Mountains have haunted folk imagination from the earliest times. Their remoteness, sheer scale and craggy silhouette etched against the sky invite feelings of reverence. The inhuman magnitude prompts us to consider ourselves from a different point of view. This shift in perspective leads to mystic qualities being ascribed to mountains and peaks. Some of the most famous examples like Mount Olympus or Fuji were even regarded as the home of deities. The mythologies built around them have survived into the present and have made these places global cultural touchstones and destinations of a kind of secular pilgrimage.
Velebit is no different in that sense. It has many local legends associated with it. Its deep gorges and rugged slopes are portrayed as the abode of spirits in tales and poems. Stretching along the coast from the Vratnik mountain saddle to the canyon of the Zrmanja river in the south in an imposing way, Velebit acted as a bulwark against an exploration of the interior of Croatia. Owing to the splendor of its natural environment and the large role it played in the pastoral and nomadic life of the region, the storied mountain has become one of the most potent symbols of modern Croatia, which captures some of the qualities of its people.
Don’t Be Menaced By Routine While Mountain Biking on Velebit
Possibly the best way to appreciate the expansive mountain scenery is from atop a mountainbike. Even as you are speeding downhill, the secluded valleys, small mountain villages and the stooping trees are hard to miss. The distant panoramas of neighboring peaks and the Velebit Channel islands tend to crawl along no matter how fast you peddal. The feeling you get while gliding on your hardtail and spraying scree on all sides on a Velebit afternoon has no substitute. The cycling fashion trends are a downside, but everyone who is there to see you will be similarly attired and in no position to judge.
For two years running, Velebit has hosted an annual mountain bike marathon. The event took a slew of mountain bikers across a long stretch of recently plotted cycling paths. Similar events feature three categories of difficulty – ultra, challenger and recreational based on a gradation of the slope. Using the lovely town of Starigrad as a starting point, the route of the marathon took the participants all the way to the Zrmanja river via Libinje, Bukve, Tulove grede and Mali Alan. The endurance athletes braving the 80 km trek often single out the mountain biking Velebit stage as their favorite stomping ground.
As the track starts to climb, the view expands and the scenery gets better and better. Despite some patches of forest along the track, the view is unobstructed and the route weaves around tunnels and narrow ravines. Regular supply stops make carrying loads of baggage unnecessary. By the time you hit the technical part of the route, with upward and downward slopes, the large cluster of bikes disperses and you are alone with the mountain. The cinematic terrain tempts you to whip out the cameras or the easel. The piece of equipment that bears the greatest load is still the mountain bike. Some downhill sections of the marathons are strenuous, lined with rough stones, and put great strain on the suspension and consequently, the rider.
Mountain Biking Routes on Velebit
To kick us off on a short tour of the cycling routes of Velebit, an easy one. The bike path from Starigrad to Reljani is a short course great for people who wish to get acquainted with the local history. It is a short trip through charming villages and millenia of rustic culture. Information panels will fill you in on the most interesting local customs and lead to the Paklenica National Park reception area to round off an educational experience. Should you veer towards the coast, you can reach some lovely natural beaches, as well as the forlorn Večka tower and a tenth century church dedicated to Saint Peter.
The Veliki Kamenjar route starts at a crossroads in Maslenica. A gravel road takes cyclists through a quarry. All the while there are mountaintops in view and low foliage fluttering in the gasps of wind. Coming up to the village of Zelenikovac herds of sheep graze on the gentle slopes in the summer months. As you leave the walls of unmortared stone behind you a few kilometers later, you follow the highway until you reach an underpass. The main road leads to the observation point of Pariževačka glavica. It is a tranquil spot with a great view of the canyon the river Zrmanja has burrowed in the landscape. The quaint villages of Šarlići and Jasenice offer some lovely photo-ops and a chance to admire some examples of medieval sacral architecture and artisanship. As the road loops back to Maslenica, there are some idyllic olive groves along the way whose cultivation stretches back for centuries.
The last route we are looking at in this piece runs from Golubić to Muškovci and is a testament to the ingenious ways of nature. The fairly long asphalt route of 28 kilometers writhes across broken terrain alongside the Zrmanja river. The area is criss-crossed with canyons, springs, bridges and waterfalls. Zrmanja’s tributaries such as Krupa feed a natural garden, and the river’s liveliest portion delights swimmers with its purity. Taken together, these havens for those of us in search of some distance from stress and labor represent a soupçon of the finest mountain biking Velebit has to offer.