Exploring Croatia on foot
Where can you visit the smallest town in the world (according to the Guinness Book of Records), the island where the building blocks of the White House originated, and the best-preserved Roman amphitheatre outside of Italy’s capital? If you’ve read the title of this article, you might have worked it out: Croatia.
And while those three little facts may pique your interest in the country that grew out of the ruins of the Roman Empire in the early part of the 7th century, Croatia has much more to offer travellers of every possible persuasion, not least those who like to travel around on their own two feet.
The country has three distinct regions, each of which lends itself to exploration on foot, for different reasons. Its coastal region on the Adriatic Sea boast over 1200 islands and islets and countless beaches, coves and caves. Its lowlands – which make up the bulk of the country’s geographical area – are mostly found in the northern regions of Slavonia and house some fantastic geological structures as well as myriad forest, lakes and generally bountiful countryside. Finally, we have the mountainous region of the Dinaric Alps, which bisects the previous regions and contains (and is named after) Croatia’s highest mountain, Dinara.
With almost 2000 km of mainly west-facing coastline, you will never be far from the splendour of an Adriatic sunset in Croatia. With numerous fishing villages, vibrant harbours and all the seafood you could wish for, the coastal regions of Croatia – whether the Istrian Peninsula or the Dalmatian Coast further south – offer relaxation, fine food and wine and plenty for culture vultures to lap up in the form of art, music and a varied and interesting architectural heritage.
The Roman ruins, Byzantine basilicas and Renaissance palaces all have their stories to tell. As do the rebuilt buildings in the beautiful and entrancing city of Dubrovnik, the newer roofs on view as you walk round the city ramparts a chilling reminder of how recently conflict blighted the area.
Move inland and no walking holiday in Croatia is complete without a visit to the Plitvice Lakes National Park. It is argued by many to be one of the best areas of natural beauty in the whole of Europe, and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site back in 1979. There are sixteen interlinked lakes in the park, surrounded by a large swathe of forest. Its ecological significance is vast, housing various microclimates that support a wide range of flora, and providing a haven for such fauna as European brown bears, wolves, various eagles, owls and wild cats.
The walking at Plitvice is varied with paths of different length and difficulty ratings available. If you want to get a good overall insight into what the park has to offer, take the 4-5 hour trail H. Waterfalls abound in the park – including some accessed through a cave, while no more tranquil a setting can be found than sitting beside one of the beautiful lakes for a rest and a picnic.
If you plan to visit the mountainous region of the country to do some serious walking, be sure to get local advice as there is a dearth of literature on the region (in English at least). It is a big, brash mountain range that is not to be trifled with lightly. Interestingly, most of Croatia’s islands belong to the mountain chain after much of the western areas of the chain were submerged when sea levels rose many years ago. So if you are not a seasoned hiker / mountaineer, we would recommend sticking to the islands. You could still tell people you scaled one of the mountains of the Dinarics… who’s to know you would be referring to one that housed a very nice beach terrace where you supped a cocktail as you watched the sun melt into the horizon?
So whether it is dreamy coastal walks in the setting sun, life-affirming strolls around beautiful turquoise lakes or rugged trekking in amongst some challenging but panoramically rewarding peaks, Croatia can satisfy your desires.
Oh, just in case you were wondering, the smallest town has just 23 inhabitants, is located in Istria and is called Hum; the stone used to construct Barack Obama’s current abode was obtained from the island of Brač; and the amphitheatre of note is in Pula, though it might not have been had the Italian fascist regime during the Second World War followed through with their plan to take the structure, block by block, back to Italy. Thankfully they abandoned the ill-conceived idea, leaving its splendour for you to enjoy when you visit this fine, varied and awe-inspiring country.
This article was written by David Hanson from activity holiday company Headwater.com – offering walking holidays in Croatia and further afield. Find out more at the Headwater website.Scott on Google+