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Slovenia's Lipica Horse Farm

It's all about the horses on this regal estate!

Slovenia: Lipica Stud Farm foals
Foals are all born dark, gradually taking on their characteristic dazzling white coats at five or six years.
Photo credit: Lipica Stud Farm.

Tucked into the southwest corner of Slovenia close to both the Italian and Croatian borders, there is an internationally unknown 430-year-old rural estate that gave birth to some of the most recognizable horses on earth. For most of its existence, the Lipica Stud Farm was the private preserve of Austro-Hungarian dukes, emperors and their friends, and—of course— that most noble snowy quadruped, the Lipizzaner horse. Today, commoners and heads of state alike have equal opportunity to stroll the well-tended grounds, hang out with the ultimate studs in their historic stables built in 1703, and observe close up the mares and dozens of new foals each year. Among the farm's most popular activities are the horse training sessions of the promising new crop and the graceful performances of the seasoned veterans.

For all of Lipica's accessible grandeur and illustrious history, a deep bow should be made to Archduke Karl, son of Austro-Hungarian Emperor Ferdinand I. He founded the Lipica Stud Farm in 1580 to breed horses for the Spanish Riding School in Vienna and for the Royal Court stables. Despite wartime occupations and even hasty evacuations of the precious breeding stock during the Napoleonic Wars, WWI and WWII, the farm persisted in its equestrian mission into the 20th century. It became part of Yugoslavia when the country was created after WWII and then a national, state-owned treasure of Slovenia, as it is today.

The first time I visited the Lipica Stud Farm in 2006 was only for half a day. All too briefly, I felt the magic. It is extremely rare to be in such close proximity to a herd of 400 finely-bred horses anywhere in the world. Just leaning against a wooden fence for an hour, observing them confidently move and play generates a tranquility all its own. Touching the silky coats and talking to these curious, approachable creatures is even better. They know they are loved, admired and cared for .... it makes a difference. Though my riding days may be over, a little horse therapy never goes amiss.

The adult horse residents roaming the estate are divided between show, competition and guest riding or carriage horses. Of course, there are plenty of younger animals that are free spirits, just having fun growing up in this aristocratic setting as close as it gets to horse heaven. Their carefree lives in the herd last for three years, training begins at four years, and they are only ready for performance, if they prove to be receptive, by age seven. The Lipizzaner lives for 25 to 30 years on average, usually performing into its early 20s.

Lipica horse show in Slovenia
The noble horses of Lipica best demonstrate their grace and beauty when in motion.
Photo credit: Lipica Stud Farm.

What is a Lipizzaner Horse?

"Despite competing claims from Austria and Italy over the geographic origin and lineage of the Lipizzaner (Lipicanec), the original stud was created at Lipica in 1580. Horses of Spanish, Arabian and Berber stock were bred with the tough and muscular local Karst horse, thus creating the Lipizzaner strain. Comparatively small in stature with a long back, short thick neck and powerful build, this horse is born dark in color, gradually becoming lighter as it matures, and finally adopting the pristine white coat that is its hallmark around the age of five or six. These distinctive physical traits are complemented by a beautiful sense of balance and rhythm, a lively, high stepping gait and an even temperament. With such qualities, it is little wonder that the Lipizzaner have for centuries excelled at elegant carriage driving and as show horses."

Excerpted from The Rough Guide to Slovenia, Second Edition, 2007. 

Staying at the Lipica Stud Farm

When I returned recently, it was with my husband and four friends, all of us active seniors. Having booked three nights for us at the estate's more upscale Hotel Maestoso, I wondered if I would rekindle the magic of my earlier visit. Turning into the broad lane defined by white painted fences and centuries-old, gnarl-trunked lime trees creating a green canopy over the road, the answer was a resounding yes. For my husband, a horse lover since childhood, there was also an instant bonding.

Guests with more than an observational fancy for horses may book a horseback ride or a carriage ride around the estate (mainly May through September) or even take riding lessons with Lipica’s expert horse trainers and dressage specialists. Numerous guides lead small-group walking tours of the landscaped grounds, the historic core, and stable facilities. If the timing is right, there will be a one-hour choreographed show of horse and rider skills in the indoor or outdoor arenas. A very informative two hours may also be spent observing the training sessions of younger horses (every day but Monday) that are being groomed for performance. During the session, one of the trainers talks about training techniques and tells "insider" stories about individual horses and the skilled professional riders, both women and men, who work with them.

Lipica Stud Farm riding trails
Whether riding, walking, jogging or cycling, the estate trails offer plenty of fresh air and exploration options.
Photo credit: Lipica Stud Farm.

However, horses are not the only attraction of the stud farm. Located near one of the oldest stables is the art gallery of Avgust Cernigoj with the permanent exhibition of the Slovenian artist's outstanding works. The gallery Kos offers works of art and objects of the local craftsmanship, and sculptures abound in the parkland. The diminutive 18th century church of St. Anton Padovanski is part of the Lipica tradition. Additional eateries and horse-themed gift shops allow visitors of every age and activity level to take their ease strolling and relaxing in the manner of Archduke Karl and his friends, though the golf course and fitness facilities might be something of a modern curiosity.

For More Information

Lipica Stud Farm. Budget-priced Hotel Klub is open April through October and over Christmas. Equipped with sauna, fitness center, restaurant and bar, Klub prices for accommodation and breakfast range from approx. 25 to 32 Euros per person per day depending upon single or double occupancy. More sophisticated Hotel Maestoso is open year round, offering recently-renovated single and double rooms or suites with all amenities, a restaurant, snack bar and indoor pool from 60 to 80 Euros pp per day, including breakfast, and significant reductions for staying two (10%) or three (20%) days. Stay three days at Maestoso to receive a free pass for all guided tours and shows throughout your stay. See website "Price List" for details of all activity options, special package offers, and accommodation options and costs. Tours and shows are offered year round, but at different times and days depending on the season.

What else to see in the region: Making the estate a headquarters allows easy access to three unique Slovenian attractions and UNESCO World Heritage Sites right in the neighborhood: Postojna Caves (Slovenia's most visited tourist attraction), Skocjan Caves, and the medieval Predjama Castle defensively built into yet another massive limestone/karst cave network. Each attraction is worthy of several hours exploration.

Best seasons and personal security: Weather in Slovenia is most reliable from May through September. Shoulder season travel means less European tourists (who really have discovered this diminutive gem of a country), less intense heat than July and August, and better hotel prices. Slovenia is very safe and suitable for independent travel by rental car or public transport, and for small-group tours.

Recommended guidebook: The Rough Guide to Slovenia by Norm Longley (Second edition, 2007).

Alison Gardner, Senior Travel Editor of Transitions Abroad, is also publisher of Travel with a Challenge web magazine, www.travelwithachallenge.com, a richly illustrated resource for senior travelers featuring ecological, educational, cultural, and volunteer vacations worldwide. Readership is 1.6 million. Contact her at Alison@travelwithachallenge.com.

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