There are many hidden gems with their stunning beauty, you can find them all around Istria and Croatia. Thanks to the highway, they’re very well hidden and only the nature travelers and adventure seekers might find them! It’s just one of those places that’s easy to pass by and not even know about it.
So, let’s see how to reach this hidden location…
If you are driving from Pula, Rovinj, Poreč or any other place in Istria towards Rijeka, just before the tunnel Učka, there is a road to the right, towards Labin and otok Cres (after the petrol station). The road leads you to the next crossroad where you take the left turn and after some meters you’ll see a small parking place on your left again. This is just a small detour from your route, but definitely worth your time.
Vela Draga is a 3.500 meter long canyon on the west side of the Učka mountain and also a part of the Učka Nature park. The start of the educational trail is at the parking area, with signs in four languages, explaining the geological phenomena of Učka and the canyon. The first part of the trail goes through the forest, it’s a nice easy walk. The path will take you to the edge of the canyon and along it to a wooden platform of a viewpoint with a small picnic area. From there you have an absolutely magnificent view of the whole canyon and all its limestone monuments.
Even though the Vela Draga has been protected since 1963. as the nature reservate, some of the monuments, or towers and candles, have been destroyed during the construction of the tunnels which started in 1978. and were open for traffic in 1981. The ones that are still standing, rise 50-90 meters high. To keep the rest of the tower preserved in 1998. Vela Draga has been protected once more as a geomorphological natural monument.
When you finish your photo session and enjoying the pure beauty of nature at the viewpoint, head downhill into the canyon, for the second part of the trail. Just take your time, it gets a bit challenging and steep on the way down.
The canyon’s highest point is at 600 meters above the sea level, close to the tunnel Zrinščak and ends at only 153 meters at Boljunsko polje. The trail takes you through an arch of stone past the candle, and many pointy towers, and down to the old railway tracks, abandoned in 2009. You can explore the tunnels, but you need a torch to do so. If you don’t have a light, you can still enter a bit in the tunnel, and enjoy the special view as you come back out. Does it make you feel like you are in the wild west, or an old western movie? You are not the only one, the site was actually used to film the new version of the film Winnetou in 2015.
When you get back to the educational trail, it will take you down the bottom of the canyon, along the vertical walls of the climbing area. Vela Draga is also known for climbing and alpinism since the famous italian alpinist Emilio Comici climbed the first alpine line there in 1931. Under the cliffs, you will also pass by a small cave and that is a place where climbers sometimes make camp. From there, it goes uphill again, around and past the Great Tower (Veli toranj).
The whole educational trail is little over 2 kilometers long, but of course, you can make it longer by wandering and discovering around the trail. Like we said, it’s a short but beautiful detour.
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Enjoy your stay in Istria!