The coast south from Karlobag is similarly sparse on attractions until you reach the village of STARIGRAD-PAKLENICA. A straggling line of modern seaside houses and apartments, it constitutes the handiest base for the PAKLENICA NATIONAL PARK , theVelebit's last great flourish before the ridge trails inland to meet the Dinaric range on Croatia's border with Bosnia-Hercegovina. The park, designated in 1949, is the most accessible area for hiking in the Velebit and contains some of the country's finest karst landscapes, featuring gorges, grizzled mountains and caves. It also contains three quite different climate zones - coastal, continental and sub-alpine - which makes its weather unpredictable and, at times, extreme.-

The park comprises two limestone gorges,Velika Paklenica and, 5km to the south, Mala Paklenica (literally, Big Paklenica and Small Paklenica), which run down towards the sea, towered over by 400-metre-high cliffs. Mala Paklenica has deliberately been left undeveloped in order to protect its status as a (relatively) untouched wilderness - paths are not maintained or marked with the same thoroughness as in Velika Paklenica, and you'll need good maps if you want to explore it.


Into the park

The entrance to the Velika Paklenica gorge is about 2km inland from Starigrad, reached by a road which heads east just south of the Hotel Alan; there's no public transport along this route. After you pass through the half-abandoned, stone village of Marasovići, there's a ticket booth where you pay an entrance fee and receive a basic free map, if you haven't already picked one up from the national park office. A car park lies 2km further on inside the park, from where the gorge begins to narrow in earnest and everyone has to proceed on foot.The main path up the valley passes beneath towering cliffs and dramatic outcrops of rock, while a stream rushes down a boulder-strewn bed below.

After 45 minutes of moderate ascent, a well-signposted side-path heads right to Ani6a kuk, a craggy peak lying  a steep climb to the south. Beyond here, the main path levels out for a while, through elm and beech forest – surprisingly lush after the and Mediterranean scrub of the coast below. After another fifteen minutes, a second side-path ascends steeply to the left. A strenuous forty-minute walk up here will bring you to Manita peć, a complex of stalactite-packed caverns about 500m long. From here you can either turn back the way you came, or head on for another hour and a half (the path leads from the left of the cave as you emerge), up some fairly steep and none too easy slopes to Vidakov kuk, an 800metre-high peak that gives fine views over the coast and islands.

Back on the main path, it's about twenty minutes to the gumarska kuca hut, where you can get food and drink on spring and summer weekends, and a further thirty minutes to the Borisov Dom mountain hut, the starting point for assaults on the major peaks above. The most prominent of these is Vaganski vrh which, at 1757m above sea level, is the southern Velebit's highest peak. The views from the top are spectacular, but you'll need to be reasonably fit, have a good map and make an early start if you're going to attempt the walk up.

A circular walk taking in the Mala Paklenica branches off the main trail some ten minutes after the turn-off for Amča kuk. Climbing steeply across the Jurasova glava ridge, this heads south to the neck of the Mala Paklenica gorge, which leads down towards Seline on the coast. The canyon is beautifully rugged, the trail not too difficult to follow, and there are some impressive rock formations en route.The whole hike takes about seven hours from entrance to exit, and you can do it in reverse from Seline if you prefer.

Finally, don't forget Paklenica's potential as a beach resort. The best spot for sunbathing is the shoreline stretching south of the Hotel Alan, where a narrow band of shingle backed by olive and fig trees culminates in a broad cape overlooked by a ruined medieval tower. The water is beautifully clear, there are good views of the tawny hills to the south and west, and even on August weekends it doesn't get too crowded. -Specializing in Cheap Flights F