Home Features Croatia with the Leica X Vario: Velika Paklenica Gorge and Valley

Croatia with the Leica X Vario: Velika Paklenica Gorge and Valley


During the winter of 2015/16, I made several visits to explore and photograph the Paklenica National Park in Croatia, from where I was staying at Plitvice Lakes. The park encompasses an area of 95km2 on the southern slopes of the Velebit mountains, near the coastal town of Starigrad. It is about one hour’s drive from the coastal town of Zadar and two from Split, further south, both of which are served during the summer by budget airlines from the UK. 

 The Velika (large) Paklenica valley from the west side looking south towards the coast.
The Velika (large) Paklenica valley from the west side looking south towards the coast.

The park’s terrain is mountainous, with a major trail running from the main entrance near Starigrad, north-east up the Velika Paklenica river gorge before turning north along the valley to the feet of the high mountains. From this primary trail, secondary trails climb up the steep valley sides to east and west, passing isolated farm buildings on the plateaus above. I used these trails to make some circular walks out from and back to the car park. 

I have written three articles to describe the journeys I made and have used photos taken over the months. This one describes and illustrates my travels in the principal gorge and valley. A second describes my exploration of the east side of the valley and a third, the west side. I found the mountainous park, with its varying weather conditions due to its coastal location, to be a fascinating and very photogenic place.

My rucksack was filled with the things I needed for walking in the mountains, and I used the X Vario carried around my neck. The APS-C sensor cameras proved more than adequate, and I was glad not have heavy full-frame equipment which, without wanting to be overly dramatic, could have increased my risk of mishap due to fatigue. Forty years ago it probably wouldn’t have bothered me. As an aside, John Shingleton in a recent post about his X1, referred to Oscar Barnack developing the first Leica with the intention that it could be carried in the mountains.

Leaving the coastal road in Starigrad the way to the park swung through the village of Marasovići and ran through the trees alongside the river to the main entrance. I purchased a day ticket and map and then drove further up the lower reaches of the gorge to park in the main car park.

Click on all images to enlarge

Getting my walking boots on and saddling up with the rucksack, I left the car and followed the steep path up the gorge, crossing and re-crossing the river and its waterfalls. The left wall of the gorge houses a tunnel complex built for Josip Broz Tito. At the time of my visit, it was under renovation as a tourist attraction. The gorge is also the location of many rock climbing routes, including those on the famous Anića kuk rock face. Wanting to capture the water rushing down the gorge, I had to scramble down from the trail and set up my tripod on the rocks as best I could. 

At the top of the gorge, a bench and nearby water pipe, fed from the river, provided a welcome resting place and somewhere to refill the water bottles. Turning into the valley, the trail passed through a tunnel of branches alongside a small meadow and, occasionally, I met packhorses taking supplies to the farmhouses higher up the valley or returning with their handlers. The river passing through the meadow gives them a chance to drink, and it’s advisable to avoid getting between a thirsty horse and the river!

The gently rising well-made trail up the valley was a straightforward undertaking with views of the Velebit mountains presenting themselves as I went higher. However, on days when the mist closed in the mood in the valley became oppressive, and the rocks exerted an elemental and threatening presence.

After a two or two-and-a-half hour walk up the valley, I was often able to buy coffee or tea at the hut operated by the Paklenica Mountaineering Association based in Zadar. It offers accommodation and serves as a base for more adventurous forays into the higher mountains. Above the hut are two groups of buildings which provide the same but which have been owned by local families for generations; over lunch one owner told me he had been born there. I gave a mental thank you to the pack horses for bringing up the beer!

The walk back in daylight was long but not difficult, and the setting sun illuminated the rock faces beautifully. However, after dark, the steep trail down the gorge was pitch black, and a slow descent with a good torch was essential. I quickly understood why most people had left the park by nightfall.

I was always glad to get back to the car safely, to take off my boots and shed my pack. Then it was off to a restaurant in Starigrad for a large dinner. If I reached the coast before dark, the setting sun over the mussel pots near Seline, along the road from Starigrad, provided a final farewell and a reminder that this was a place to which I should return.


Part II — East side of the Velika Paklenica Valley


  1. A lovely article and a lovely place to visit. I have spent two holidays on the Croatian Islands but seeing your photos and story makes me want to return for a third time and explore the wonderful valleys and national parks of Croatia.

    • Thanks Paul, it’s a beautiful and varied country. They also have a very strong tradition of leather working particularly in Zagreb.

  2. Lovely photos Kevin. You obviously have a real love for that part of the world. These are very similar to photos which I took in Slovenia in 2005. I keep thinking of our little incident with the Slovenian police after our visit to the ‘slaps’ (Slovenian for waterfalls). I might just put together a little article to recall that visit which took place before we went to the Middle East for a few years. We also took in a day trip to Venice while we were in Slovenia. Although I can still manage 15km walks (twice in the Wicklow mountains this year and once in Heidelberg), I am a lot more cautious about rough terrain these days. Those Croatian mountain huts look splendid, though, a lot more posh than any we have in Ireland. Well done to the Paklenica Mountaineering Association.


    • Thanks William, people in Croatia would tell me that if I liked the lakes in Croatia then I should visit Slovenia so I’d be interested in seeing photos from there. Kevin

  3. You have given us a good insight into Croatian landscapes which you captured well. I love the last, particularly when cropped from the top leaving just one overhanging branch. One for your wall.

  4. An excellent article, with some amazing images and scenes Kevin. I look forward to parts 2 and 3. The last image is naturally the best, but I do like the moody misty mountain top shots – a little Lord of the Rings in my opinion.

    Dave S

  5. I enjoyed your images for themselves – the colour, the light, the harsh rockiness – but I also revelled in how the X-Vario served you. I think all of us who use it know what a marvllous piece of equipment it is – should have been kept in production!

  6. Such a pretty place, Croatia is special! My last year in the Army I was stationed as civilian status in Asmara Ethiopia we were a listening post for STRATCOM, one of my buds was Croatian by way of Chicago, when we got a chance to call home, all calls monitored, my bud Nebojsa Acimovic, his parents would start speaking in their language, and STRATCOM would cut off call because they had no linguist on their end that could monitor. Mike shared photos with me from all over his country, I was mesmerized by the beauty, I look forward to episode 2,3!


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