By Andrea Pisac - 4 Comments - March 10, 2022 min read

What would a New Year be without a few exciting resolutions? Doing more of this or cutting back on that… Even if we fall off the wagon by springtime, having a fresh start now and again makes the journey easier.

The end of old and the beginning of New Year is also a time of curious rituals.

We celebrate a successful old year to show gratitude. And if we had a really shitty one, we celebrate even louder so it never repeats.

One thing everyone hopes to get more of in the New Year is love and passion. Or more bluntly–sex. The ritual of wearing red underwear on New Year’s Eve to attract it has reached even a tiny village where my mother lives.

If I told you the name of the village, you could see photos of women’s red festive panties posted on FB!

I indulge in a different kind of superstition. All my education aside, I believe in these two things:

  1. I should be a bigger person and forgive the old year for all its shortcomings. It’s almost over, so I’m winning anyway. Let’s be foolish and playful.
  2. I should warm up to the New Year because you never know what it brings. On the 1st January, I better do something seriously colossal to attract good forces.

With these two tasks in mind, I planned Nik’s and mine New Year outing to Gorski Kotar.

Croatian mountain region where God and Devil live together

Velebit or Dinara would probably qualify more as an epic Croatian mountain. But Gorski Kotar [mountainous region], with its lush evergreen forests and snow–covered hilltops, has a magic of its own. The Romans called it hortus diabolicus or the Devil’s garden, probably out of spite. They knew it was a land of amazing medicinal herbs, but a land so inaccessible they simply couldn’t conquer it. Still home to the bear, wolf and lynx, this is one of Europe’s last remaining wildernesses.

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Lokvarsko jezero [Lokve Lake] in Gorski Kotar
See where I’m going with this? My beautiful mind concocted a master plan for the grand old year/New Year festivities. Gorski Kotar gave me all the symbolism I needed to pursue my sweet superstitions.

The house where we stayed was close to the picturesque town of Fužine. An old stone house with exposed–brick walls and an open fireplace to evoke a true storybook atmosphere.

Plus, the house exerts a man–only magic. It harmonizes couples in such a way to make men happy when they’re doing the washing up.

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Nik enjoying doing the washing up

Fužine is the perfect destination for a fairytale–sucker like me. It’s a place where New Year is celebrated twice: the first time at noon and the second time at midnight. If you’re serious about being a bigger person and forgetting the old year for driving you to the limit, there’s no better place to bid your farewells than here.

We danced to the live music, surrounded by tipsy parents and chirpy children. Colourful balloons flew to the sky as the canon fired from the bridge. From midday to midnight, we entered the Fužine no year time and the only thing to do was to be foolish. No one was looking or counting!

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Fužine New Year celebration at noon

So equally symbolic, we drove to a no village, or the village that exists only in a movie. Off the main road, we followed a tarmac path surrounded by sweeping mountain valleys and arrived at the Winnetou movie set: a typical 19th century town from a Western movie.

It had everything there: a saloon, sheriff’s office, bath for 5 cents, real estate and money to loan, even a church and a cemetery. Except there was no one there to serve us whiskey. So off we went to our cozy mountain house and drank local brandy to meet the New Year once again. The old year couldn’t have been better sealed.

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Winnetou movie set in Gorski Kotar

Epic Croatian mountain to start the New Year

Just like our Paleolithic ancestors, what we fear most is the unknown. And the New Year, with its uncertain unfolding is the utmost mystery. So what do you do? You need to tame it somehow, show it you’re willing to take in your stride whatever it has in store. Prove you’re a warrior, because luck comes to the brave.

Oh dear, can you guess where I’m taking you?

Back in the linear time and on the first day of the New Year, my master plan was to show bravery. We had to warm up to that fitful Goddess of transience and prove we are sturdy enough for the new cycle.

We chose the magnificent and protected rocky area of Samarske stijene [Samar Rocks].

‘Are you sure this is a clever idea’, Nik asked me.

Hikers, of course, know how tough Samarske stijene are. They are rocks–not your casual Sunday afternoon stroll. But I reassured him, mainly by quoting from a few geeky websites. There it said a moderate round walk is only 6 km long. Piece of cake for rugged troopers like us!

‘Imagine the year we’ll have if we do a hike like this on the first day!’ I kept convincing. ‘Besides, you need to get back into shape’.

Rugged trooper was, of course, my wishful self–image!

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Memorial stones representing 26 frozen Partisans at Matic Poljana

On the way, we stopped to do another symbolic ceremony. We paid tribute to the 26 Partisans at the Matic Poljana [Matic Field] who died from exhaustion and frost–bites on their 52 km long march. This memorial site with stones scattered around the field was well known and frequented during socialism. Nowadays, not many children would know about it.

So we made a pledge to remember the forgotten ones.

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Matic Poljana brings up a kind of sadness

Heading towards the foot of the Samarske stijene, we noticed a sign saying ‘Beware: bear sighting area’. Did we have a strategy for a chance bear sighting? No. We only agreed to leave our food in the car. Best not to tempt a cranky bear that still hasn’t gone for his winter sleep due to mild weather.

The geeky website provided me with a GPS route to follow on my phone. The only thing to do was to move those legs: straight for the peak of Samarske stijene.

And it was breath taking! Rocky lumps of otherworldly shapes unfolding in front of us like a staircase. Up and up we went, sometimes using both our feet and hands to conquer the steep incline. We gazed into bigger, more rugged rocks above us and they were as high as the dim sky.

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At the summit of Samarske stijene!

I could hear Nik panting. But I also held a red hiking mark in my focus: the sign we were close to the summit. Everything from there on was easy peasy, I spoke out loud.

The silence was strange. It wasn’t the dense kind that nature usually produces. The kind with birds singing and leaves rustling which appear mute only to the urban ear. The only thing we could hear were our laborious steps and a random pebble rolling off from a rock.

We were completely and utterly wrong. There was no easy peasy after the summit. It was up on all fours and down on all fours. With a short respite at the Valley of the Fairies. Here the moss–clad trees glittered so brightly, giving me no option but to move both of us onwards and upwards.

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Valley of the Fairies

Two and a half hours later, and only one third into the round hike, we came to a fallen tree topped with snow. Nik gave a wistful look: shouldn’t we turn around and go back kind of look. But I was relentless. As he stepped on the snowy cover, his foot danced. The snow was frozen.

I looked ahead–frozen snow everywhere. I looked to the sky and saw a faint purple stroke sneaking in between the clouds. We had less than an hour before sunset.

‘Are we brave even if we turn around and head back?’ I asked him.

He just gave me a light tug and pointed me back to where we came from. I sulked. Not because of him. I could hear my sneaky mind telling me this year was going to be a disaster if we didn’t finish the round hike. I have a bloody fetish for making things come full circle. I’m a cyclical, not a linear person. This is my sneaky mind and it’s running around in circles.

‘Are we failures now?’ I echoed my mind.

‘Why don’t you just enjoy this stunning mountain?’

That was the good fortune smiling at me. Because my sneaky mind embraced his thought as a chant and kept repeating it all the way to the car. Why don’t I just enjoy this stunning mountain… no more reading into things.

We came out victorious. We missed the hungry bear and we missed the nightfall by a few minutes. In the car, I guzzled the remaining brandy to celebrate our most adventurous New Year’s Day ever. The day when I stretched my legs as well as my mind.

As for Nik’s legs, they ached for the next two days. He walked as if he’d been on a horse for quite a while. If the Winnetou movie crew saw him, he would have instantly gotten a job as a convincing extra.

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On the last day it snowed in Gorski Kotar

Gorski Kotar is amazing and you should definitely celebrate New Year twice in Fužine. Go ahead and sign up for Zagreb Honestly updates to get my travel insights on where to stay and what to do soon!

Fancy something similar?

  • Winnetou crew – Ha! It’s funny the way Croatians always bring that up. We have a friend in Split who always mentions Winnetou. It just always seems strange to me (being Canadian): a North American indian, story written by a German, and filmed in Croatia..It’s one of those curious things.

    Anyway, a hike is a great way to start in the new year and you’re lucky to have lots of great hiking in Croatia. All the best in 2016.

    Frank (bbqboy)

  • I enjoyed the read of seeing Gorski Kotar, I’ve been to this region now 3 times …it’s a wonderful place as the temperature and weather is just right for me…I detest hot humid weather…so this area is so refreshing and I feel like a part of the past…not politically but good old healthy living!

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