I’m back from fortnight away, combining a week’s walking holiday along the Croatian coast (with Hazel and Cat) with a visit to Phil’s friends Michael and Katja in Berlin, topped off with a few days in Paris on the way back to London. Two very different weeks.
Croatia was fantastic: excellent day hikes, stunning scenery, fab food, a fun group and a great guide – Edo – courtesy of Exodus’ Croatia: Islands & Mountains trip. Berlin started off rather damp, but got better once the weather did, and Michael – our Man In Berlin – provided two fascinating guided tours, of Berlin and Potsdam. Paris was, well, Paris! Expensive with the Euro:Pound exchange rate though, and checking in at the Gare du Nord on Sunday for the Eurostar to London was hellish. I’d be tempted to fly next time – seriously.
Here’s the super summary:
- Sunday 26 June – Sunday 03 July 2011: Croatia – Exodus’ Croatia: Islands & Mountains trip – http://www.exodus.co.uk/holidays/tvd/overview *
- Sunday 03 July 2011: Split to Berlin: Germanwings (Split-Köln-Bonn)
- Sunday 03 – Wednesday 06 July 2011: Berlin – DIY, staying with Michael and Katja
- Wednesday 06 – Thursday 07 July 2011: Berlin – Paris on Deutsche Bahn’s City Night Line sleeper train (the Man in Seat 61 comes up trumps yet again)
- Thursday 07 – Sunday 10 July 2011: Paris – DIY, staying at L’Hôtel des Grandes Ecoles
- Sunday 10 July 2011: Paris – London via Eurostar.
… and here are the photos* and memories …
Sunday 26 June 2011: Fly Croatian Airlines from London to Zagreb and transfer to island of Krk (photos)
We spent the first 3 days of our fabulous Croatia: Islands & Mountains trip based at the eponymous Hotel Krk on the island of Krk, a short stroll along the seafront from Krk old town.
Day 1 was the getting-there day. Cat and I rendezvoused with Hazel at LHR T3 and took Croatian Airlines flight OU 491 to Zagreb. At small scale Zagreb airport we were met by our Croatian walking guide and all round expert, Edo-The-Man-Vričić, and said hello to fellow walkers Lina, Paul and Helen. The minibus to Krk town took two and half-ish hours, but en route we passed through forests and mountains before hitting the coast and crossing the amazing Krk bridge onto the island itself. All stunning.
After a drink and info session with a beer on the shady terrace of the Vila Lovorka, our part of the Hotel Krk complex, we walked along the waterfront into the old town to get our bearings and for dinner al fresco and another beer or two….
Monday 27 June 2011: Obzova Peak ridge walk, Krk (photos)
Day 2 – and our first walk: a short climb to Veli vrh peak (541m) then along the windy, rocky ridge to Obzova peak, the highest point on Krk at 569m. We dropped down to Zminja peak (537m) and then down and back up to Veli Hlam (482m) before our final descent back down to sea level and the resort town of Baška.
Our day started with a minibus drive along the coast via Krk’s out of town Konsum supermarket (I love mooching around other countries’ supermarkets…) for lunch supplies, then on around sheltered Puntarska Draga bay – home to a marina and suspended wire water skiing centre, plus the circular island of Košljun, which hides a Franciscan monastery founded centuries ago.
We parted company with the minibus up in the hills above Punat, which meant the minibus had done a chunk of the day’s climb for us. As we slapped on the sunscreen we caught sight of a team of farmers shearing sheep in the shade of the trees; Edo told us that usually they just throw away the fleeces because there’s no market for them – the shearing is simply to keep the sheep cool – but that this year someone’s provided a skip to collect them.
As we walked we got fantastic views back towards Krk town and its neighbouring island of Cres (closing in on Krk for the title of Croatia’s largest island, as sea levels rise), of to the moon plateau (tomorrow’s destination) on our left, and more islands on our right. Ahead of us we could see the Velebit mountain range over on the mainland and Goli Otok (Nude / Naked island – there’s not a tree to be seen), where political prisoners were incarcerated in a hard labour quarry camp until as recently as 1988.
Beautiful flora and fauna too – wild flowers, metallic green flying beetles and grasshoppers galore…. and the strange white stone circles proved to be sheep pens.
A little after Veli Hlam a steep zig zag descent brought us back into welcome pine tree cover and we lunched in the shade before strolling along a quiet island road and into bustling Baška.
After a cold drink at a seafront bar, a paddle in the clear blue waters of Baška bay (proving that we Brits aren’t very good with pebbly beaches) it was back in the minibus to Hotel Krk to dump our stuff and head out for a swim in the crystal clear waters of the Adriatic. Beautiful. And for Mary, Hazel, Cat and Lina, an aperitif of beer and crisps in our hotel suite…
Dinner in Krk town at a lovely waterfront restaurant over by the Bishops Palace and the harbour, then back through the old town – armed with magnificent ice creams.
A fab first day for the simple-photo-laughter-grasshopper group!
Tuesday 28 June 2011: Hike up to the Moon Plateau and down back to Baška, afternoon/evening in Krk Town and celebrating Lina’s birthday! (photos)
After another of the Hotel Krk’s spoilt-for-choice buffet breakfasts, and a better-prepared stop at Konsum for picnic lunch supplies, we headed off back along the Baška road to the hamlet of Jurandvor. After a bit of background and history at Crkva svete Lucije (St Lucy’s church), which is famous for being the original home of the Baška Tablet, we followed Edo through the village outskirts, fields and orchards and up an old track and the start of the walk up to the Planina Mjeseca – aka the Moon Plateau – and the high point of Hlam (461m). Much more of a slog up than yesterday (no minibus assisted ascent today!), but we were walking in pine forest shade for large parts of the way up and down.
Up on the limestone plateau it was a very stark lunar landscape, with more stone enclosures and walls and plenty of flowers, grasshoppers and beetles to keep me happy. We loitered over a lovely picnic lunch in the shade of the pine trees soaking up the beautiful views out over the bay and over towards where we’d been yesterday, before a surprisingly speedy descent into Baška by way of its old yellow church and winding up at the old town harbour and promenade – the perfect location for a drink followed by a sea level stroll.
Back in Krk we succumbed to a dip in the blue waters of the Adriatic, and then went for a stroll around the old town to take photos of the Frankopan castle, the Bishops’ Residence, Krk Cathedral and Kamplin square. After a wash and brush up, we all gathered at the Titanic boat bar to start the evening’s celebration of Lina’s birthday with a bottle or two of Ožujsko beer, followed by homemade pasta (šurlice – Krk’s speciality) at a very civilised rooftop restaurant – complete with a fantastic surprise birthday cake organised by Edo.
Having cleared the chill out bar on the rocks at the foot of Frankopan castle, Hazel and I decided it was time to head back to the hotel to pack, leaving Lina and Cat to their Ivan and Luka encounter…..
Wednesday 29 June 2011: Drive to Senj and up into Northern Velebit National Park. Walk to Zavižan mountain hut, on to the Velebit Botanical Garden and up Veliki Zavižan (1676m). Sunset over the islands (photos)
Day 4, and time to say farewell to lovely Krk. Hazel and I took an early morning stroll back to the Titanic Bar spit for some photos from the water front. Total tranquility. Breakfast and then off in the minibus back to Krčki most (Krk bridge) and the mainland. The drive down the Jadranska magistrala coast road was fabulous, and after stocking up with supplies in Senj, we turned inland and zig zagged up into the Velebit mountains.
At the entrance to Northern Velebit National Park we said farewell to the minibus (which took our bags on up to Zavižan), donned boots and day packs and headed off into the Park’s forests and high mountain meadows. A lovely walk – lots of flowers – brought us to Zavižan (1597m). From the mountain hut there are fabulous views out over the mountains and forests of Velebit and back out over the coast to the islands and the Adriatic.
After lunch, and a taste of the warden’s rakia, Edo led The Ladies down to the Botanical Gardens – a bowl-shaped depression (technically a sink hole or – given the karst terrain – a doline) where examples of Velebit flora have been gathered together, with many also labelled. I had a field day. Part way round the Gardens, we turned left and climbed through the woods and on up through the scrub pines to the peak of Veliki Zavižan (Great Zavižan) at 1676m. A steep climb, and worth it for the views. Edo got his “this is why I love my job” photo; and in honour of *that* Mamma Mia evening, Hazel, Cat and I did our interpretation of Abba’s Waterloo.
Back at the mountain hut, we sampled a bottle of two of the Velebit range of beers before mucking in to make salad, chop cheese and generally prepare for dinner. In between starters (Tomato-cucumber-pepper salad, bread, Krk goats cheese) and mains (bean stew and sausage), we took ourselves up the small hill opposite and watched the sunset over the islands – beautiful. Back for beans, then bed.
Thursday 30 June 2011: Premuziceva Trail from Zavižan to Alan mountain hut; transfer to Karlobag (photos)
We woke to low cloud and rain! What a shock to the system. Not a mountain peak or distant island to be seen.
A tasty breakfast of scrambled eggs (so yellow!!) perked us up and donning waterproofs we bid farewell to Zavižan and headed off downhill to the start of the Premuziceva Trail (Premužićeva staza). Built in 1933, the trail takes you through the heart of the Northern Velebit National Park, remote and protected, with beautiful wild flowers every step of the way, and weird and wonderful water carved limestone rocks interspersed with spruce and beech forests. The Croatian National Tourist Board’s Premuziceva Trail pages provide an excellent account of the route as well as the history of the trail.
We lunched in Rossi’s hut, which looked like it was undergoing a spot of renovation, but at least it provided shelter from the rain. The afternoon leg of the trail included some steep descents and stretches through forests and long grass alpine meadows, eventually bringing us to the Alan mountain hut.
After changing out of wet boots (this was the day I decided my new Merrell Outbounds were Definitely Going Back), we met our new minibus and driver who ferried us down the switchback road leaving the Velebit mountains behind us and continuing south along the Jadranska magistrala coast road to Karlobag.
After checking in at the Hotel Zagreb, and luxuriating in the power showers of our newly refurbished block, Lina, Hazel, Cat and I headed off to explore Karlobag and – most importantly – to find coffee and cake, which we did with great success. We returned to the old town/village for dinner, in a lovely restaurant tucked away on a first floor terrace overlooking a courtyard. Everyone ate well, and we could hardly refuse the buy-one-get-one-free offer on the litre carafes of local white wine…
Friday 01 July 2011: A circular walk via the three valleys of Crni Dabar, Ravni Dabar and Dosen Dabar; then on to Starigrad-Paklenica for the night (photos)
Today’s walk started with in another stretch of the Premuziceva Trail (Premužićeva staza), through woods and meadows before rejoining the tarmac, where we turned off left towards the sea views, and more exposed and water carved karst. Climbing up through woods, we emerged into a clearing with the remains of a house where we stopped for a break and butterfly photos before climbing up to Visibaba peak (1160m) for superb 360o views – out to the sea and the islands on one side and of the famous kuks (hips) of the Velebit mountains.
Retracing our steps to the abandoned house, we continued on through forest and across meadows with paths of leaves and paths of karst, and after a thankfully-not-too-close wild boar encounter we arrived at the Ravni dabar mountain hut, and the end of the (almost) circular walk through the three valleys of Crni Dabar, Ravni Dabar and Dosen Dabar (I’m afraid I couldn’t tell one from the other…).
Today’s lunch came courtesy of the warden, who had prepared two huge cauldrons of local speciality stew for us, plus bread and beers on the side (Velebit beer, of course….).
Replete, we drove back out to the coast and on to Starigrad-Paklenica which stretches along the Jadranska magistrala for a few miles.
We were staying the Hotel Rajna, a small family hotel with views out over the Velebit channel to the island of Pag, and of olive groves and the ruined Venetian watch tower/fortress on this side of the water.
In the still hot late afternoon sun, Hazel, Cat, Lina and I walked out to the pebbly beach but our attempts to swim in the calm waters of the Velebit channel were foiled by shallow water and sensitive feet…. Leaving the others to head back to base, I pottered on round to the ruin and read for a while. Lovely.
Back at the hotel, we gathered for a home-cooked dinner on the terrace. Another lovely evening.
Saturday 02 July 2011: Gorgeous gorge walks in Velika Paklenica N.P., the off to Trogir for our final evening together (photos)
The final real day of the trip 🙁 But at least the sun was shining for our walk in Velika Paklenica N.P., at the southern end of the Velebit mountains.
The Hotel Rajna‘s owner gave us a lift in his Land Rover to the start of today’s trek – the end of the tarmac road at the edge of Starigrad-Paklenica.
Even with that helping hand, today’s walk was hardest of the trip (of course!), a long slog climbing up through the trees to the site of the atmospheric Mirila graves, then upwards again to the col and our last views of the sea.
An undulating path brought us to the abandoned houses of Tomici Village – some of which are being restored with a view to eco tourism/”getting away from it all”. Surrounded by Velebit’s limestone karst and low trees and shrubs we undulated onwards to Vidokov kuk, and thence to Ramići village where we zigzagged steeply down to the river in Velika (Big) Paklenica gorge, which we followed north to the cafe at Lugarnica – a great place for our final picnic lunch.
The paved path through Velika Paklenica made for an easy stroll back to our walk’s end – allowing ample opportunity to admire the rock climbers making their way up what looked like sheer rock faces.
Back in the minibus for our penultimate transfer – speeding along the motorway to Trogir. The whole of the old city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it provided a very different place to spend our final evening: staying in an old hotel inside the town walls, eating in its courtyard restaurant, and treating ourselves to One Last Ice cream as we toured the town sights for a final time: the Cathedral church of St. Lawrence, the Kamerlengo Castle. A place to come back to.
Sunday 03 July 2011: Goodbye simple-photo-laughter-grasshopper group. Gutenabend Berlin (no photos!)
The final day of the trip started with a very early morning transfer to Split airport to catch the 06:45 Croatian Airlines flight to Zagreb Airport and on to LHR. We’d said our farewells to Paul and Helen last night, so at the airport it was time to say goodbye to Edo, and for me to wish Lina, Cat and Hazel bon voyage back to Blighty, and then to wait until my Germanwings flight to Köln/ Bonn and an early afternoon onwards flight to Berlin Schönefeld.
A long day of airports. It was grey and cold in Köln/ Bonn; rainy and colder in Berlin. I’d left Split bathed in hot summer sun.
After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing on the S9 and S3/S75 train lines, I arrived at the Hauptbahnhof with half an hour to spare before Phil’s train from Munich was due to arrive. It was all a bit weird to see Phil, plus Michael and Katja appear …. and to actually be in Berlin.
Monday 04 July 2011: Berlin in the rain (photos)
A wet and overcast first full day in Berlin dampened our first impressions of the city somewhat….
We spent the day out and about, exploring on foot, walking from Michael and Katja’s to the river and Museum Island, on to Alexanderplatz, following the skyline to find our way to key sights.
Tuesday 05 July 2011: Berlin in the sun (photos)
A sunnier day all round!
Michael – Our Man in Berlin – spent his morning showing us the sights, on a personal guided tour – fascinating.
After lunch with Matt Biddulph close to Checkpoint Charlie, we meandered through the Tiergarten and back along the other side of the Spree, soaking up the sun and reading for a spell before walking back for dinner with Michale, Katja and Soeren.
Wednesday 06 July 2011: Potsdam tour with Michael, catch a final beer and the sleeper train to Paris (photos)
A scorcher of a day out of Berlin, taking another great walking tour courtesy of Michael – this time out and about in Potsdam. My favourite bit? The Glienicke Bridge – top Cold War spy swop spot.
Back to Berlin Hauptbahnhof to rendezvous with Katja for farewell beer, and then the DB City Night Line sleeper train to Paris.
Thursday 07 – Sunday 10 July 2011: Paris (photos)
Staying at the delightful L’Hôtel des Grandes Ecoles near the Sorbonne, a final few days pottering around Paris.
Highlight: Albert-Kahn musée et jardins.
Lowlight: Checking in at the Gare du Nord for the Eurostar back to London. Chaos, and no one cared.
* For the full set of photos on Flickr, visit Croatia – Berlin – Paris, June/July 2011.
* 28 March 2014 Update: Well, that’s a first – Exodus have asked me to remove my links back to their website as they’re having trouble with their Google rankings due to “unnatural links” pointing to their website. Hence the unlinked URL to the trip page.