The “Wild West”of the Adriatic coast

A dramatic mountain chain, right on the Adriatic coast in Croatia. This is one of the wildest areas of the whole Mediterranean basin. A region where nature is really coming back.

Paklenica National Park, Velebit Nature Park, Dalmatian coast, Adriatic sea, Croatia

Staffan Widstrand / Rewilding Europe


Velebit is one of the most important natural areas in the Balkans and situated on the Adriatic coast of Croatia. It hosts two national parks, a biosphere reserve and several wonderful hiking trails, old-growth forests, deep canyons, ancient open lands and exciting wildlife like Balkan chamois, red deer, brown bear, wolf and lynx.

This limestone mountain chain is 145 km long from north to south, and lies parallel to the coast. Following a cross section from the crystal turquoise waters of the Adriatic in the west, it rapidly rises to 1 757 metres, and then phases out into a higher level plateau towards the east. The area hosts an extraordinary diversity of different habitats, from barren Mediterranean landscapes at sea level, via vast beech forest of central European type, to almost boreal systems at higher altitudes. This has led to the establishment of the Paklenica National Park & Northern Velebit National Park, as well as the Velebit Nature Park – all three very well set up and managed. Together they cover more than 220,000 ha. The area has also been declared a ”UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve” and included in the UNESCO Tentative List of World Heritage Sites. Outside the protected areas in the south and east, there are several other very interesting areas also with great rewilding potential, mainly consisting of abandoned farm and grazing lands.

Velebit is a climber’s paradise, home to spectacular caves and breathtaking sceneries, and it receives an increasing number of visitors each year. Most popular is the coastal Paklenica National Park with more than 100,000 visitors annually, whilst the more remote inlands receive less attention. The tourism infrastructure along the coast is very well developed with hiking trails, smaller overnight cabins, larger dormitories, professional visitor centres and different levels of quality lodging. The dramatic coastal landscapes with their steep, barren cliffs, deep canyons, waterfalls, and open, uninhabited plains also have an interesting link to contemporary European film history. In the 1960s, the famous German “Winnetou” Cowboy and Indian-movies were produced in and around Velebit, which provided ideal landscapes to represent the Wild West.

“I welcome this new initiative. The large-scale approach brings together the three existing protected areas in Velebit and possibly also large areas outside of them, working together on a common agenda for “rewilding”. This also requires the involvement of actors like hunters and local entrepreneurs. I find it challenging but very exciting.”

Davor Krmpotic, Senj, Team leader in Velebit