How to spend an awesome day in Gorski Kotar (part one)

My family roots stem from the Croatian mountain region called Gorski Kotar, form the end of the 17th century. Gorski Kotar is set between Karlovac and Rijeka and is packed with nature’s pure awesomeness. I always say to my foreign friends that Croatia offers tremendous varieties in such a small space.

Most of my foreign friends know about Dubrovnik, Split and Plitvice lakes. And yes, these are awesome places, well known to most of tourists around the globe but I always say that crowded places are a “day trip thing”. If you ask me, smaller places either on the Adriatic coast or island are a much better choice as a base camp from where you make your day trips to different places. Anyhow, I will tell you how I spent a day with my son in the mountains coming from the coast without making this a heavy duty trip with a lot of planning. During the summer, most of the sites are open throughout the day so even if you miss coming on the full hour, when they start a tour you will still be able to reroute and come back later.

Mountain horses

My coastal neighborhood is Novi Vinodolski. From there on, my son and I started our small adventure heading East, on the mountain region above Novi Vinodolski, towards Breze, passing Ledenice and Bater to reach an intersection leading to the town of Fužine. At this point you will be in an area full of herds of wild horses. There are several ways how you can spend time there, depending on how much you know about animals and horses in particular but I would suggest that you always remember that these are not trained, domestic animals but living there in wild and you may be considered as an intruder. My point is not to scare you but to make you aware that this is their territory. Some of them are more territorial and protect their herd, some of them are more curious and will approach you. This is your decision. But just sitting, keeping your distance while watching them will give you pure joy. They are just magnificent creatures.

For me, walking among them and giving them apples and carrots was just a phenomenal experience but I am not there for the first time and I’ve been building up this confidence, still mixed with scare for a couple of years. I just love being surrounded by animals.

Lokvarka cave

As much as I wouldn’t mind staying the whole day with the horses, my kid and I were on a tight schedule cause we were planning to make it to Lokvarka cave by 1100 hrs. The cave’s info kiosk where you buy tickets is located on the approach road to small town of Lokve. Lokve itself has a beautiful but artificial lake and the Frog Museum that itself would be something to keep in mind while in the neighborhood. Still, this time we went for a small piece of Batman-lifestyle story. Špilja Lokvarka or Lokvarka cave was discovered in 1911 by accident and to this day 6 halls have been found but only 4 are accessible to the public. The 5th and 6th hall are bigger then the first four but those will work quite well for you. It’s just amazing. Just so you know, the temperature in the cave is constant throughout the year, 8 degrees C so it is recommendable to bring a sweater or a flees jacket. After you bought tickets at the info kiosk you will have to walk for about 500 m to cave’s entrance. None of this is hard. The guided tour will last for about 40 minutes and have your phone or camera memory ready for a lot of cool photos but turn off your flashes. Still, you can carry a head lamp or a flash light. Not necessary but it may help you see better some phenomenal stones. One of the most interesting things is a “mammoth stalactite”, actually two mammoths, big and small. Some people do not see this some see one, some two. These are not real mammoths but a stalactite that looks like those ancient animals.

Just so you know, there are a lot of steps there so be prepared for that. Knowing me so far, you might have gotten an idea how most of my “things” are physical so this is not a walk in the park. First you descent about 100 meters bellow the surface and you need to climb back. It is not demanding at all but it’s not flat neither. My kiddo did not have any issues although we saw a couple that was having issues but still made it to the end. My son described this part of our daily adventure: Dad, this was cool. In our world, this is like getting at least 8/10 since he is high maintenance when it comes to outdoor activities.

Park forest Golubinjak

When you are done with Lokvarka cave, you need to drive like 2 minutes to Park šuma Golubinjak which is basically located on the other side of the highway passing in between these two locations but the good thing is you just need to go underneath it.

This place has a restaurant as well so you can plan lunch here or at least grab a coffee, tea, beer or whatever your choice may be. I’ve been coming here for the last 10 years already and my kid remembers playing here at the wooden playground just next to restaurant. You can either choose to walk a simple circle around the meadow or a bigger circle going through Golubinjak cave. Don’t worry, this is not something long like Lokvarka. From the Northern side there is a small entrance while the South “exit” is huge. From there on you can follow the trail through forest and it will take you to the more then 200 years old fir-tree called Kraljica šume (Forest Queen). None of this is considered extensive hiking and the steepest part of the trail goes from Golubinjak cave up for about 250 meters. From there on is like mild forest trail. If it’s warm and dry, running shoes would be your best choice.

Kraljica šume and cave’s “exit”

For those with more skills, Golubinjak is free climbing place-to-be with already set spits / bolts one several climbing walls.

You can pace your time spent in Golubinjak, depending on what trail you decided to go, lunch break, rock-climbing or your kids just wanted to run the central meadow. There are also several grill spots where you can set the fire and prepare your own lunch. A lot of people from Rijeka come to Golubinjak, driving only 30 kilometers to have a picnic with family and friends. From Zagreb it would take you about 1.5 hours.

Roswell

When you are done with Golubinjak, it should take you about 25 minutes drive from Golubinjak to the Wild West town called Roswell. Of course, it’s a fictional place from Karl May‘s (German writer) books about Winnetou. From Golubinjak to the village Vrata above Fužine and then taking a forest gravel road (about 5 km). Most of the vehicles will have no issues with gravel road but if you drive a muscle sports car you may experience some issues. Anyhow, if you have a kid that you’re taking through the time machine back to days of the Wild West, most likely that you will be driving SUV or a minivan.

Roswell was build several years ago for filming purposes and now there is a family living there and taking care of this tourism spot. You will be able to shoot guns and rifles (pellet air guns), bow and arrow, ride a horse, have a drink in the local saloon or just buy a souvenir. Horses and dogs wonder around you and it’s quite an experience.

Fužine

Kiddo and I stayed in Roswell for an hour enjoying ourselves in that time machine but it was time to move on to my favorite place in Gorski Kotar, the town of Fužine. Fužine is a small mountain town placed in a valley adjacent to the lake Bajer. The town itself is famous for many things but I will tell you that just getting to the lake will make it one of your favorite Croatian spots in a blink of an eye. There you can take a walk or bike around it and you will reach the other lake that fills Bajer, called lake Lepenica. The full circle is about 8 km long and despite it’s length it is considered a mild walking or biking path. At the beginning of waterfront path you will have two lounge bars where you can refresh yourself with coffee or beer… or whatever they offer. You can even swim in the lake but you may find it refreshing.

For those that aim to try local cuisine the easiest way would be to go to the Hotel Restaurant Bitoraj, just in the middle of the town. There are so many things you may find appealing that it’s not necessary for me to write them down. But still, try their wild-berry strudels and some wild game menus. It would be hard to go wrong with these. If you wanna try some local brandies, Blueberry rakija will be your choice.

My son and I made a short walk to the lake Bajer beach and returned back to the car heading back to Novi Vinodolski. This was already 4 hours wandering around and I didn’t want to turn fantastic adventure into a bad memory. You need to know your kid(s) and decide when it’s time to move on in order to see what you planned for the day. Fužine had to be a quick tour this time but we’ve been here numerous times before. In case you wanna spend a weekend there a lot of private accommodations is available there but I would suggest you to go Apartmani Belvedere run by Anita, the sweetest woman within miles there. If you consider yourself a high maintenance person (you know how much you need), Hotel Bitoraj would probably be a better choice. I would rather take Anita’s accommodation any given day. Still, you’ll need to bring your own food since she only rents apartments (total of 4).

Fužine is a great place to stay for a of couple days and make it your base camp moving different directions and discover wonders of Gorski Kotar. The truth is that it will take you only half an hour to the Adriatic coast, towns of Crikvenica and Novi Vinodolski or going across the bridge to the Island of Krk.

Back to horses

Kiddo and I decided that it’s time to go back home so I decided to take the same way back to check those horses again. Taking same the road through Lič flats (Ličko polje), we took the narrow tarmac road towards the flats above the village of Bater where we spotted horses. About half way there, you can find two restaurants with domestic cuisine – Planinarski dom Vagabundina koliba and Buffet Vera. I’ve never been a guest there but have heard good stuff about them. Also, I don’t think they’d have survived for so long in the middle of nowhere if they weren’t at least great.

We got back to our horses near Breze village and enjoyed some close encounters with 3 curious horses that approached me on several occasions. The gray one is my favorite and one of the most beautiful horses I’ve ever seen. Was I scared? A bit. They are wild and I have huge respect for wildlife and nature but at the same time I love animals and being surrounded by them makes me feel for a bit like part of nature. I took out some carrots and apples that I had left, planning to give them to the horses on the way back and thankfully I was blessed with this rare opportunity.

My plan is to write several articles about day or two-day trips hoping you might try them and have a bit of joy that me, my son and my friends have had so far. If you have any question, please leave a comment and I will get back to you as soon as possible.

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