Old Road to Tulove Grede and over Velebit Mountain

This past spring we finally managed to take the famous old road Majstorska cesta leading from Dalmatia to Lika and passing beautiful Tulove grede rock formation.

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This is where the adventure begins

Tulove grede are one of the most scenic parts of Velebit mountain and, if you ever took the highway from the coast inland, it is the formation just above the Sv Rock Tunnel. But, to get there, one has to take the old road and that is possible just from outside Obrovac town.

The road is wide and, for some part, asphalted but the true adventure starts once you leave the paved road. The macadam part of the road is in very good shape and can be easily traveled with normal cars.

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Highway just before the Sv Rok tunnel. Tulove grede formation in the distance

This 41 km long road has been constructed in two phases between 1825 and 1832 to shorten the traveling time between the center of the Monarchy (Wiena) and, then regional capital of Dalmatia, Zadar. This very demanding task was trusted to Josip Kajetan Knežić of Petrinja who was a major in Austrian army and a self taught engineer. Knežić was a fascinating character and left a lasting mark on Croatian architecture and ingeneering with numerous roads, architectural monuments and irrigation works through the region.

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I have one bridge to visit and then will write more about him but if you have ever traveled the road from Senj inwards, you have witnessed another Knežić masterpiece and you definitely remember the chapel of Sv Mihovil in Majorija.

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Back on the road, we had a lovely ascent from the start of macadam and the beautiful views of Zadar hinterland and islands opened!

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Canyon of Zrmanja and Novigradsko more bay

The road is simply great and kept in great condition. It is also proclaimed a National heritage so someone will be taking care of it (I hope).

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Probably one of the most favorite stops on this road is the church of Sv. Franjo or (St Frances).

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The church is now locked and not sure who has the keys as I would really like to get inside some day. Just across the street are the remains of several buildings that served for guards and maintenance back while the road was still in use. Near the church are two monuments and one is dedicated to Francesco Farcasso who died here in 1851 battling 22 bandits. The newer one is from 1862 and dedicated to Ivan Zagorac who froze to death.

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The entire area is quite lovely and makes a great stop.

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But these are not the only monuments on this road…

This was also a very important communication during the Homeland war in the 90s. Many traces of past combats and still visible and parts of the area were under land mines till 2014. The saddest monument is to one of true heroes of our war.

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Velebit was one of the harshest and worst battlefields of our war in the 90s and tombstones of many heroes keep reminding us of their sacrifices.

And few minutes later, we reached the foothill of Tulove grede where there is plenty of space to park cars and start the ascent.

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The ascent is easy and the trails are nicely marked. This is a very popular destination for all nature lovers and, especially during weekends, there will be at least a dozen of people.

There are two trails leading to the peak of Tulove Grede. Both are fine and both take you around the HUGE hole in the ground that is, apparently, a cave that collapsed long ago.

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Apparently, there is a small water spring at the very bottom of the hole but one needs some 10 meters of rope to reach it.

Our friends took the route above the hole.

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Once we were at the peak, because of the kids, we did not go all the way to the top of the rocks but that is another cc 20 minutes along the marked trail and some climbing is required. The rock formation near the peak are fascinating!

 

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Bunker form the past war

And after a short break, we went downhill for a picnic lunch and to continue our adventure all the way to Lika.

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This area is known among birdwatchers as home to Alpine cough (Kavka in Croatian; Pyrrhocorax graculus) colony and we saw them flying above us.

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They are easily recognized for red legs and longish yellow beak.

On the road to Lika, we saw few motorcycles as well but no cyclists which was surprising as this is one of their favorite routes.

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The climb is easy for all generations.

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And then it was time to follow the road all the way to beautiful Lika region. As soon as we crossed the “border”, the scenery changed and we drove mostly through the forest.

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Once in Lika, you can either turn back to take the same road again or take the highway. Under the watching eye of a Common buzzard we left home.

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Majstorska cesta is one of great adventures in Croatia no matter how you want to cross it. It would even be fun walking it and camping overnight somewhere in the wilderness.

So many great adventures!

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The Highest Peak of Croatia – Sinjal

Even though Croatia is quite mountainous, we don’t have any peaks over 2000 meters. Our highest peak is Sinjal (1831 meters/6004 ft) in the Dinara mountain range and I had a desire to climb it for quite a while. Actually, everyone in the country should attempt it at least  once!

Dinara is one of the most beautiful mountains in the country and this particular view is one of my favorite ones of the entire Dalmatian hinterland!

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The view of Dinara from Peruča lake (Spring, 2015) – This is NOT Dinara where the highest peak is but the southern section of the mountain

This hike was planned for a long time. First we wanted to do it this past May but had no time. With forecast looking favorable for the beginning of October, we made quick plans for this Saturday, filled up the tanks and made small shopping for food. The climb is demanding and there would be no time for proper meal.

Before departing, I did a lot of research but the information available online is not really sufficient. Especially not for those willing to drive. That is why I will put quite a few photos and give as many details as I can.

First, Kinin is the starting point.

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Knin in the morning mist

We decided to meet near Krčić waterfall. That is one of the most impressive waterfalls in Croatia. Usually.

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A very dry season

This time of year, there was no water coming from Krčić stream just above the waterfall. This was our meeting point. Right by the very start of Krka river.

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Krka
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The fleet

One can reach Krčić just by turning first left (or at the bridge) when driving from Knin to Sinj. Since were going the oposite direction, we returned and followed signs to Strmica and Bosnian border. Only few kilometers on that road, there is a sign to a village Guge. Take right before restaurant Ivan and follow the sign to Dinara (sharp left).

The road to Dinara is a dirt road from the start. While it can be done by a regular car, this is not recommended at all. You need a proper off road vehicle to do this trip. Or one can walk.

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Guardian dogs

The road is wide and in fairly good shape. Almost no traffic and no life but we did see a couple of shepherd dogs.In any case, follow the signs to Planinarski dom. Not too many of them but enough. I also used Google maps to stay on the right road. After a fairly boring, short ride, the views of the mountains became stunning. We came out of woods to Markov grob view point. This is also a good spot to leave a car and walk all the way to Sinjal.

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We saw some other people making a stop and taking photos and we also met a guy who is counting wolves! Of course, he does not see them but looks for wolf dung and other signs.

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Counting wolves

We did see, just before reaching Markov grob a jackal crossing the road! So I was glad I could report it to someone who can actually mark it down where it matters. It was actually an interesting combination of a dark jackal and a hawk crossing the road. I am sure that would mean something in more romantic times where “signs from the skies” were important but we just continued.

We got to talk to this guy (he is from Sinj) and learned that wolves in Croatia are truly endangered and that there are only about 200-300 animals left! There were also some newspaper articles on populating the region with large Siberian wolf but we learned that it is all nonsense.

The road continues right from this point and we drove to another sign and then up the hill. We also saw some hiking markers to help out. Soon, we reached a very scenic Badanj peak overlooking a lovely valley. The weather did not look good any more…

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Badanj
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Weird engineering

…and this was the last bad part of the road till Brezovac mountaineers’ lodge located at the edge of a very picturesque and spacious valley.

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This was an ancient home of numerous families of shepherds. There is a great video of last ones of them: https://youtu.be/7ymcKpsk3cw  The times have changed.

Brezovac lodge is a solid place with great grill area ( of course). This is, for many, the place to park the car and continue on foot to Sinjal as the path through the forest is quite scenic.

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Brezovac

Since we had kids and most of us are in no shape to walk for three hours from the lodge to the summit, we followed another group driving to a closer place. The trail is nicely marked through the woods and there is no way one can get lost.

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This road is for serious off road vehicles only! And then we parked in a lovely valley.

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Peaks in the mist

The weather was great and sunny but there were clouds at the very peak and we could not really tell where the peak was. Again, the trail is very well marked and it is nearly impossible to get lost.

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One part of the group left us while waiting for our friends who decided to park at the lodge. We started the hike with kids as the trail is easy at the beginning.

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In the fresh, mountain air we got hungry fairly soon and it was already 11 AM. The right time for marenda (or brunch).

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What’s a hike without a beer?
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What’s a hike without home made apple pie?

And it was time to continue as we were still quite far from the peak. Some of us did not feel like going much further so part of the group stayed in the meadow below waiting for us who decided to reach the peak.

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Waaay to ambitious for a 5 year old :)))

We continued following the trail that now got steeper.

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..and got us into the woods.dinara031

This was an easy part…

After the woods, the trails gets much steeper and more difficult. I had to stop several times and thought about giving up on half a dozen occasions.

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Getting serious

But, when one travels in a group, it is easier to continue. Stopping to catch a breath and to enjoy the views also helped.

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Soon, we were in the most difficult part of the climb. That is the part that is very rocky and one needs to be careful. That is right below the final part that leads straight to the summit.

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Sinjal!

The monument at the peak has probably been destroyed by lightning and I was so looking forward to see that sign saying that this is the highest peak of Croatia. But there is only an official sign.

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…and we did get the stamp from the box!

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Quite proud of my son as there are not too many 12 year olds that have been here!

The peak was a busy place as there was another small group of hikers just below the peak and we got offered the gemišt :)))

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Too bad for the views but this was all we saw from the very peak.

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And then it was time to go back. It took us over  2 hours to  get to the peak from the parking but going back was much faster and with fewer resting stops.

Descent is not as demanding but still not a joke. And I wanted to enjoy the nature and take some shots of the region.

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Badanj in the distance

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I could not think of an easier way to get here but some guys thought of a HARDER way to get to Sinjal!

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Their objective is to climb to the peak (with their bikes on their backs) and then drive down to Glavaš. Glavaš is another point where people start their hikes to Sinjal.

We got to the valley soon and decided to drive back as the days are already shorter and wanted to enjoy more time at the foothill of Badanj.

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Badanj has some fascinating stone “towers” and shapes.

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While there were not too many animals, I did see one spectacular caterpillar!

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Spurge hawk-moth caterpillar (Hyles euphorbiae L.) or Mlječikin Ljiljak in Croatian

Leaving Dinara behind us, we stopped at trout farm to get some fish farmed at the very start of Krka river. It does not get any better than this!

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Going back, through the night and quiet villages of Bukovica, we felt (again) blessed by the fact that we live in such a special and uniquely beautiful little country. I do take my kids everywhere with me so they learn to appreciate all the riches we have and to stay connected to nature. Together with about a dozen others who climbed that peak on the same day with us, we are a minority. It is easier to sit on a sunny riva and have an opinion on the economy, tourism, politics, sports…

 

 

 

 

Following the Roman Roads

The spring is finally back! Great time to enjoy outdoors and to do some final exploring before we get too busy. Focus is crucial in our line of business so there will not be so many trips purely for pleasure this summer…
First Sunday of April brought beautiful, sunny weather and we decided to head in to the hills. This time following ancient Roman road leading from the coast all the way to the interior.

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Restored milestones

The basic route was to follow the modern road (that closely follows the Roman and pre-Roman communications) from Pakostane on the coast via ruins of Asseria  to modern day Medviđa (Liburnian/RomanSidrona?) and Krupa river spring into the heart of southern part of Velebit massif.
Tourist board of Benkovac did a great job putting the milestones by the road!!!

Our first stop was Kaštel Žegarski. Ancient tower guarding a fertile valley of Žegar. I have never visited although must have passed it several dozen times.

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Tower of Žegar

It is a typical tower from the 1500s like numerous other in the region. It is quite well preserved with even some wooden elements still supporting the former windows. Hidden in the woods, one has to look closely when entering the village to spot it between the houses on the right.

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Spring is here

We continued over the hill to Krupa river spring. It is quite lively by the river these days with people picking wild asparagus, shepherds with goats and sheep…

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Goats at pasture
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Dung beetle at work

We did not spend too much time there as we are familiar with the place. Krupa is probably Croatia’s most beautiful river but the spring is hardly impressive.

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Krupa river spring from the road above

Soon after the spring, the magic starts and few kilometers later, it enters the most beautiful canyon.

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But, our goal was Lika. Following the ancient road that most certainly passed through this region. It followed the ancient communications and gradina hilltop fortresses lined along the route. The last one is Smokovac near Krupa spring. It is easy to find it – starts right near the main water bottling plant and heads straight to the mountains.

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Landscape did not change in several millenia

The landscape is quite barren, rocky and inhospitable. Bura is harsh in this region and there is lots of snow in the winter. The road gets ruined by the water flowing but there seems to be someone taking care of it as it is in a fairly good shape. Nothing a proper SUV cannot cross anyways. Not for regular cars!

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We thought we were alone and there will be no one on the road…

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But then we saw a WV Caddy approaching! We just passed him but noticed that the driver was surprised as we were. Obviously, we were on a good road so we continued further up the mountain where the landscape got more serious, mountain-like  and the the condition of the road worsened.

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Duboki dol

We were at the crossroads at one moment and had no clue where to go. Duboki Dol fields were to our right and one section – better looking – leading towards it but another section did not look that bad either. Had to even walk part of the road to make an educated guess at one point…

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Mountain is stunning!

Luckily, the WV Caddy returned (followed by two SUVs, probably hunters) and we asked for the directions. What are the odds to actually have someone to ask for the directions! The guy was most helpful so we followed him for part of the road. It was the road to our left and from then on, it was “left, left, right, right” to get to the main road in Lika – if anyone wants to drive this.

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Offroading at its finest

The mountain offers stunning views but we stopped only for picnic lunch as we wanted to see few more places that day.

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In bloom

Soon we were across: at the Lika side of the trail. The road did not offer too many evidences of ancient traffic actually going this way but this is the easiest way to cross the mountain and there are plenty of wells and water holes along the route so it must have been busy back in the day. Archaeologists did some exploring in this area but plenty of work yet to be done as no guard posts have been located or possible settlements/gradina hilltop fortresses.

The landscape in Lika was typical for Velebit.

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Getting to Lika

It was a great experience and the kids enjoyed running through the fields, echoes of the mountain, fresh air … Next time I plan to spend a whole day in the mountain and maybe do some bird watching as I hear some birds I never heard before. There must be some owls as well since Velebit is known for large ones.

Talking about big birds…

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Gray Heron in a puddle by the road

Our next stop was supposed to be an ancient road near Knin but could not locate it so we continued to Mokro Polje.

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Entering Mokro Polje

It is a fairly large village located in a beautiful valley by Zrmanja river. It was predominantly Serbian (cc 1800 inhabitants back in 1991) and it is almost abandoned now with only about a dozen elderly living in few houses.

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Classic Dalmatian architecture

Some are restoring their old houses and doing quite a good job although that AC unit could have been hidden from the front facade…

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The village was probably inhabited by the Roman veterans after the Rome finalized the conquest of the region. Nearby Burnum military camp was de-militarized in 69 AD as Roman peace was finally brought upon the local tribes of Delmates and Liburnaes. The Morko Polje field is quite big and offers a great place to live.

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Unusual detail

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And beautiful Zrmanja river runs through.

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There is life everywhere. Except in the houses…

While picking asparagus, we met one lady who was just going to get fresh water from the river and she told us bout people leaving and how only few elderly ladies remain. Their little hamlet is further away from the main road and it is very picturesque with tall oak trees still standing.

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The old lady told us that someone was here looking for tall trees to cut them down but they did not let these beautiful giants to be cut down. Some people simply don’t have a heart 😦

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Cut down trees…

It was sad to see this lady (83) being the youngest in her village. But that is the destiny of many more villages in the country…

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It was time to move on: with freshly picked 2 kilos of wild asparagus. We took another ancient road towards Ervenik. Views of Zrmanja were beautiful from almost every stop along the canyon.roman056

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Ruins of Keglevica tower by the river of Zrmanja

So life thrived along these roads for centuries during the Roman times and then, after the barbaric invasion, probably the entire region was inhabited for longer than that. The life came back with some Morlach settlers escaping the Turkish rule back in late 1500s but will end soon. And then? When will be the next time people move to Morko Polje to live? Never?

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First swallows have returned

Everything will be left for birds and animals.Maybe it is better that way.