Earlier this summer, the Linden Tree Retreat & Ranch invited us to spend an adventurous 24 hours in Velebit National Park. Naomi shares her account below.
I weave my way by bus, from Murter, an island in the Adriatic Sea, via Šibenik on the coast, to Gospić, in the mountainous region of Lika. I pass the aquamarine Adriatic, traverse over bright white chalky rubble, and glide through lush green hills. Arresting varied landscapes hold my attention, so that when I arrive at my first destination, I barely notice three hours have passed.
At Gospić I jump in a taxi and enjoy the gorgeous ride to the Linden Tree Retreat & Ranch, along the edge of the Velebit mountain range. It’s a sunny Tuesday morning at the beginning of July; the roads are clear, sunshine drenches the forests, fields and wildflowers, and the dark mountains loom in the distance, protective of their precious land.
Upon arrival at the ranch, I'm greeted by a team of horses, a brood of chickens, lovely Lenny the dog, rambunctious Luka the ram, and fabulous Bruce Yerkovich, founder of the Linden Tree. Bruce is engrossed in prep work for a unique wrangling experience, the first six-day trail he is hosting for a group of five guests. So, after a brief hello (we will get to know each other over dinner), I am introduced to his colleagues. And within moments, I am struck by the warmth, openness and familiarity of the Linden Tree family.
After I have been shown to my cosy room by Yogesh, the brand-new Operations Manager, I set out to greedily consume my surroundings. But a blanket of peace and quiet quickly covers me, as I am overawed by a sense of peace. The occasional sound of bees humming distracts me from my meditation. But what a wonderful distraction it is, reminding me of my immersion in nature. I later find out these bees are busy making honey, and I am fortunate enough to enjoy some for breakfast! I flit from lodge to casita to tipi, stealing snippets of conversation with team members as I go. I find out that Rachel works in TV. She visited the Linden Tree in spring and fell in love. Once back home, she couldn’t resist the urge to return to the ranch, so is spending her summer working there. I discover that Jess is a dancer, yoga teacher and all-round wellness guru, and is working at the ranch before she moves onto a Middle Eastern adventure.
And when I’ve finished exploring – for the time being at least – lovely Cindy lures me to the dining table with incredible culinary concoctions. Food is their thing, and Cindy can’t wait to share what she’s created. She is keen for me to try the Linden Tree’s signature dish, succulent stuffed peppers in a rich broth with freshly baked homemade bread, and a seasonal salad in rainbow colours. Cindy tells me how has spent the last two years working and travelling in Australia and New Zealand and is spending the summer season in the Linden Tree kitchen with Bruce’s inspirational wife, Megi, from whom she is learning a lot. Later, Megi tells me how much she is learning from Cindy! They are both passionate about the ranch’s food, and it shows; in the sourcing of ingredients, the presentation of their dishes, and the combination of flavours and textures.
After lunch, I am surprised with another treat, a trail ride led by Clara! I am partnered with Mama, the alpha female, and we are joined by two teenage interns, recruited from a school with strong ties to the ranch. Clara guides us through how to ride western style – like real cowboys and cowgirls! And while we venture through the verdant Velika Plana valley, she tells me that while most of her time is taken up with her PHD, this is her fourth consecutive summer spent wrangling on the ranch. Clara has a personal relationship with every horse on the ranch, just as she has with the Linden Tree team, and with guests she has got to know over the years, too.
I thoroughly enjoy getting to know these hardworking, committed, ambitious women. And although these qualities clearly bind them, what strikes me even more strongly are their adventurous spirits, collaborative natures, and overall desire to have fun!
Feeling inspired, I get to work typing up my notes in the communal lounge. But I am met with horror from Cindy, who is adamant I must relax and enjoy the experience. I am reminded that the Linden Tree is not only a ranch but a retreat, a perfect pocket of paradise in which to rest and restore. I surrender.
My final activity for the day is to accompany Yogesh to the house where wrangler Bruce and his cowboys are eating and sleeping for the first night of their adventure. (Yogi refers to Bruce as a ‘wrangler’, a person in charge of horses, and someone who takes non-wranglers on western riding horseback trails.) On the way, Yogi tells me how the core members of this group, a Swiss father and daughter, are back at the ranch for their third stay. And how, every time they return, their group grows, which is testament to the richness of experience at the Linden Tree.
Until now, ranch activities had been for a few hours or whole day maximum, and Bruce hadn’t taken any guests wrangling for this length of time before. But this group had been keen to experience something totally unique, the cowboy way of life (for a week at least!) for a while. And so, Bruce planned the trail and invited them to join him, which just goes to show the lengths he and his team go to, to provide a truly bespoke service to Linden Tree guests. Bruce is a physicist, botanist, and naturalist (among many other things). He is so knowledgeable about his surroundings, including both the historical and natural, as well as educated and experienced as to how to live life outdoors. As a result, this offering is totally unique. And the Ultimate Cowboy Adventure signature expedition has been curated!
When the cowboys and cowgirls arrive, exhausted from their first day in the life of wranglers, we feast on a barbecue prepared by Cindy and served up by multi-talented Yogi. Bruce entertains us with stories about how he came to dream up his sustainable wilderness retreat. He tells a tale of how, as an adult, he developed allergies to supermarket carrots, apples, pears and cherries, organic and non-organic, but miraculously, he can eat this produce from the Linden Tree!
As the black velvet night wraps around us, and an electric storm brews, Yogi and I say goodnight to the cowboys and girls and head back to the ranch. I snuggle up in my cosy cabin, sinking into my feather bed, enveloped in the delicious scent of sustainable wood that surrounds me.
I wake to the sound of silence and views from my porch of mist rising in the valley. My short but very sweet stay at the Linden Tree comes to a close with breakfast by Cindy. She treats me to delicately flavoured, fresh homemade sheep’s cheese, floral homemade honey, and bold coffee from Bosnia, Croatia’s next-door neighbour. I embark on my journey back to Gospić with Megi, who relays the utterly romantic story of how she and Bruce met. The perfect end to my precious time at the Linden Tree.
Craving a great escape? Or curious as to how you can experience your own Ultimate Cowboy Adventure? Find out how you can travel with Earth Changers here