Via Dinarica in Croatia moves through Velebit mountain range. North Velebit, a UNESCO listed park, is a stunning and inspiring region. We have some insights and stories to tell about this exciting, wild and historically rich terrain that completely swept us of our feet. Here is a little glimpse of what we found there.
VIA DINARICA TRAIL AND VELEBIT MOUNTAIN RANGE
Via Dinarica Trail is a red line that moves through Velebit mountain range. We have been kayaking and stand up paddle boarding under the Velebit mountain range and Via Dinarica trail for years. Down from islands Molat, Silba and Lošinj, on days with strong Bura wind, when air is cold and crystal clear, we’ve seen Velebit mountain in all it’s might (and felt the strong winds that originate there). On warm sultry days, when air is full with dust particles and haze, it was merely a high silhouette halfway up between the sky and the sea.
You, dear travelers, told us you want to go for a weeklong Croatian hiking trip with us. Respect that comes with the sea view of Velebit and a whole array of Croatian myths that have their origin there are just a few reasons why to hike on Velebit. But there is much more to it. See the other reasons below.
VIA DINARICA TRAIL WITH DETOURS - LIGHT AND FAST
Via Dinarica Trail connects existing trails on Velebit and other mountain ranges that are a part of Dinaric mountain chain to enable dedicated hikers to traverse the whole range and hop between countries without getting of the mountains.
While the trails are there, the accommodation options are of somewhat mixed standard, particularly if you are used to the huts in the Alps. As an individual traveler you may be best of carrying your sleeping gear and water purifiers with you so you can use refuges and water cisterns on the way. Traversing the range is the aim of Via Dinarica. Traverse, however, just skims through the mountains. It keeps some stunning hidden gems that are off the beaten path just that – hidden.
So, we have decided to take slightly different approach with our trip: travel light and fast and link together all the spots which are otherwise hidden from the main Via Dinarica route. Here is a little deep dive.
The first leg of our trip sticks pretty much to the locally renowned Premužić Trail. The trail was built in 1930s as a way to connect North and South Velebit in an easy and safe way. The aim of the route was to make this wilderness approachable to hikers of moderate fitness and skill level. There may be other incentives but we'll keep those for some occasion that allows time to explain the power and economy dinamics of Kingdomf of Jugoslavija.
The reason why we stick to it is simple. Premužić Trail is the only way you can go through North Velebit National park. It is wild terrain dotted with caves (some of the deepest caves in Europe are situated here) and separated by narrow limestone peaks. Without the trail, moving through the area would fall within the realm of alpinism more than hiking.
Once moving on Premužić Trail in North Velebit National Park, optional detour is to Rožanski Kukovi. There used to be marked hiking trails before, but have been removed from official topo-maps. If you do make a detour you find it to be quite demanding, exposed, somewhat difficult to navigate, but the views are stunning. Looking around you see wild terran with caves, cliffs, and snow that survived from last winter with (probably) bear marks. It is a sanctuary for many species. Some places in the nature should stay man-free. Here it’s good to stay on the path – vistas are inspiring and no need to venture off.
As you continue south of Alan, Premužić trail starts curving along long mountain slopes that roll down to the sea hundreds of meters below. It is there that you can see the island Rab literally as it it were on top of your palm.
Part of Premužić Trail (Via Dinarica) with views of island Rab.
After the part photographed above, Premužić trail pretty much becomes a walk in the woods. To keep the same vistas of island Pag further south, you need to venture off the path and visit the Dabarski kukovi.
Dabarski Kukovi is a name of the area that spreads for kilometers bordered with valleys on one end and rolling hills on the other.
A feature of limestone rock is it's propensity to dissolve in water. If you add in some tectonic movement over the geological history, you get some yaw dropping rock formations sticking out from the wild Velebit mountain range.
Some of the less obvious hiking trails move along the ridge of Dabarski Kukovi. A somewhat strenuous but rewarding hike with stunning views of the peaks, nearby valleys and all the islands as far as Molat and Silba.
North Velebit is the youngest Croatian National Park. It was listed as UNESCO protected area primarily to limit development of human infrastructure. What happened, it appears, is that such status has halted development. As a result, Velebit Mountain range has very few settlements today, but there is ample proofs of rich and diverse local life from centuries ago.
Refurbished shepard's hutsPastures of Velebit were summer residences of shepards and their animals. Some of those settlements have been refurbished exactly to their original shape and form and make for an authentic accommodation option. You may need to remind yourself that shepards at the time had no showers.
Kilometers of drywalls and ruins testify to how much life, livestock and human activity there was in the valleys.
In Bačić Duliba (one of the valleys), there are several former huts - now turned into mountain huts. There you can meet people who were born and raised in the now deserted plateaus. In one of the huts we meet house warden Stipan and his wife Ana.
Retired man with a rich history behind him. A police officer, welder in shipyards and other professions in between.
We had a pleasant chat over the fire stove which kept the temperature in 20s as temperature drastically went into freezing lows just after the sun set. He eagerly commented on the sound of deer that were howling earlier this morning. That sound set a tone for his stories about growing up here. In his early childhood, his daily ritual was a 5k walk to a nearby school through a dirt road. As Stipan describes the details of the walk, you can’t help but think of the Little Red Righting Hood story. His parents told him to stay on the trail and go straight to school. Wolves here were a real danger. Stipan remembers catching one later in life. They were few wolves though because there were so many people and houses here.
‘My grandfather went to Karlobag to get his pension every month.’ Karlobag is a 8km hike with some 2.000m altitude gain on the entire trip. He lived until he was 90. Accidently I am reading a book about ikigai and key to Japanese longevity on island Okinawa. Longevity is attributed to close social connections, light but continuous exercise (hiking) and healthy diet (local produce). Perhaps more meat and less fermented food here, but otherwise, this place seems to check all the boxes. Anyone interested in cues for longevity should definitely visit shis region.
Fast forward 30 years. Everyone moved to cities. Schooling is better and there are more options for your children. His children now live in Pula but he always comes back here. Luckily he is using attick of his house as a mountain hut and that is the excuse for his time here in the middle of Velebit mountain range.
The photo above was taken from Bačić kuk. See below Bačić kuk silhouete in the night shot during a cristally clear (and cold) night in Bačić Duliba.
NUMBERS OF THIS CROATIAN HIKING ADVENTURE
Our hiking trip took 4 days, 120km, 32h of walking, 6000m of elevation gain. A slightly more downbeat version of the trip will take 7 days, stay tuned for details.
Doing that trip only following Via Dinarica trail (Premužić trail) wouldn't take longer than 56km.
For more information about hiking North Velebit on your own see here:
If you like what you just saw, here are some more adventure stories from our journal:
‘Moving your limits’ isn’t necessarily about the highest mountains, deepest canyons or oldest ruins. But it is about great adventures. It’s about that constant pursuit of world’s secrets – cultural as well as natural. It’s about how we move in nature and raise our expectations about each and every place in the world, moving our mental and physical limits on the way.