Hiking In Croatia: Top Trails To Explore
Cathy O'Connor | 02 June 2022
Croatia offers some of the best hiking trails in Europe and you can join us on a 7-night guided walking holiday, where we'll get off the beaten track, explore some of its incredible islands, experience the country's stunning natural scenery and take in the views of the beautiful Adriatic coast. Fashion stylist Cathy O'Connor recently embarked on our Croatia Walking Holiday, keep on reading and you can learn more about the incredible walks and treks in Croatia.
"There was a time when my idea of holiday heaven was parking myself by a pool, soaking up the sunshine hour after hour, the days blurring into each other as one day was exactly the same as the next. Pleasurable but rather predictable. Having not travelled for two years, I wanted more from my precious time off; I wanted a new adventure, new sights, new experiences and for once, to come home with stories to tell. When I had the opportunity of hiking in Croatia for a week with TD active Holidays, I jumped at the chance as it promised all that I craved and it certainly delivered in every way!
Day 1 - Travel To Croatia
Having landed in sunny Dubrovnik airport, we were met by our charming and enthusiastic guide, Jelka. The group was a mixed bunch of people; gal pals, independent travellers and couples but within no time, the warmth of inclusion enveloped everyone. This band of strangers chatted happily about the week ahead. Within the hour, we were relaxing by the pool at the hotel or on the beach, enjoying the sunshine. We gathered that evening for a delicious buffet dinner. The chat was focused on the hiking excursions for the week ahead; we all wondered about how difficult the treks might be, the best type of footwear to wear or indeed, if the weather would hold up but no matter the questions, there was much anticipation for the next day as our hiking adventure was about to begin.
Day 2 - Hiking To Cavtat
Our starting point was the historic village of Čilipi. It was preparing for the usual Sunday festival of folk songs and dances at the church of St Nicholas in the main square. Renowned for traditional values, the villagers were wearing beautiful embroidered costumes and the village was festooned in colourful banners. Amidst all this colour, we gathered into three groups , each with a dedicated guide. There were the fast walkers, the mid paced walkers and those that prefered to amble along. This allowed everyone to go at their preferred stride, so no one felt frustrated or under pressure. Our 8km hike took us on beautiful forest trails , passing through Mocici and on to the seaside village of Cavtat. The village was postcard picture perfect - an unspoilt seaside promenade lined with small fishing boats, cafes overlooking the sparking Adriatic sea , all with the background soundtrack of bird song. We sat by the water's edge eating our packed lunches, each of us feeling very lucky to be there. When we returned to the hotel, we lounged by the pool or at the beach. The day offered the perfect blend of activity and relaxation.
Day 3 - Ferry To Mljet Island
It was an early start the next morning as we were heading for the island of Mjlet. Our bus journey of almost two hours was broken by a visit to the historic town of Ston on the Peljesac Peninsula. The 7 kilometres of medieval walls which surround and circle this town create a very dramatic vista. We then headed for the ferry at Trstenik which would take us to the National park on Mjlet. As we approached this island, it already felt like a special place; tranquil, rugged, a real escape from the world. Within no time, we had our hiking boots on and were headed for the Great Lake. Our three local guides Tino, Nika and Pero were full of enthusiasm for island life and we all came to understand why. There's a raw beauty about the National Park at Mjlet, with only the sounds of nature to be heard (there are very few cars allowed). Soon we were silent when the breathtaking and impressive 12th century Beneditine Monastery came into view. A short boat trip took us to St Mary's island where we explored the Monastery which was full of local colour. As we walked through the buildings, our guides gave us an insight into the dynamic and complex history of Croatia. The Monastery remains largely untouched creating a distinctive atmosphere. It was time to head to our hotel - Hotel Odisej is the only hotel in the National Park and overlooks the water and jetty. It was a delight to sit outside with a well earned coffee and observe the gentle rhythm of the village. Over a delicious buffet dinner, we chatted about The Big Hike the next day. 16 kilometres, up to an altitude of 253m which would take us six hours! I have to admit I was a bit apprehensive as to whether I would make it to the top - while I love to hike, I'm no mountain climber! I was reassured that I wouldn't be put under any pressure as I would be able, once again, to walk at my own pace. I reminded myself that I had asked for a new experience and here it was!
Day 4 - Hiking Mljet National Park
We walked on the flat until we arrived at the village of Sol. Fortified by delicious coffee, we ascended the trail towards Montokuc. The group naturally fell into a pilgrim-like single file. Where there had been plenty of chat at the outset, everyone relaxed into an easy silence. The magnificence of the vistas and sounds of nature around us was soothing to the soul. Our heads were bowed, keeping an eye on the all important placement of steps over the rocky terrain. It was a mesmeric rhythm as I felt I was leaving the busy world behind and effortlessly tuning into myself. No battles in my own head, just the welcome relief of being away, being in nature and appreciating the adventure. We gradually climbed higher with the constant of the forest and lake receding below us. WIth burning thighs and a great sense of achievement, I made it to the top. The view was totally worth the effort with its rich tones of abundant green and pools of clear blue water. Never did my packed lunch sandwich taste so good! As everyone arrived at the top, we welcomed them with a cheer. We descended towards the ancient port of Polace with a feeling of triumph. I was dreaming of returning to the sun loungers that overlooked the water at the hotel , basking in the sunshine and savouring the day's adventure.
Day 5 - Mljet Salt Lakes
Early the next day we set off with our guides for the salt water Small and Great lakes. It was so interesting walking and talking with each of the guides as they told us about life in Croatia. For me, learning about the culture, politics and religion was one of the added bonuses of this trip. On my previous 'sun holidays', my only interaction with the locals was limited to ordering food or drink and so I left these places none the wiser. The perspective of the guides enriched this adventure all the more. We arrived at the majestic meeting point of the sea and the lakes. Selfies were taken, packed lunches were eaten and the good humoured banter of the trip continued amongst us.
Day 6 - Peljesac Peninsula & Korcula
There was a collective sigh as we left the island the next day but we were buoyed up by the prospect of a visit to an organic vineyard on the Peljesac Peninsula. Our bus deposited us at a fork in the road, where we were met by the owners of Bartulovic Vineyard. We walked through the quiet countryside and shortly reached the winery. The passion and commitment of Maro towards wine making was palpable. His family had operated this vineyard for many generations and despite gruelling conditions, he chooses to produce so as to pass the legacy to his family. Needless to say, we sampled this delicious and distinctive wine, purchased that delicious and distinctive wine which was enjoyed later that evening and never made it to our suitcases (which had been the plan!) After a short ferry trip, we arrived at the elegant and sophisticated island of Korčula. My head was in a spin with the vista of so much impressive architecture; medieval squares, imposing churches, historic palaces and houses. It's a gourmet destination with many fine restaurants. I had a delightful amble around the town made all the more pleasurable by enjoying one of the best ice cream cones I've ever had! The perfect boost for the jaunt back to our hotel near Dubrovnik. We had stayed in this hotel only four days ago and yet it seems like another lifetime ago. So many good times were packed into those days!
Day 7 - Free Time To Explore Dubrovnik
That evening, everyone was discussing plans for the next day as it was a 'free' day but sadly, our last day. Most people headed to Dubrovnik to explore; walking the 13th century walls which stretch 1940m and surround the city, travelling by cable car at 405m for the spectacular views, doing The Game of Thrones tour.. there were so many options. I opted to check out the style on offer at this renowned city. After a leisurely breakfast, I walked by the coastal path to Lapad and took a bus to the centre. Dubrovnik is so breathtakingly beautiful it's like being on a film set. Every turn reveals an exquisite example of Baroque architecture along with imposing Gothic and Renaissance constructs. A pedestrian city, it's the perfect place to browse and watch the world go by. The shopping offered everything from kitsch souvenirs, local craft to premium brands. I enjoyed Croatia, a shop dedicated to .. cravats, yes cravats (it's the national cultural symbol). Gruž market offered everything from delicious sweetened almonds, vegetables to pouches of fragrant lavender. I spent a long time drooling over the jewellery at Franc and Rudolf. Full of exquisitely crafted pieces using gemstones, coral and diamonds, it was one of the most beautiful ranges of jewellery I've ever seen. While I didn't purchase any diamonds, I was delighted to buy aromatic soap at Tilda which was made by our own guide Jelka. After a delicious, leisurely day, it was back to the hotel for our last night. The spirits were high as people recounted the adventures of the week, phone numbers were exchanged and great memories made. I couldn't recommend this trip highly enough. It was exactly what I was after; new experiences, new vistas with the perfect blend of activity and relaxation. It's all the pleasure and none of the pain. All the pleasure of discovering new places and new vistas. None of the pain of organizing or doing endless research. Everything was taken care of, the biggest decision any of us had to make was what to choose for dinner! For those of us with busy lives where we have to make so many decisions every single day, having a week of ease was therapeutic. I returned home relaxed, energised and yes, with stories to tell."
Have you been inspired by Cathy's trip? We have a variety of walking holidays in some incredible European destinations, whether you’re an experienced walker or prefer taking things at a more moderate pace, you'll be accompanied by our expert local guides who will help you walk at a pace that suits you and never go too far off the beaten track.