The “Art in the Park” Caminatta
Mala Ucka to Brgud
March 29, 2015
We started the walk at Mala Ucka in Istria on a sunny spring like day. All was quiet – none of the usual sounds of the countryside – no barking dogs and no crowing roosters. We walked along a narrow dirt road lined with dry rock wall and entered the village. What I have come to appreciate about the Istrian country side is the very apparent pride of place as evidenced by several perfectly maintained white washed homes, and as always with a small vegetable garden. But the majority of the houses here were like skeletons of grey carsic stone, with only parts of walls, roofless, no doorless, abandoned but still standing.
Mala Učka is the highest rural settlement in Istria. The village is tranquilly surrounded by these huge rocks and pastures that this day were a bright spring green.
In the past, this village used to have 130 inhabitants who were cattle breeders and were known for their high-quality cheese.
I stopped to read a memorial stone along side of the road. Every village in Croatia has a partisan memorial left of the Tito era. In this case it was a memorial to commemorate a tragic event that occurred towards the end of World War Two. On the 30th of April 1944, Italian and German soldiers burned down the entire village. After the war, the remaining inhabitants moved out. Despite this, the village remained so picturesque that it was listed in the Registry of Immovable Cultural Monuments as a protected rural heritage. Today the village of Mala Učka has no permanent residents, but every year, in the summer months, a shepherding family comes back to pasture their sheep and sell sheep’s milk cheese.
The trail then climbs up through a terrain literally peppered with small white carsic stones. Despite having to concentrate on our feet that rocked back and forth on the stones, we were able to appreciate the small trees with bright yellow buds and the multitude of colorful spring flowers. As always I marvel at how anything can survive in this carsic landscape but everywhere purple and white crocuses, violets, and yellow primula were in full bloom.
We were rewarded with a sweeping view of the Gulf of Fiume (Rijeka) and the islands of Cres, and Velia. Then it was time for lunch. We found the perfect spot in front of a small house. The house was nestled at the base of a slope, surrounded by a dry rock wall, and completely protected from the wind. There was a large painted stella alpina on the front of the house and along the side was painted a whimsical scene of the seven dwarfs. Along the path leading to the house were columns made with stacked stones. One had a stone eagle on top, one was somewhat obelisk shaped. There was also a replica of a conical carsic stone house. The storage “shed” had a chimney made with a barrel and topped with a hat. Not only was the house perfectly sheltered from the wind but it also had a great view of Monte Maggiore (Ucka). A nice warm spot to enjoy our panini, the view, and the artwork.
We made our way to the summit of Brgud and there we found a stone picnic table with a star-shaped piece of wood sitting artistically on top. Up to now we had not met anyone else. But all of a sudden emerging from the other slope was a group of trekkers. They also stopped to enjoy the view of the Gulf of Fiume and to take pictures of a Madonna artfully placed on a stone column. They were on a two-day hike in the Ucka Park – Croatians from Zagreb.
We started down the slope and continued along the trail below the crest of Brgud. The trekkers went up and were walking on the crest parallel and above us. Then we lost sight of them as we continued on the descent. We stopped for a small break and all of a sudden there they were again – one of the women said “Doberdan” and in Croatian “We already saw you at the summit”!
Back in the car and at Vela Ucka we had to stop and admire a small field full of crocuses in stunning shades of violet, and purple and white.
The dinner at the century old “Dopolavoro” Konoba and a hearty, enjoyable meal of roast lamb, veal and potatoes!