This column, Breathtaking Balkans, seeks to highlight some of the most beautiful places on the planet through the eyes of some of the most forward-thinking tourism companies in Europe. These operators promote responsibility, sustainability and authenticity to its clients.
Croatia is a country of contrast. Composed of lush valleys, densely-wooded forests, hilltop towns and plunging cliffs that meet the Adriatic, there is a scene to please any traveler in this boomerang-shaped Balkan country. From cave exploration to truffle hunting, one tourism operator, VMD, offers enough adventures to create the ultimate once-in-a-lifetime experience. This edition of Breathtaking Balkans explores four of VMD’s best itineraries.
VMD is a distinguished company taking visitors on trips across the Balkans for more than a decade. With partners across the region and Europe, this active-vacation tour operator not only lists standing itineraries, but also caters to clients’ specific trip ideas and requests. Get moving with one of their many adventure-based tours such as hiking, cycling or rock-climbing, or enjoy Croatian culture with traditional Balkan music and architecture that brings history to life.
The mission of VMD is to “create a true and in-depth adventure” while “bringing you closer to where and who you really are.” The beauty of the Balkans—and Croatia specifically—is that there is an ease to befriending the country’s people and experiencing it’s wildlife and nature. VMD helps connect the dots so new-comers can immerse in their surroundings. At the end of each day and every trip, the goal of VMD is to always have fun exploring with new friends.
Photo: Simone, CC-BY
Hiking the Islands of the North Adriatic
Krk, Cres and Losinj are the islands that make up Croatia’s North Adriatic otherwise known as Kvarner Bay. This walking adventure includes landscapes that take hikers from one extreme to the next. From evergreen forests on Losinj to karstic limestone plateaus (otherwise known as moon plateaus) on Krk, this trail leads to sweeping views in an unusual Mediterranean setting. Go for a dip after a long day of hiking at one of the best beaches located in the town of Baska.
Photo: Miroslav Vajdic, CC-BY
Cycling Through Unknown Croatia
Pedal through the green Zagorje region that lies in the northern and eastern parts of Croatia. This off-the-beaten-path route departs from Zagreb through rolling hills toward Varazdin, a baroque city. Enjoy a stop to explore the medieval Trakoscan Castle along the way. After taking in a few of Croatia’s many cultural sites, turn the focus toward stunning natural highlights. The end of this itinerary visits one of UNESCO’s Global Geoparks, Papuk Park; finish the ride through oak forests and traditional villages in Lonjsko pole Nature Park.
Photo: Kaleb Fulgham, CC-BY
Break from café-life long enough to explore Zagrebunderground. Veternica cave is found in the southwest area of Medvednica mountain and has been a protected geomorphologic monument since 1979. As a Neanderthal settlement, learn about the cave’s inhabitants spanning from prehistoric times to the current smaller, nocturnal dwellers. Prolong the morning’s twenty-minute hike after resurfacing with a fifteen minute climb to Glavica, a mountain hut where traditional northern Croatian foods await.
Photo: Bernd Thaller, CC-BY
Truffle Hunt and Gastronomic Festivals
Istria, a peninsula in the northwest corner of the country, is a region for savoring. Some of the country’s best products including wine, cheese and prosciutto are produced here. Go where others have not with a truffle hunt. Home to the world’s largest truffle, there is no better place to start looking for gastronomic paradise. Istria is something like Tuscany without the prices and crowds. VMD begins the search for the perfect truffle in forests surround Motovun, a central hilltop town. After the hunt is over, guests attend a cooking class to prepare a truffle-based meal.
Alternative gastronomic encounters include several festivals celebrating olive oil, asparagus and maruni, or sweet chestnuts. While Days of Asparagus festival runs from the end of March to the second week of May, the Marunada and Olive Oil Days festivals take place during the fall. To sample traditional maruni treats, plan to visit Lovran between October 11th and 27th. Vodnjan’s 12th Annual “Olive Oil Days” will be held in November.
Molly Harris is a freelance writer based in Athens, Georgia.