BA vacation in Croatia is usually thought of as a beach vacation. The Adriatic Sea has more to offer than the beach and the sea. The nature in the hinterland and on the coast is varied and deserted in many places, where you can easily keep your distance.
Exciting activities are often just a few kilometers away from the well-known holiday resorts, for which you can happily postpone lounging in a deckchair until tomorrow.
Gorski kotar: brown bear safari in the mountains
The Gorski kotar plateau in northwestern Croatia is one of the last wilderness areas in Europe. The region was already known to the Romans because of its remoteness and extraordinary medicinal herbs as the “hortus diabolicus”, the devil’s garden.
In today’s times, brown bears, wolves and lynxes have their peace here – and this is only 15 kilometers from the sea. To keep it that way, a more gentle tourism is made possible. It is best to stay on the trails in the protected area of the Risnjak National Park. Or they follow the Gorski-kotar-Bike route on a mountain bike.
Around 600 bears roam the mountain region – but it is unlikely to meet one by accident. It takes luck and patience to see brown bears. Photographers from the region know good hiding places and patiently lie in wait with telephoto lenses. National park rangers also organize bear watching – this year there is a temporary break due to damaged paths.
If you still want to see bears, take a detour to the village of Kuterevo further south. Animal lovers have set up a shelter for orphaned brown bear children there. The project is financed with donations and income from the tours.
Parenzana: Railway route cycling through the green hinterland
A detour to the artist village Groznjan is tough. Where the narrow-gauge railway Parenzana struggled over the green hills of the hinterland to the coast from 1902 to 1935, cyclists breathe today. Because the old railway line from Trieste to Porec, formerly called Parenzo, became one of the most beautiful bike paths in Croatia.
78 kilometers lead across the Istrian peninsula past medieval mountain villages, Tuscan landscapes, rustic taverns – these are small restaurants – and former KuK train stations.
While Mussolini had the buildings of the Habsburg engineers torn down in Italy, most of them remained on the Croatian part of the route. On gravel paths it goes past the relics through tunnels, over viaducts and bridges.
That is what makes the route so attractive. The region owed the former economic upswing to the narrow-gauge railway. That is why the Parenzana in Livade has its own museum.
Krka National Park: swimming at the Winnetou waterfalls
Looking out from the Apache camp onto the lake with the monastery island, sitting at the fishing grounds of the Osagen and swimming at the waterfall like Paloma in the film “Old Shatterhand” – in the Krka National Park, just over an hour’s drive from Split or Zadar, a few of them popular Winnetou films. If you want, you can walk in the footsteps of Karl May’s stories in the national park or simply let nature speak for itself.
The rushing of the rivers Krka and Cikola provides Dolby surround sound in many parts of the national park. It is very quiet at the lookout point high above the Roski slap waterfall, roaring loud again at the Skradinski buk – the 45 meter high waterfall with 17 cascades is the star among the seven cases in the park.
From the main entrance to the national park, a two-and-a-half kilometer circular path leads along wooden footbridges to the swimming area, where a dip in the cool river water is permitted in summer. However, a relatively large number of tourists travel this way. The other areas of the national park are not as famous, but they are just as adventurous.
Truffle search in the Mirna Valley: an oak forest with taste
One kilo of the fine white winter truffle is available from around 1000 euros. The price has its reasons: on the one hand, this type of truffle cannot be grown, on the other hand, it only grows in a few places – including in the Mirna Valley in Istria.
Croatian truffle seeker Giancarlo Zigante is world famous in the relevant scene. In 1999 he found a tuber weighing 1.31 kilos with his search dog Diana, making it into the “Guinness Book of Records”. A black summer truffle with an impressive weight of 4.87 kg followed in 2018.
Such outstanding specimens often sniff out the sensitive dog noses around Motovun in the tranquil Mirna Valley. The town’s forest is one of the last three Mediterranean lowland forests in Europe and is protected.
If you want to try your own lump of tubers yourself, you can accompany the licensed truffle hunters on a special tour into the forest. The finds can then be tasted in the truffle factories and purchased for at home. The truffles are a little cheaper here than in Italy.
Celebrity Island Hvar: Excursion to the abandoned mountain village
Luxury yachts are lined up in the port of Hvar and Hollywood stars stroll through the Venetian town with its medieval castle. Since ancient times, the Dalmatian island has had a strategic importance for seafarers, which brought power and wealth.
But the island also has another side. About twelve kilometers from the old town and within walking distance, the abandoned mountain village of Malo Grablje is located above Milna Bay.
The families lived there for a long time in the mountains from growing lavender and wine. But in the 19th century, fire destroyed plants and pests destroyed the vines. The livelihood broke away. 180 people packed their things and moved to the coast, where tourism made it easier to make money. Stone houses, church and olive oil mill are abandoned. Stairs lead to nowhere, trees grow out of rooms. A place to stop and slow down.
Berti Tudor returned to his family home, the only one of the village’s former residents. The part-time chef serves hungry hikers in his tavern. However, food and house wine are only available for those who announce their visit and have enough time to listen to the old stories.
Via Adriatica: long-distance hiking with a sea view
In Croatia, most people think of swimming in the sea. But hiking holidays are also possible. No mountain can make it above the 2000-meter mark, but that doesn’t have to be the case. There are enough rocky trails and varied mountain landscapes – with views of the sea.
This is exactly what the youngest Croatian long-distance hiking trail Via Adriatica, which leads from Istria in the north along the coast to the tourist center Dubrovnik in the south. So far, only a handful of hikers have covered the entire 1100 km route. If you want to follow them, you need 50 days for 14 mountains, nine rivers, two lakes and 18 nature reserves. There is hardly more Croatia.
Most hikers opt for individual, shorter stages with a local guide. There are few huts along the way. It is therefore advisable to take your own food with you or plan an overnight stay in a nearby village.
Those who miss civilization in between have it easy: the coast with its hotels and restaurants is never far from the hiking trail.
At night in the lighthouse: tower keepers and lost treasures
Croatia’s coast measures more than 6000 kilometers. In order for sailors and fishermen to find their way safely into the harbor between the rocks and reefs even at Bora – a treacherous, stormy fall wind on the Adriatic – numerous lighthouses were built along the coast.
Although modern navigation satellites now exist, the signals still provide guidance for seafarers. The stone lighthouses with a house for the lighthouse keeper are typically Croatian.
Some of these accommodations are inhabited as before, others have been converted into holiday apartments – for example in Savudrija. As one of the oldest and northernmost beacons on the Adriatic, this tower is still in operation. While vacationers are lying on the beach, the lighthouse keeper takes care of the technology and tells old legends.
In Savudrija, Count Metternich, chancellor of the former Austrian empire, had the tower built for himself and a Croatian lady in 1818, with whom he had fallen in love at the Vienna Opera Ball. But before the lighthouse was finished, the adored woman died. The count never set foot in the building. His ghost is said to haunt.
Gold treasures can also be heard. The Roman emperor Vespasian is said to have buried gold coins at the Cape Verudica lighthouse. And a treasure is said to be stored in the underground passages at the lighthouse on Cape Crna Punta. Nobody has discovered him yet. Don’t worry. Spending the night in a lighthouse on the Croatian Adriatic coast remains a romantic experience.
Tips and information
Arrival and Corona regulations: After Croatia’s reopening for tourism, international rail and air traffic resumed, but there are still restrictions. German holidaymakers are allowed to enter the country without justification. At the border, travelers only have to explain where they will be and how they can be reached. To avoid long waiting times, holidaymakers can use a form on the entercroatia website before entering the country. Fill in mup.hr.
Outside of the accommodation, travelers should wear a mask, keep a distance of at least 1.5 meters from third parties and wash their hands frequently. Masks are mandatory on public transport. The Federal Foreign Office (auswaertiges-amt.de) provides information on the current situation, which can change quickly. There are also further links, for example from the Croatian government.
Information desk: croatia.hr/de-DE