Landscapes and Landmarks | Croatia Unbound

Landscapes and Landmarks

Premužic Trail

PREMUŽIC TRAIL

Croatia’s Dinaric Alps offers hikers a hiking experience unlike anywhere else in Europe. Within the bounds of the Dinaric Alps lies the limestone Velebit Mountains, running parallel to the Adriatic Coast’s cobalt blue waters.

The long distance Premužic Trail runs through the heart of this cragged mountain environment, following along the crest of the Velebit Mountains. From the trail, hikers can see views of the Adriatic Sea, Croatia’s Lika region, and Velebit’s stunning mountain landscape punctuated by rugged pinnacles and limestone knobs.

Northern Velebit National Park encompasses the northern region of the Velebit Mountains, which has also been claimed as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

FEŠTINI KINGDOM CAVE (FESTINSKO KRALJEVSTVO)

FEŠTINI KINGDOM CAVE (FESTINSKO KRALJEVSTVO)

The Feštini Kingdom Cave system lies in central Istria, near Feštini village outside of Žminj. Stalactites and and stalagmites perforate the caves, each distinct formation earning a name a la Carlsbad Caverns. The underground “kingdom” is therefore decorated with a Tower of Babel, the Magicians Hat, and the immense Bats Wings tangled in the roots of grapevines growing above.   

According to the locals, the cave system was discovered accidentally in 1930 when the floor of the karst valley collapsed. The cave was disguised during WWII, and served as a hiding place for the villagers. Legend goes that neighboring village children were the ones who endowed the cave system with its regal name; when parents asked where they were, they succinctly replied, “in the kingdom.”

MAKARSKA RIVIERA

MAKARSKA RIVIERA

The Makarska Riviera sits between Dubrovnik and Split, at the foot of the Biokovo mountain range, with the city of Makarska its focal point. The hinterland is pretty and the beaches are often buzzing with tourists. Many a traveler finds their way to the Makarska Riviera, and the iconic landmark Brela Rock, so while the sandy and pebbly beaches are a top Croatian site, the picturesque coast is well-packaged for tourists.

For those looking to travel off the beaten path, wander up into the hill villages above Makarska where there’s plenty of unspoiled, authentic Dalmatian character to go around.

MARJAN HILL

MARJAN HILL

Marjan Hill is one of the best sites in Split—especially if you’re hoping to get away from the urban hustle and bustle. Marjan has been a protected nature park since 1964, and as a lush green oasis its thought of as the “lungs of the city.” The Croatian flag flies atop Marjan Hill’s peak, Telegrin—reinforcing the hill’s position as a symbol of Split.

Countless hiking paths wind throughout the park’s forested area and jagged coastline, though some prefer to hop on a bike. Marjan’s about the size of New York’s Central Park, and there’s plenty to explore such as:

  • Sustipan peninsula—particularly popular for rock climbers
  • Sv. Jere Church—constructed in 1500 into the hill’s rock face
  • Kašjuni Beach—keep in mind it’s both dog AND nudist friendly
  • Bene Beach—this northern beach also offers activities such as a playground and tennis court
  • Zoo—tiny, but fun  

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ODYSSEUS CAVE

ODYSSEUS CAVE

According to legend, Homer’s Odysseus shipwrecked near this cave and was held captive there by the nymph Calypso. Odysseus Cave lies on Mljet’s southern coast, near the village of Babino Polje.  Visitors can enter the egg-shaped cave by sea by passing through a channel only 4-5 meters wide—large enough for swimmers or a small boat to pass through. Visitors can also reach Odysseus Cave by land by climbing down a set of steep stairs to the cave’s gaping mouth.

If you visit, go at high noon when the sun casts a shimmering spectrum of colors in the sea—a vivid display that will have you wondering if Calypso still resides there. Odysseus definitely could have it had worse.  

PELJEŠAC PENINSULA

PELJEŠAC PENINSULA

Pelješac peninsula, the largest peninsula in Dalmatia, lies across the Pelješac channel facing Korčula. The slender yet diverse finger of land comes with the standard Croatian sides of rugged mountains, placid coves, and turquoise waters, but the peninsula’s highlights tend to be more palate-related: wine, oysters, mussels, and locally-crafted olive oils.

Unlike some other southern Dalmatian destinations, Pelješac peninsula hasn’t given itself over to tourism and instead retains its agricultural disposition. It’s the perfect getaway for those looking for sun-drenched vineyards and relaxation. Ston and Orebić, the two largest settlements, bookend the peninsula, though small, sleepy villages dot the peninsula.

In Ston, you’ll find the Great Walls of Ston, which are a 15th century wall curling over the hills very similar to its more epic namesake. You’ll also find lots of salt and the nearby Mali Ston with its famed oyster beds. The Pelješac peninsula is at the heart of Croatian wine, and Orebić is no slouch. The town is inviting, and it’s easy to spend a day hiking up Mt. Ilija before popping into several friendly wineries for some tastings.

ZLATNI RAT BEACH

ZLATNI RAT BEACH

Zlatni Rat Beach just may be Croatia’s best beach—and it has the credentials to back it up having been listed at least two times as one of the best beaches in Europe. The constantly changing spit of land sometimes goes by Golden Cape or Golden Horn beach. Zlatni Rat is located on Brač Island, about 4km rom Bol, and it’s perfectly recognizable with its triangular shape. It appears like a tongue, jutting out of the island and lapping up the azure Adriatic waters. As Jugo blows, the tip of Zlatni Rat Beach can shift orientation, ensuring you rarely get the same picture twice.

It’s a great beach to snorkel or paddle around, and Maestral winds make it a top spot for windsurfers. Just watch out for nudists that might have wandered over from their neighboring (approved) beach.

BIŠEVO’S BLUE GROTTO (OR BLUE CAVE)

BIŠEVO’S BLUE GROTTO (OR BLUE CAVE)

The isle of Biševo, about an hour boat ride from Vis’ fishing town of Komiza, harbors one of Croatia’s most stunning natural wonders: The Blue Grotto, or the Blue Cave (Modra špilja). The Blue Cave is known for its silvery-blue glow created by the sun’s rays entering through a small crack and reflecting off the cave’s limestone floor. It’s an ethereal experience, and the luminescent cave has captured the imagination of visitors since ancient times.

The Blue Cave not easy to get to, that’s for sure. The sequestered cave lies on Biševo’s eastern shores, tucked into the jagged walls of Balun Cove. Only in 1884 was dynamite used to blast a small entrance into the rock, opening a small entrance large enough for a small boat to get through. Before that, people dived underneath a rock wall to enter the luminous grotto.

The best times to visit the cave are between 11 a.m. and 12 p.m.—especially on sunny days when the grotto really gets lit up. Though it’s not the easiest trek and there might be a bit of a wait, it’s a natural wonder pictures just can’t do justice to.

 

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