Summers in Croatia can get H.O.T. With that in mind, prepare yourself to head to the mountains for a little relief but don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be back-breaking or an all day excursion. These are our preferred trails but there’s truly lots of great hiking near Kvarner Bay.
Učka (various lengths, most at least a few hours)
Any talk about hiking in the Kvarner region, either starts with or comes back to my beloved Učka. Učka is a Nature Park that covers an area of 162 kilometers and includes part of the Ćicarija mountain range. The highest peak is Vojak at 1400m and can be reached from several different trails that spread out in all four directions from the top. There are 8 well cared-for biking trails that cover 180km and the hiking trails are also well marked and traverse the parks varied topography. Hikers of all skill levels have the chance on Mount Učka to explore the range of protected and endemic species, flora, and fauna. In it’s earliest days of exploration, Mount Učka was a haven for botanists and geologists from all over the world who came to explore the park’s rich vegetation. For adrenalin junkies there is a free-climbing area on Vela Draga and a jump off point for paragliding on Vojak. If you prefer to explore the park on horseback there is a ranch that is best reached by foot from Poklon.
There are a handful of cozy restaurants and konobas offering good food throughout the area of the park. The most conveniently located restaurant in the park is Dopalavoro on Poklon. Like most of the other eateries on or around Učka, they specialize in gastro delicacies specific to the park, like wild boar, wild mushrooms, wild asparagus, and chestnuts, depending on the season. Also near Poklon is the newly opened Vela Učka café, which overlooks the more calmer Istrian side of the park. The owner is reportedly planning to re-open the restaurant and pension on Poklon where most of the park’s festivities take place. But for mountain hikers, I would highly recommend stopping in at the mountaineering home on Poklon for a drink and to rub shoulders with the locals. Here, you can sit with local enthusiasts and eavesdrop on the latest hot topic in the ever expanding community of Croatian mountain hikers. Hikers, in general, are a friendly and curious lot, even if they don’t speak your language, they will do their best to help you along your way with a smile and an offer of some local rakija that they will undoubtedly be carrying in a trusted flask close to their hearts. Maps and details of the trails can be found at the ranger station on Poklon, a 25 minute drive up from Opatija, or at any Tourist Information Center in the surrounding towns. Maps cost about 40 kuna and are worth the purchase if you plan to hike, bike or spend more than a day in the park.
Vela Draga Educational Trail (30 minutes)
On the Istrian side of Učka is the area known as Vela Draga. Here there is a short educational trail that runs along a cliffs edge and looks down on the canyon of Vela Draga and eventually leads to a base for free-climbing. To get there you can either drive over Učka passing the mountain home on Poklon and continue back down toward Istria. Or you can take the highway, (this is the fastest way) and go through the Učka tunnel and take the very first exit. The parking lot is past the exit on the right. The trail begins just above the parking where there are picnic tables, perfect for setting up a picnic lunch and enjoying a view quite unlike those from the other side of Učka.
This is a very short trail with descriptive placards along the way that explain the geological phenomenon that makes this walk special. And of course the view is spectacular. The first time my kids were there, they remarked that it looked like a white Garden of the Gods. I would not exactly agree, but there is something striking about the finger-like rock formations that can be seen from this view point. This is also where free-climbers come and basic rock climbing is taught. The last time I was there for some basic rock climbing and rappelling, it was spring, and I picked a dinner’s worth of wild asparagus. I don’t recommend following the trail down to the bottom of the canyon with kids, it is very steep and rocky and it is not so well marked. At the top, I would also advise holding your child’s hand, especially if they have a tendency to wander off because this trail follows a cliff’s edge. Finally, you must track back to return to the parking area as the trail is not a circular one.