Monday, 08 August 2022
Gillie Sutherland Gillie Sutherland

Anyone who thinks that Croatia is all about the summer and the coastal resorts needs to take another look

Written by  Gillie Sutherland Jan 05, 2022

“If we’ve only got this life, this adventure….”

As often happens, I’ve got a song in my head which just seems to perfectly capture the moment.

It’s Day 3 of my Paklenica New Year’s Eve celebrations with Hiking & Adventure Croatia.

The sun is shining for the third day running, there’s not a cloud in the sky, and I’m in the mountains with some of the coolest people I’ve met in my life. I’m buzzing with energy and my heart feels full of sunshine.

This has to be the best place I could have imagined being, but it’s funny, I always thought that it was the Adriatic Sea that was the big draw for me.

I’m having my mind completely opened. Anyone who thinks that Croatia is all about the summer and the coastal resorts needs to take another look.


The Velebit mountain range in Winter is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to the real Croatian gems.

It is the ultimate “adventure playground” for those that love nature and the outdoors, and spending three nights in a mountain shelter, with a group of like-minded souls was always going be “wild”.

Days start with an unusual alarm clock - the sound of the donkeys’ bells as they walk past the door.

Morning hikes to viewpoints, naked river swimming, wood chopping, fire-building, cooking on the open fire, collecting wild sage for tea, star gazing, learning Croatian card games, dancing and singing…. Days like these make my soul sing.

Now the only thing troubling me is this question I’m sure has been pondered for centuries, without an answer….

“Sea or Mountains???”.

I can’t even go there, it’s too tough.

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I grew up in the Lake District in the U.K, so Velebit is a bit like coming home for me, but the sea has been a huge part of my life, and my whole healing journey, it just can’t be cast away so easily.

It has to be both. I decide I can have it all.

“Everything you want is a dream away”.

It’s just a case of saying “yes” to new adventures.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that life is here to be lived, to be embraced, and even if it’s scary, we’ve got to take the opportunities that make us feel alive.

So when Dragi mentioned that we are going to the top of Velebit the next day, that it’s going to be great weather and an amazing experience, I’m already in.

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Of course, it was well after midnight by then, the hike is an 8am meet the next morning, so let’s just say that getting out of bed that day was a bit of a mission. In fact, I think it was a case of “falling out of bed” rather than consciously getting up.

“Where is everyone?” I ask, as we get our packs ready.

There are around 20 of us on the trip, so I’m surprised there are only 5 people up.

“They’re still in bed. It’s only us”.

Less than half an hour into the hike, I am questioning not only my life decisions, but my whole personality.

“What on Earth is wrong with me?”, I’m asking myself.

“Why am I doing this to myself?”.

“Why aren’t I still sleeping like a normal person would be?”.

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It’s so hard. I just want to run back down the hill and pretend it was a bad dream. It was clearly a mistake, I’d been partying like someone half my age, and although I’d fully hydrated, this was not the day for a physical challenge.

We took what’s called “the beautiful path” on the way up Liburnija. Someone was having a joke when they came up with that name. Maybe they said “brutal” and it got lost in translation.

Anyway, somewhere after ten personality changes, I find myself and my strength again, and as we hit the rocks and the ropes, it’s fun , and I feel alive again.

At the top, the “bad dream” was forgotten, and as the five of us take a post-picnic snooze on the summit at 1700m, way, way, way above the clouds, with the sun beating down on us, everything was worth it.

The magic was turned up to full power. It was like breathing in pure sunlight energy straight into my body, and I realised that this moment is yoga.

For yoga recognises that we all have a light within us, and the secret is keeping that light shining, no matter what is going on around us. And God knows this world needs our light right now.

Just a couple of days ago, I’d been saying that only way to respond to times of darkness is to show up with more light.

And here I was being given the opportunity to fill myself with more light. I could not have been more grateful for this moment and it will stay with me forever.

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I feel like it set the tone for the year- it’s about staying strong, healthy and happy, and saying yes to new adventures.

I realise that the part of me that couldn’t say no to a new adventure is a part of me I want to keep.

As is trusting my instinct with the people I spend time with. These people are all “powered by nature” too, and you feel their energy.

One of my fellow hikers was Dário from Highlander, the Croatian-borne company who run true epic adventure events around the world, and he’s like a wild goat (Divo Koze, as I learn in Croatian), totally at one with his environment, and he’s got that perfect balance of strong but kind that just makes you feel safe around him.

We are on the same page about nature and balancing the elements, but it’s more than that, you just feel good when you spend time with people that have got that kind of energy. Here in Paklenica, bringing in 2022, there’s around 20 of them, and already, I can’t wait to see them again.

For now, until that time comes, I’ll be playing our song and remembering:

“If we’ve only got this life, this adventure, then oh well I, want to share it with you!”.

Bring it on 2022!

The Voice of Dubrovnik


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