Incredible story of the white stallions

The Spanish Riding School in Vienna, Austria is well known internationally, but only recently did we realise the incredible story behind the Lipizzaner horses.

Travelling in Slovenia, we visited the Lipizzaner Stud at Lipica, said to be the world’s oldest continuously operating facility of its type with a foundation date of 1580.

slovenia-305986__340Apparently, the Lipizzaner’s ancestors can be traced to 800AD – a cross between local Karst breeds beloved by the Romans for chariot racing and Berber horses from Spain.

As we watched these magnificent animals running in the paddocks at Lipica, we were told that the stud and its horses had, in fact, been evacuated in 1796, 1805 and 1809, when it was threatened by Napoleon’s armies

In World War I, the Lipizzaners were moved to a site near Vienna – and during the Second World War the Nazis took them to Germany and then on to a Wehrmacht-controlled stud farm near Hostau in Czechslovakia

From there, the story becomes almost unbelievable.

As the war wound to a close, American troops, apparently with the knowledge of the surrendering Germans, undertook an astonishing mission to secure the horses ahead of the advancing Soviet forces.

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According to some accounts, 350 horses – about 100 of the best Arabs in Europe, top thoroughbred racehorses and trotters, hundreds of Russian Cossack horses, and some 250 Lipizzaners – were rounded up by the Americans and moved 130 miles along roads to Mannsbach in central Germany.

This exercise, apparently named ‘Operation Cowboy’ later became the basis of a Disney movie ‘Miracle of the White Stallions’.

Later, a number of Lipizzaners were transported to the Austrian State Stud at Piber for use in the Spanish Riding Schooll.

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Eventually, about 11 horses were given back to Yugoslavia and the stud at Lipica, on the Karst Plateau, began the task of rebuilding its stock.

The breeding farm was renovated; a riding and training school opened; and in the 1960’s the legendary home of the Lipizzaners was opened to visitors.

Lipizzaner foals are always born dark colored, and gradually, with each change of coat, go lighter, until by the age of 4-10 years, they are pure white.

However about one in 200 remain brown or black.

Featured attractions Lipica Slovenia

The famous Bartholoma on its remarkable see.

You’ve undoubtedly seen its onion domed roof on many websites or magazines – the 11th Century church of St Bartholoma is one of the world’s most photographed buildings.

The church itself is striking enough, with its contrasting red and white colours. But the location is breath-taking!

St Bartholoma sits on the western shore of the Konigssee, a natural, clear-water lake among the Berchtesgaden Alps in far south-eastern Germany.

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The mirrored surface of Konigssee

The east face of the Wartzmann – Germany’s third-highest mountain – rises in its snow-capped glory behind the site.

Officially known as a pilgrimage church, Sankt Bartholoma can only be reached by ship or a long hike across the mountains.

We decided to review the attraction to see how well it catered for visitors of all ages.

Here’s what we found:

Age-Friendly Review

Sankt Bartholoma adjoins a former palace founded by the Prince-Provosts of Berchtesgaden in 1134.

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The current Baroque design of the church – named after the Apostle Saint Bartholomew – is said to date to 1697 and the adjoining palace became a hunting lodge for the kings of Bavaria in about 1810.

Today the former palace and hunting lodge is an inn – and we thoroughly recommend the beer.

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As well as photography, Sankt Bartholoma has long been known world-wide as an inspiration for landscape painters.

Each August, a pilgrimage is held over the mountains to the church from the Austrian municipality of Maria Alm.

However, unless you are extremely fit and versed in steep mountains, the best way to see the famous church in its alpine setting is by catching a boat across the Konigssee.

The 7.7 kilometre long Konigssee is known for its clean, deep waters – and only electric boats are allowed on the waterway.

It is an easy and comfortable way to travel – and is accessible to just about everyone.

This is how we journeyed to Sankt Bartholoma and, on the way, the driver of the boat played a small flugelhorn (trumpet) to display the remarkable echo from the surrounding alps.

Back in the day, they apparently fired a gun instead – and the acoustics were even better.

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Sue prepares to board an electric boat at Konigssee.

We also passed the tiny island of Christlieger, with its distinctive marble statue of Saint John of Nepomuk, who is said to protect from flooding and drowning.

The famous Bartholoma is located on a peninsula along the shore of the Konigssee lake in the Berchtesgaden area of south-eastern Germany.

Konigssee is close to the Austrian border and can easily be reached from Salzberg.

Although we didn’t try it, visitors to Bartholoma are about an hour’s walk from another of the area’s natural attractions – the Eiskapelle, or ‘Ice Chapel’.

This is a permanent snow and icefield created by avalanches down the east face of the Waltzmann in Spring. The snow accumulates an angled area of the mountain.

Once at the church, the ground is flat and level – and it is easy to move about the area.

See the inside of the church; stroll along the level concrete pathway that runs by the water’s edge; try a beer at the tavern; and then join a queue to board a boat for the return journey.

Based on our experience, people of any ages should be able to visit this famous landmark and enjoy the stunning scenery.

Berchtesgaden Featured attractions

Review: Rocky mountain high at Delphi

I had no idea why I was going to Delphi.

To be honest, it just seemed to me like something everyone did when they visited Greece.

But, now that Scoot Airlines had opened a new, cost-effective service between Australia and Athens, a trip to all the wonders of ancient Greece – including Delphi – suddenly became a reality.

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In retrospect, I’m pleased we made the effort to take a bus 180 kilometres from Athens to the foot of Mount Parnassos.

And I understand why Delphi sanctuary and stadium are the second most popular attractions in Greece – behind the Acropolis.

For a start, the location is awesome – a modern town, the ancient ruins and a museum overlooking the Gulf of Corinth and the Phocis valley of olive groves.

The ruins hug the mountainside so tightly that they appear to have been carved into the earth.

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In ancient times, Delphi was considered the centre of the known world; the place where heaven and earth met.

According to mythology, Zeus sent out two eagles from the ends of the universe. The eagles met at Delphi, which therefore became the navel of the world.

As we walked through the sanctuary, the monuments included columns of the ruined Temple of Apollo, where the Oracle of Delphi resided.

This priestess was the most famous fortune-teller of ancient Greece, even though many now say that she was high as a kite on fumes rising from a crack in the earth.

Our path through the ruins wound on past a large theatre, the Athenian Treasury, Sibyl Rock and the Stoa of the Athenians – to name a few of the highlights.

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At the peak of the ruins, there is an ancient stadium, where the Pythian Games were held every four years. These Games were one of four precursors of the modern Olympics.

Male athletes at ancient Greek Games competed naked with their bodies oiled – and I suspect that Sue wanted to check that none had been left behind.

But the rocky path to the stadium had been worn smooth by footsteps over the Centuries – and, after several near-slips, we decided to call it quits and head for the museum.

After lunch and a beer at the nearby tavern, we headed about half a kilometre away to see probably the most photographed of the ruins of Delphi, the Tholos. This is a circular building that was constructed between 360 and 380 BC.

Then it was back to Athens, with a greater understanding of the Pan-Hellenic sanctuary of Delphi, and its significance.

Note: The writer was flown to Athens courtesy of Scoot Airlines.

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