People often ask me how I get my kids to hike with me. I always tell them the same thing, start slow. The last thing you want is your kids to hate being out in the woods. You have to be extra intentional in the beginning to make sure they enjoy being on the trail. That means starting off with something that barely feels like a walk and doing it regularly. When my guys were little, and we first moved to the Kvarner Bay area in Croatia, we visited the Slap (waterfall) in Lovranska Draga all the time.
This is a really, really, really, short hike, for a normal sized human being, 800 meters short. For a two year old, even a five year old or a child that has not spent time in nature, this trail could feel like the Appalachian Trail. It is relatively flat, a little bit rocky, there is water (a waterfall even), nice benches to rest on, a tiny wood bridge, informational placards, and a great picnic table for setting up your hiking feast. To get there, head toward Lovran (near Opatija, Croatia) and follow the signs to Lovranska Draga and either park at Hotel Lovrana di Draga or go down the hill and park next to the bench right at the start of the walk. There is a regular bus that will take you right there (No. 36, check the schedule for times).
We like to park at the top of the hill where Hotel Lovrana di Draga is, and walk down. For one, the view is phenomenal, especially from the hotel’s balcony. Secondly, we are committed ‘Kaflidjars’ (my special word for people who seem to spend their whole day sitting in cafes drinking a single coffee), and a walk would not be complete if we did not sit for a coffee, either at the start or the finish of a hike whether it is a leisurely hike or a strenuous one. Everyone has their procedures and this is one of the many I have adopted from Bosnian culture. The third reason we park here is that this is such a short walk, I have to add to it by making my kids walk a little extra.
The hotel, by the way, Lovrana di Draga, is haunted. According to local folklore over a hundred years ago the owner burned the place down with his wife and her lover in it. They say that family members of the subsequent owners have died of unnatural causes and weird things have been known to happen throughout the history of the building. The current owner is American and apparently she is exempt from this curse because they say it only applies if the owners are Croats! Some musician friends once had a New Years Eve gig here, and they confirmed that the house is definitely haunted. I say that is all the more reason to come and check it out. It is a beautiful hotel and if I were not living here, this is where I would come to stay for an adult weekend get-away (hint for all the husbands reading this). I have hiked up to the waterfall from the beach in Medveja, and while that does not mean the hotel qualifies as being on the beach, it is not a strenuous walk. The hotel also has some paintings of a local artist, Yasna Skorup Krneta, whom my boys and I have long admired and discussed purchasing for our soon to-be-reconstructed home. I have not eaten at the slow-food certified restaurant, but when we were there last, Jana Kostelić was having lunch with her girls, and my nosy eyes and ears could not help but water at the sight of her tasty meal. It looks a bit pricey but it is a fancy hotel. But I digress from the topic at hand…..
The hike to the waterfall (or Slap, pronounced slahhp in Croatian) will take you through a centuries old chestnut plantation and an oak and hornbeam forest which follows the trickle of a stream (which, by the way, has no name and is simply referred to by locals as just,The Stream). Once you reach the waterfall, the most natural thing to do is to lie flat on the ground (or the picnic table) and gaze upward at the amazing view and let the tremendous powers of nature wash over and refresh you.
The reason we visited this spot so often in our early days was not just because it was an easy hike for my kids. It was the first place I found that I could go with toddlers and feel the soothing vibration of nature’s silence (!). The quietness overwhelms, even as you step out of the car. Lovranska Draga is comfortably couched in a canyon that leads to the sea and is buffeted on all three sides by Mount Učka in all her glory. From apple and cherry trees, to chestnut plantations and vineyards, to far off hidden caves, this valley is a feast for more than just the five senses. There are so many little nuggets of history and culture in this little valley that whether you come for the view or for a quiet escape, I am pretty sure you will want to come back.
If you’re headed somewhere else in Croatia (or Slovenia or Bosnia) and will be hiking with kids, leave a comment and I’ll give you a few good suggestions.
Happy Trails… and happy trailmix!
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