The most densely forested region in Croatia is one of soaring peaks, lush valleys and spectacular wildlife. Containing the Risnjak National Park, and the protected natural phenomenon of Vrazji prolaz and Zeleni vir, Gorski kotar attracts hikers, climbers, botanists and spelunkers, but also offers welcome respite from the often crowded coast only 15km (ten miles) away.
The Risnjak massif that dominates the national park of the same name is named after the lynx (“ris” in Croatian) that roam here, sharing 6,400 unspoiled hectares with brown bears, wild cats, chamois and eagles. Alpine snowbells, edelweiss and black vanilla orchids dot a karst landscape at this crossing point of coastal and continental climates. Four mountains stand at over 1,400 metres (4,600 feet), providing phenomenal views from the slopes.
Down below, the source of the Kupa river provides one of the Croatia’s biggest and deepest springs. Near the historic village of Skrad, the Vrazji prolaz canyon runs for 800 metres, a two-metre-wide gorge lined with stairs and bridges, wedged between steep-sided rock faces 100 metres high on either side. Equally dramatically, the waters of Zeleni vir crash from 70 metres (230 feet) up into a calm green pool at a cave opening. Near Fuzine, Vrelo Cave is accessible to visitors of all ages and abilities, safe and illuminated.
A well marked footpath, with descriptions in English and Croatian, leads from the pretty village of Crni Lug, site of the Risnjak National Park office and main entrance, around the forest for 4.5km (2.8 miles). From the same starting point, the more adventurous can set off on another, steeper trail up to the park’s highest point of Veliki Risnjak.
As well as private rooms in Crni Lug, accommodation options include the four-star Bitoraj in Fuzine (www.bitoraj.hr) and the three-star Risnjak (www.hotel-risnjak.hr) in the largest town of the region, Delnice.
Along with game, smoked ham and wild mushrooms, forest fruit such as juniper berries and elderberries are put to good use in local menus, and most villages in the region take part in the annual Forest Fruit Days event of gastronomic workshops and guided walks.