by the popular horse trail from Orahovica to Jankovac.
Timeless tradition, unbeatable views of the Adriatic and four-legged travel – there is something different about Konavle, located even further south than Dubrovnik. Here you can also find the local silk-producing industry, one of many ancient traditions in a region seemingly unhurried by the modern ways. Ride the 11 km trail through pine forests and olive groves before rewarding yourself with the sight of the Adriatic from the top of Velje Hill.
You can also enjoy the beautiful Bilogora region, where you will find beautiful thematic trails that are ready for the novice rider who has garnered the courage to try horseback riding for the first time, to those seasoned riders that are ready to tackle longer and multi-day trekking tours. In either case you will enjoy this region from a completely new perspective.
From Split to Zadar, Fužine to Medulin, and Pazin to Umag, there are horseback riding adventures with a saddle waiting for you. They all have one thing in common: closeness of the Adriatic and the main tourist centres, but with the simple option to ride away to discover the real Croatia and its lesser-known villages, long forgotten paths and the omnipresent and inspiring nature.
Wherever you land in Croatia, the horses will not be far away. Horseback riding takes you right off the beaten path, immerses you in nature, and in many cases, takes you back a few generations. If you are looking to invigorate your soul and have an unforgettable holiday experience, welcome to Croatia!