TREKKING THE RIDGE OF UČKA, CROATIA
“Can you see it? We've got to get up there.
It’s the highest point of the ridge at 1,401 m.
And then? Hmm, and then we keep going...
It's about 42 kilometres. Midway you can see the sea, the island of Cres, Lošinj, and the Adriatic lapping the length of the Croatian coast all the way to the very bottom of it.
We were in Učka Nature Park. Trekking the entire ridge of this promontory had been in our plans for at least a couple of years. We'd looked at this long crest many, many times when driving below on our way to visit Glorija's grandparents in her hometown. Istria is a stunning triangular peninsula filled with a myriad of contrasts. On the one hand, there is the breathtaking sea, synonymous with relaxation and appeal due to its seaside tourism. On the other, there is the inland terrain where you can do a variety of outdoor activities amidst the little Venetian-style hamlets that are well worth a visit. Villages that appear here and there on the highest hills, with their white bell towers popping out from amongst the thick green foliage. This is the round part of Istria, with its fields cultivated by the labours of people who still speak the Venetian dialect, Istriot and Croatian. You notice the animals getting closer and closer to the homes: sheep, chickens, pigs and cows, but - most of all - goats. You can smell the fresh air as you walk in nature, looking out for the Istrian stone that crops up, sharply, here and there amidst the grass. Vineyards and olive trees, sometimes bent by the Bora wind, are by no means in short supply. Istria is somewhere that you really need to visit: as lovely for a holiday as it is for the rest of your life.
Our trek was split up into two stages. The first 19-km leg spanned from the hamlet of Brgudac, 739 m.a.s.l., (above the town of Lupoglav), going via the peak of Mount Učka (1,401 m), the highest point of the entire route, and ending up at the “Babino Sklonište” bivouac, 1,012 m.a.s.l. (above the town of Lovran). The second 22.8-km leg began from the (three-bed) bivouac towards the village of Plomin, 168 m.a.s.l.. The ridge is a long route, made up of continuous ascents and descents for about 42 kilometres. Although there are no specific dangers to look out for, you do need to be in shape with a good pair of legs on you, wear hiking boots that have excellent grip and take enough water. We covered the route over two spring days, with the hot sun and the strong Bora wind for company. At the start, we were sinking into the snow a little while by the end, we were walking on sharp Istrian stone between the two summits of Sisol and Bukovo.
Nestled between the mountain and the sea, the terrain is lush and varied in terms of animals and plant life. Mount Učka is largely covered by a beech forest, with a few European hop-hornbeam, oak and black pines for good measure. If you visit in autumn, you'll have no trouble finding porcini and black chanterelle mushrooms, as well as truffles. But come in spring and one of the most fun things to do is pick wild asparagus. You don't think about anything else. You compete to see who can gather the most. It's a real stress-reliever, as you are only focused on finding them amongst the forests and brambles.
The view is breathtaking from the highest peak. The shade of the dense forests, the peacefulness of the trails and the power of the Bora. The spring air and the soft ridge. Climbing Mount Učka is thrilling, but you have to be able to appreciate the simplicity of rugged places. This massif separates the Kvarner Gulf from central Istria and it dominates the inland landscape of the area. In fact, from the peak you will get the chance to enjoy one of the most beautiful views in all of Croatia, which covers Rijeka, the island of Cres, the Dalmatian islands and the Velebit mountain range, and then to the north, the Italian Alps, the Karst, the Julian Alps and the Dolomites on clear days.
It is edged by a few small springs and just as small towns. The fact that it is a little isolated from the rest of the mountain belt, coupled with its closeness to the sea, make this mountain unique and distinctive. It is beautiful to see this mountain standing out, on its own, at the far end of eastern Istria, before it suddenly sinks into the sea. This steep descent makes it seem much higher than it really is, yet the climb is still 1,400 metres if you start near to the coast.
It was wonderful walking between the mountain and the sea with the warm light of the sunset blurring the horizon and then finding our bearings with the last few rays of sunlight through the beech trees as we looked for a cabin to spend the night. There is only one doubt that came to mind at the end of this fantastic hike, while sipping a glass of Malvasia wine. Should we opt for excellent meat or go for exquisite fish for dinner? We've given you a few ideas. As soon as it’s possible to leave the house again, get yourself kitted out and set off on a new adventure. Istria out of season, as with the entire Croatian coast, is a whole different experience.
WHERE TO SLEEP:
The Baba Bivouac is a wooden cabin overlooking the sea that is managed by the Municipality of Lovran. You'd be best to take a sleeping bag and mat with you as there are just three rough-and-ready camping beds. We brought a light tent with us just in case, because we didn't know the actual state of the building.