Where the Mountain Greets the Sea: Starigrad Pakle

Tripoto
31st May 2014

Courtesy Mark Katic: Sunset in Plakencia

Photo of Where the Mountain Greets the Sea: Starigrad Pakle by Chasing The Donkey

Zrmanja River

Photo of Where the Mountain Greets the Sea: Starigrad Pakle by Chasing The Donkey
Photo of Where the Mountain Greets the Sea: Starigrad Pakle by Chasing The Donkey

Climb / Hike in Plakencia NP

Photo of Where the Mountain Greets the Sea: Starigrad Pakle by Chasing The Donkey

Wild Horses in Starigrad Plakencia

Photo of Where the Mountain Greets the Sea: Starigrad Pakle by Chasing The Donkey

Wellness Spa

Photo of Where the Mountain Greets the Sea: Starigrad Pakle by Chasing The Donkey
Photo of Where the Mountain Greets the Sea: Starigrad Pakle by Chasing The Donkey

Starigrad Paklenica

Photo of Where the Mountain Greets the Sea: Starigrad Pakle by Chasing The Donkey

Vecka Kula Tower

Photo of Where the Mountain Greets the Sea: Starigrad Pakle by Chasing The Donkey

Starigrad Paklenica has been on my Croatian bucketlist since I first heard how close it was to where we live. As we drove closer and closer toward Starigrad Paklenica, the Velebit mountain which happens to be the largest mountain range in Croatia, grew larger and larger, I could hear the theme song to Star Wars and it felt like we were going to be enveloped by the mountian range ahead.

Starigrad Paklenica is a town that sits at the base of the towering Velebit mountains, in northern Dalmatia, just 40km from Zadar. Mother nature blessedCroatia when it comes to nature, and she gave Starigrad Paklenica an extra blessing by sitting the Paklenica National Park right next door.

The Velebit mountain range is a part of the Dinaric Alps & runs through Slovenia, Montenegro, Serbia, Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia, and reaches its highest point in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The are two National Parks in the mountain range, the National Park Sjeverni Velebit which is in the north and the Paklenica National Park, which is in the South. On a clear day, the Velebit could almost be compared to a Hollywood backdrop, with the mountains looking as though they’ve been painted below the sky.

Once we arrived in Starigrad Paklenica, we were in complete awe of the mountains rising sharply up from the sea. Staring up towards the sky, I felt dwarfed by this immense giant, like a mere speck at its feet.  

Get out on the water

Rafting trips take place on Zrmanja River starting in early spring up to summer, and then start again at the end of summer through to late autumn. During the low water level periods of summer you can still enjoy the Zrmanja on a kayak or canoe.

If you’re like me and the thought of doing all that sounds too exhausting, you can take boat trips from Starigrad for the day. The family-friendly boat excursion start at Starigrad along the Zrmanja River mouth, all the way to Obrovac, and includes lunch.

What to do in Starigrad Paklenica?

The best time to visit Starigrad Paklenica is from early spring all the way through to late autumn; it’s the ultimate place for nature lovers. The area has much to keep you busy and is located in an excellent position to make take day trips to neighbouring national parks and towns.

Starigrad offers real diversity, where the magnificent mountains and the swirling sea meet with the town of Starigrad sandwiched between them. The area is most well known for adventure vacationers and although we’re not climbers, hikers or bikers, we spent three days at Paklenica and had more fun than we thought we would – and best of all it’s so close to our home we can go back again and again.

The main attraction is of course the Paklenica National Park, yet there is much more to enjoy in Starigrad than I had ever thought…

Paklenica National Park

Paklenica National Park was established in 1949 and is Croatia’s second oldest national park behind Plitvice Lakes in Northern Dalmatia. Croatia is home to 8 stunning national parks, all worth a visit.

Paklenica National Park is 95 km2, and lies within Croatia’s largest mountain range, the Velebit. The park consists of of two dolomite limestone canyons called Velika (big) Paklenica & Mala (small) Paklenica.

The park has around 150km of hiking trails, which if you have the legs for it, will ultimately take you up to the highest peak of Vaganski Vrh at 1,757m. The mountain rises sharply from the sea and while the park initially looks very rocky you’ll be surprised to find that 75% of the national park is in fact forest, primarily Beech and Black Pine.

If you are into adventure sports, then Paklenica National Park is surely calling your name.

Hike, climb and cycle

Paklenica National Park is the largest climbing site in Southeast Europe, and by far the most popular in Croatia. Each year there is an annual Big Wall Speed Climbing event held in May, where local and international climbers race up the smooth limestone walls with prowess and agility. The current record for the 160 metre climb is a staggering 15 minutes and 16 seconds, by Croatian Jurica Levatić who has held the record for three years in a row. If you’re feeling inspired by Jurica, you can take pre-arranged climbing lessons here.

Paklenica has over 150km of hiking trails, with routes taking from just a few hours, up to an entire day. On one side you have the towering Velebit and on the other you have the mesmerising Paklenica beaches.

Pack your bike or hire one in town and cycle through Paklenica National Park along one of the many suggested cycling path routes. The routes vary from 10-30km. Download the Starigrad Paklenica Cycle Paths guide and see which one takes your fancy.

If you love trekking, then you’ll love the Velebit Ultra Trail competition. Held every year since 2003, with four categories: 16 km, 27 km, 47 km, and of course, for the toughest Velebit 100 km with a 6500 meter ascent.Registrations close early June each year.

Local Tip: The locals tell me that you would need a week to be able to cover the entire stretch of trails, so pack your comfiest hiking boots!

Get out on the water

Rafting trips take place on Zrmanja River starting in early spring up to summer, and then start again at the end of summer through to late autumn. During the low water level periods of summer you can still enjoy the Zrmanja on a kayak or canoe.

If you’re like me and the thought of doing all that sounds too exhausting, you can take boat trips from Starigrad for the day. The family-friendly boat excursion start at Starigrad along the Zrmanja River mouth, all the way to Obrovac, and includes lunch.

Laze about on the Starigrad beaches and drive to ancient sites

Yes beaches! I was so excited to see just how close they are to the Velebit mountain. The crystal clear waters of the beaches of Starigrad Paklenica are lined with rounded pebbles,  making it the ideal place to both enjoy an outdoor adventure holiday and to relax. The best beach we found was Kulina, right next to Večka Kula Tower. 

Head to the Wellness Spa

After a hard day hiking, cycling or even a tough day lazing by the beach, you should make use of the spa in town. Located in the Bluesun Alan, you don’t need to be a hotel guest to make a booking and enjoy the divine treatments on offer. The Wellness Centre is over 900 m2 and has 7 treatment rooms available. We spent a few hours here, and thoroughly enjoyed the massages and facials. The spa has received an award for being an authentic Croatian wellness spa. If you only have time for one treatment, I recommend their speciality – the Mount Velebit aromotherphy treatment, which comes in two parts. First, a blend of St John’s Wort, calendula and thyme oils, which form a body scrub, are massaged onto your body, then after a quick shower you’ll receive an hour long relaxing massage. Total heaven. Just ask Mr. Chasing the Donkey, who also loved it.

Fun Facts about Starigrad Paklenica

  • Not very far from the entrance  to Velika Paklenica there is manmade cave and tunnel system that took several years to build. It was commissioned by the Yugoslavian leader Tito during the Cold War as a fallout shelter, as he believed that Croatia (then known as the Republic of Yugoslavia) would be attacked. These tunnels are planned to be turned into exhibits at some point in the future.

  • Way back in the 1960s, Paklenica National Park  doubled as the American Wild West in 11 movies filmed onsite about the fictional Native American hero Winnetou. Based on a series of popular novels written in German by Karl May, the movies have since developed a cult following and each year many flock to Paklenica to retrace Winnetou’s footsteps.

Where to stay in Starigrad Paklenica

We stayed at the Bluesun Hotel Alan, where we spent several nights as their guest while we toured the sites of Starigrad. The hotel is located just 20m from the beach, and a few minutes drive to the Paklenica National Park. The hotel offers an in-house travel agency service to help you plan your local day trips.  In addition to a range of hotel room types, they also offer villas and camping facilities, so it’s suited to every budget.

Address: Dr. Franjo Tudjman 14

23244 Starigrad Paklenica

Booking Website

How to get to Starigrad Paklenica

It’s very easy to get to Starigrad Paklenica. It’s located just 40km from Zadar, 260km from Zagreb, and 170km from Split. Starigrad Paklenica can be reached by the A1 Highway which stretches from Zagreb to Split. Take the Maslenica exit and then join the D8 state road, and follow the signs to Starigrad.

The best time to visit Starigrad Paklenica is from early spring all the way through to late autumn; it’s the ultimate place for nature lovers. The area has much to keep you busy and is located in an excellent position to make take day trips to neighbouring national parks and towns. Starigrad offers real diversity, where the magnificent mountains and the swirling sea meet with the town of Starigrad sandwiched between them. The area is most well known for adventure vacationers and although we’re not climbers, hikers or bikers, we spent three days at Paklenica and had more fun than we thought we would – and best of all it’s so close to our home we can go back again and again. The main attraction is of course the Paklenica National Park, yet there is much more to enjoy in Starigrad than I had ever thought…
Paklenica National Park was established in 1949 and is Croatia’s second oldest national park behind Plitvice Lakes in Northern Dalmatia. Croatia is home to 8 stunning national parks, all worth a visit. Paklenica National Park is 95 km2, and lies within Croatia’s largest mountain range, the Velebit. The park consists of of two dolomite limestone canyons called Velika (big) Paklenica & Mala (small) Paklenica. The park has around 150km of hiking trails, which if you have the legs for it, will ultimately take you up to the highest peak of Vaganski Vrh at 1,757m. The mountain rises sharply from the sea and while the park initially looks very rocky you’ll be surprised to find that 75% of the national park is in fact forest, primarily Beech and Black Pine. If you are into adventure sports, then Paklenica National Park is surely calling your name.
Constructed in the pre-Romanesque Early Croatian style, at the turn of the 10th century.
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