Imagine hiking through fairytale woodland as the dappled sunlight plays upon your hair. Imagine traversing a boardwalk that curves over the surface of an enchanting lake, past the thundering torrent of a waterfall that crashes around rock sculpted into astounding geomorphologic formations. If this is your idea of bliss… well, you better read on.
Over the years we have introduced many eager ramblers to their dream holiday destinations. Time and again, one country that stands out for its ample walking opportunities over varied and interesting terrain is Croatia. Here is a selection of the most picturesque hiking destinations that this beautiful country has to offer.
The Island of Mljet is a narrow slip of an island just off the Dalmatian Coast, not far from Dubrovnik. The lush north-western end of the island is protected as a National Park, which contains some spectacular landscapes within its borders: thick fairytale woodland, gorges and chasms that belay its volcanic heritage and two sparkling inland saltwater lakes.
If you’re tempted to visit from your base elsewhere in Croatia, the island is easily accessible by ferry from Dubrovnik, Korcula, Hvar and Split. However, if you’re a keen walker, I would recommend staying at the Hotel Odisej on the island itself – located in pretty Pomena deep within the confines of the National Park, the enchanting landscapes ripe for exploration will be literally on your doorstep.
Mljet was made for walking – a 43-km hiking trail (called the MPO) was opened in 2012, which is clearly marked with 20 control points along the way. My clients have told me that it’s a great way to see the beauty of the island in manageable chunks.
There are four daily stages of the MPO:
- Pomena to Govedari (5 hours)
- Govedari to Blato (7 hours)
- Blato via Rogovici to Babino Polje (6 hours)
- Babino Polje via Veliki Grad to Sobra (6 hours)
I don’t know anyone who has visited Croatia’s most popular attraction and not been absolutely blown away by its beauty. Plitvice National Park is one of the oldest in southeast Europe and was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 1979. Its sixteen terraced lakes, which continually change their shade of blue and green depending on their levels of algae and minerals, are fringed by towering waterfalls. With an abundance of walking opportunities through the forest and over the lakes on specially-laid boardwalks, Plitvice is truly a walker’s paradise.
Be warned that the Plitvice Lakes are further inland than you might expect – the closest city is Zadar, which is still an hour and a half’s drive away. We always recommend spending a night or two of your holiday close to the Plitvice National Park to make sure that you make the most of your visit.
Hotel Jezero, for example, is just a few minutes’ walk from the entrance to the National Park. While the other visitors are twiddling their thumbs on the bus ride over, you can be waiting at the gates when the park opens (7am in summer, 8am in spring and autumn, 9am in winter), ready to explore this natural wonderland.
There are many walking routes through the park, which take between 3 and 8 hours to complete.
- Easy: Trail A, 3.5km in a loop from Entrance 1 – this is a great way to explore the lower lakes, including highlights such as the Great Waterfall and Kozjaka Bridge.
- Moderate: Trail H, 8.9km beginning from the less-crowded upper lakes (you can take a shuttle bus to the starting point); on this route you can also enjoy a boat ride across Lake Kozjaka to the lower lakes.
- Difficult: Trail K, 18.3km – spend the day exploring the whole park.
Krka National Park
Although I would wholeheartedly recommend seeing the Plitvice Lakes at least once, I have had clients who prefer a smaller, more beautiful lake-strewn national park in Croatia. The Krka National Park is further south and closer to the coast than Plitvice, making it a more manageable day trip from Zadar (just under an hour) or Split (just over an hour). However, to really explore it by foot I would recommend staying at the Hotel Vrata Krke, which couldn’t be better situated for keen ramblers – it’s just a five-minute walk from the park entrance.
The park encompasses around 142km² of dense woodland, glinting lakes and the Krka River. The Skradinski Buk waterfalls are its most iconic sight; this collection of 17 falls, all at different heights, makes for a stunning photo opportunity.
- Skradinksi Buk – this circular hiking trail is only about 2km long but takes in the park’s most impressive waterfall (of the same name).
- Stinice to Roski Slap – at 8km in length, this picturesque hike takes you to the highest point of the park with its astounding views.