Wednesday, October 23
Distance: 14.2 km/8.8 miles
Elevation gain: 92 meters/608 feet
Croatian Trail Name: PriÄa o Gusaru i Otetom Blagu
English Trail Name: A Story of Pirates and Kidnapped Treasure
Trail Number: 561
Istria. Located on a peninsula in the northwest corner of Croatia, the Istrian region of Croatia is renowned for good wine, good food, and a mild Mediterranean climate. What it is not particularly known for is hiking, especially near the coast where I was located.
Or at least that is what I thought before arriving in Istria. Daniel and I found an apartment in the sleepy Istrian town of Rovinj and planned to stay put for a while. So naturally I started looking for a nearby hike.
I was assisted in this endeavor with my new friend Phil. I met Phil on Travello, a social networking site that connects together travellers. I initially reached out to find hiking buddies for my ascent up Mount Mosor the previous week. While I didn’t find a companion for that hike, I had the luck to meet Phil – a fellow hiking enthusiast who is also travelling through Croatia. Daniel and I met up with Phil for drinks one evening in Rovinj and we soon hatched a plan for a hike the following day. (Once again, Daniel stayed home from the hike due to his foot injury).
Phil and I weren’t able find any mountain trails near Rovinj so we picked a hike along the Lim Fjord based out of the nearby town of Vrsar. Phil is travelling through Croatia in his car and offered to drive us to the trailhead (thanks Phil!).
As we approached the car park in downtown Vrsar, we were unexpectedly re-routed to due to construction near the trailhead. After a small detour, we successfully parked the car and found Trail #561. The trail started out as a simple walking path but soon turned into a road for a bit – a road which also happened to be under construction.
Unsure what to do, we kept following the route right through the construction zone and walked past the crew as they paved the road. We couldn’t walk on the road so we walked along side it until we came out the other side. It was probably not a great idea and in hindsight I don’t recommend it. It was a very surreal experience.
Housing developments gave way to olive trees as we left the construction zone behind. We passed one olive orchard and saw with delight that a group of people were harvesting the olives.
One of the farmers stopped us as we walked by and attempted to impart some information about the hiking route. We had difficulty understanding him but I think he was trying to tell us about the construction that we already passed. We thanked him and moved on, with some bonus photos of the olive harvest as a souvenir.
We soon entered the Kontija forest, a protected forest reserve cris-crossed with hiking and cycling paths. Here the pavement turned into a dirt path and we were rewarded with magnificent views of the Lim Fjord. It was a pleasant change to walk under a canopy of trees after road walking.
And then, out of nowhere, we stumbled upon a sign advertising a Pirate’s Bar. At this point, I had not yet translated the name of the hike (“A Story of Pirates and Kidnapped Treasure”) into English so I was completely taken by surprise.
We wandered down the path towards the Pirate’s Bar to find a cave. According to legend, the pirate Morgan used this cave (or one like it nearby) to hide his treasures. The cave and bar were both closed down for the season, but the spot was a great place to have a snack and enjoy the view.
We continued walking along the trail, enjoying the trees and beauty of the forest. After a while, we came upon a clearing in the woods with picnic tables and interpretive signage describing the natural history of the area. A cute children’s book called KontiÄ‡i: Guardians of the Forest was on display to help kids learn about the forest and conservation.
As we left the Kontija forest and neared the town of Vrsar, however, we found our path blocked by the same road construction that we encountered earlier in the day. This time we decided to find a different route back to town, as walking through the middle of a road construction zone didn’t seem like a particularly smart idea.
After pulling out our maps and conferring for a bit, we found a path that seemed to detour around the construction. We backtracked and located the route – which turned out to be a dirt road that meandered into a field past a dumping area. It seemed like a safer option than walking through a construction zone so we set out across the fields.
We almost lost the trail entirely a few times but eventually we ended up in a housing development on the outskirts of town. Soon we were walking through the old part of Vrsar, in search of a celebratory drink.
So it turns out the coastal area of Istria does have great trails after all! I was glad to be proven wrong on this point. The trail may not have gone up a mountain, but it was a lovely walk just the same. I’d definitely recommend this hike.