Where to go and what to know in Velebit, Croatia
Growing up in Zagreb, I’d heard about these mountain elves, ethereal forest creatures that are said to inhabit the thick woodlands of Velebit Mountain and its foothills. The vile are etched into the minds of Croatian children. Now, a lifetime in the United States and elsewhere later, I was about to enter their playpen.
Finding forest fairies wasn’t the intent of my visit to Linden Tree Retreat & Ranch, a dude ranch-cum-nature retreat in the mountains of southwestern Croatia. I’d come to this hideaway to play cowgirl for a couple of days. Linden Tree Retreat is said to have some of the prettiest horses in Croatia, 12 striking creatures lovingly tended by Bozidar. In the States, where he studied and worked as a scientist, he also spent time as a wrangler and a therapeutic riding instructor.
I’d been on horseback a dozen times in various places, including the plains of Patagonia and the old-growth forests of British Columbia, places where not saddling up would be like going to Paris and missing the Eiffel Tower. Still, I’m no horse whisperer. Mounting the massive animals makes me tense every time. I’ve never quite eased into the saddle.
My husband, on the other hand, is a born cowboy, even though he’s a novice rider who first climbed onto a horse in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park about two years ago. Any chance he gets, he’ll leap onto a steed and gallop away without a glimmer of fear. On our five-day getaway at Linden Tree Retreat, we were supposed to bond on horseback.
But life is full of surprises.
We drove down from Zagreb, just over two hours to the north, on the eve of the summer solstice. It was a sticky June day and a long weekend in Croatia, with nearly everyone seeking respite at the seashore. After all, the Adriatic, with its islands and gorgeous coastline, is Croatia’s claim to fame. But we veered off the southbound highway and into the rugged mountain region called Lika.
Here, in this land where brown bears and wolves roam and the winters are bitterly cold, I’d lost my maternal grandmother to war 68 years ago. Strangely enough, even though my mother, in Zagreb, kept asking questions about our retreat in Lika, I didn’t think much about the connection. I was going to play cowgirl, relax, do a little hiking and write a story about it all.