By: Andrea Pisac
We’re into a sizzling hot summer. On some days even the sea can’t cool you off. So what can you do? I say, go hiking Croatian coast. Look behind and up to the hills towering your coastal destination. A gorgeous hiking trail could be only 15 minutes drive from your seaside resort.
Let me take you to Krmpote mountain village – Croatia ultimate off the path destination
Croats are spoilt by the most beautiful sea in the world
Adriatic sea is so perfect it’s hard to do anything else but sit in the sun or throw yourself into the crystal blue water. I too was once a spoilt Croat who visited the coast only to swim and get tanned. I’d park myself on the beach, roll around under the sun until my skin got a nice crackling pork quality and then baste myself with some salty water for the final glaze. Two weeks later, I was ready to go home and peel.
But living abroad has opened me up to different experiences. I grew to love walking by the mustard-coloured Irish sea. I’ve even admired gusty winds of the stunning Northumberland coast. It wasn’t love at first sight but the British coast inspired me to look further than the sun and the sea even in Croatia. When the temperature gets too hot, I look for walking trails, especially those in the mountains. Here’s why you should try hiking Croatian coast too.
Mountains and the coast are one
Almost every place on the Croatian coast is sheltered by mountains. If you’re travelling to the sea from Zagreb, there is at least one mountain range to ‘overcome’: drive over it or drive through it via tunnels. Mountains also do funny things to the weather, like creating a powerful bura wind that cools off the sea even in the middle of the summer. Mountains literally split coastal and continental Croatia in half.
Croatian coast has always enjoyed more spotlight than its hinterlands. Yet, only together do they create a unique social and eco system. Zadar and Velebit, Split and Mosor, Makarska and Biokovo, Klenovica and Krmpote, as contrastingly different as they appear, you won’t truly know one without the other.
The coast is urban, rich, cultural, scorching hot, with less vegetation and fewer animals. It’s a place local people flock to for work.
The hinterlands are rural, poor, natural, cooler, with lush vegetation and rich animal world. It’s a place local people return to for peace and quiet.
Krmpote – mountain village with a celestial experience
When was the last time you felt so excited you couldn’t sleep? It happened to me the night I was promised a visit to Krmpote – a remote mountain village in the Klenovica (and Novi Vinodolski) hinterland. Our itinerary was: walk the stone labyrinths, watch wild horses grazing around, renew our vows at a glass chapel, and have a meal in a mountain hut. Add to that amazing sea views and temperatures as mild as in springtime. In my child’s heart and mind, the next day wasn’t coming quickly enough.
A July weekend in Klenovica turned out sunny, clear but searingly hot. Sweltering temperatures continued into the night so we tossed around in bed welcoming even a tiny breeze. On the hottest day, a few hours before sunset, we drove up to the mountains. In just 15 minutes we reached Krmpote at the altitude of 800 metres. I stepped out of the car and into a different world.
A short walk through Krmpote village leads to one of the most amazing hiking trails I’ve seen. Sweeping mountains covered with soft meadows and dark green forests fill the horizon to all sides. There are no people, only the sound of buzzing insects and the smell of wild strawberries. The air is cooler, thicker and it reverberates as if alive. Along the trail we look for the Celestial Labyrinths. Ten of them line the path until it reaches the summit.
It’s hard to believe the labyrinths were laid out by a single woman. Though individual stones are not huge, labyrinths as a whole are monumental and awe-inspiring. Their author, Ingrid Karačić Butorac, spent nine months arranging stones in circles. Each pattern has a symbolic meaning – a purpose – and is connected to one celestial body. Ingrid claims walking the labyrinths has the healing power on the physical, emotional and spiritual level.
We found all ten labyrinths. It was fun searching them out: some are slightly hidden by trees, others grouped together and sheltered in a naturally formed dip. There is a story attached to each labyrinth: one is for emotional balance, one for creative power, one to foster transformation and so on. You don’t have to believe the stories, just walk and wait.
By the time we reached the last one – the Ganesh labyrinth, or the labyrinth of wholeness – we were hooked. Ancient civilisations used labyrinth walking as a form of meditation. This is exactly what happened to us, even to non-believers. As you put one foot in front of the other, careful to stay inside the narrow line between the stones, you forget about everything else. The world slows down, your body moves by itself – the only thing that can jolt you out is a breath-taking view of the sea. This is what you get once you reach the summit.
Celestial experience continues
Krmpote is one of the rare areas in Croatia where horses live free in the wild. If I were a horse, I too would choose Krmpote as my pasture. An intriguing thing is that even the horses walk the labyrinths. If you miss the animals, you won’t miss their dung trail dotted around the stones. I was so eager to spot a wild horse that I peaked behind each tree. I examined the freshness of each dung and then I would rejoice: ‘They’re not far from here’! I followed them like an experienced wayfinder but without luck. The sun was still too high for them to come out to graze.
Mellow after our labyrinth meditations, we headed to the famous glass chapel. Deep in the forest, there is a small art deco chapel made of glass. It sounds dreamlike and it really is. You can see through it to all sides so it feels as if the chapel is not there at all. Or if it’s descended right from the heaven. No wonder it is often used by couples to renew their vows in front of it. We did the same.
By 8pm it was cool enough to wear long sleeves. We walked briskly to the mountain hut for our meal. And just when I reconciled with missing the horses this time, I saw a herd on the far away ridge. They came out of the woods and were slowly starting on their dinner. I was finally at peace.
Our meal was exquisite. Zvonko, the heart and soul of the mountain hut, made a special vegetarian dish for me – nettle and cheese strudel. The others enjoyed venison stew. Everything we ate was made with local ingredients. And this especially came through in the wild berries pie. I am sure even the foxes smelt it when they came round the terrace to steal some.
That night I slept a deep restful sleep. Maybe it was the labyrinth meditation doing its miracle, maybe the rich mountain air or the beauty that all my senses feasted on. Whether you come for celestial or earthly reasons, Krmpote mountain village is a place you can’t afford to miss!
Hiking Croatian coast: Krmpote information
We stayed in the apartments owned by our friends. The accommodation is beautifully designed and the view from the terrace is breath taking. Our friends are devoted hosts and a great source of information about Klenovica and its surroundings. Tell them what you like and they’ll give you excellent tips on how to spend your days. You can book Lovrić apartments through their website.
We drove to Krmpote from Klenovica. It’s a 15 minute drive with some steep curves but on a good enough road. You need a long-sleeved jumper if you’re staying for an evening meal. The temperature at 9pm was 15 degrees Celsius.
The walking trail is about 1 km long but if you walk each labyrinth it will take you about 2 hours.
We ate at Krmpote mountain lodge, run by Zvonko. This restaurant is famous for the wild game specialties but in Zvonko’s own words ‘they cater for all tastes and requirements’. I truly enjoyed my vegetarian dinner. It’s a good idea to ring ahead of your visit.
This post first appeared on Zagreb Honestly blog