Impressions of Croatia
Austere and grey. Images of a former Yugoslavia I had, from a youthful Euro rail trip, followed by TV images of sniper fire during the conflict of the early 90s. Things have changes.
Flights booked Ryanair, accommodation in small hotels and B & Bs. All a bit hit and miss, but mostly turned out well.
Ryanair, when there is no thunder, fly to Zadar, from East Midlands. Due to a storm sharing our air space we flew to Pula, hence a seven hour ‘transfer’ by bus to Zadar.
Until the search for flights began, I admit to never having heard of Zadar. The old town can be walked across in about ten minutes, if you are not carrying a heavy backpack. Add another five if you are. Cars are not allowed within the old town walls, so expect a bit of bag carrying.
For exploring and travelling along the Adriatic coast and inland from the Northern Dalmatian coast, Zadar proved to be an ideal jumping off point. Half day wandering about sampling food, and just enjoying the sun and laid back pace of life. There is most definitely a ‘man Jana’ attitude in Croatia.
Then Plitvice National Park. Travel by car is easy, with empty roads and recently built highways. Tolls on the main A1, but never more than around £3.50.
Vast open meadows border the roads with an abundance of wild flowers. A pleasant feature that was to remain throughout the week. I can only surmise it is because of absence of agro-chemicals and the continuation of traditional farming methods. Much of the countryside appeared to be totally untouched. Between Zadar and Plitvice there were odd patches of, largely unfenced, strip farming, and small flocks of goats and sheep accompanied by a shepherd, but the vast fields of crops, or intensively grazed land of western Europe was noticeably absent.
Plitvice lakes national park is an UNESCO world heritage site. The cascades and waterfalls which had my garden designer friend ‘re-designing’ her current water feature project at every turn. Forget rock and crevices. The water tumbles through lush green plants, around trees and over roots. The soft travertine constantly re-creating and changing. Fish linger in slow pools of every shade of blue to green with white water pouring over centimetre high rills or tumbling over 78 meters of Veliki Slap, the tallest waterfall in the park.
The water is split into upper and lower cascades and we more or less followed Program C, though we began from ST 2, as we were staying close, in Plitvice Village, at Pansion Bresa. The village being an ideal place to stay, only a 15 minute walk from the park entrance. Following this slightly longer route we covered the major falls, on the tourist bedecked boardwalks, but escaped the crowds on quite lakeshore trails and attained birds-eye views from the gorge rim. Everything is superbly organised with well marked trails and transport between the main falls by either boat or bus for the less active.
After a full day and two nights at Plitvice we headed back down the highway to Paklenica National Park, arriving around 11am, walking by 11.30am. The trails are well marked, but the maps are not much better than the downloadable one.
Our route is vaguely marked in yellow. Initially we went up the most commonly used trail to the Paklenica hut. The hut is at 400m but it is an easy trail, with a broad, well maintained track. Supplies to the huts are by donkey or pony and you may meet them on the way. From the Paklenica hut we walked and scrambled up to the rim of the gorge, down into a wooded valley before a final scramble to above the 750m contour, then slightly down to Marla Mocilo. There is a wonderful cross roads sign at Mara Mocilo. Reassuringly confirmed I had navigated the less than OS standards map.
Well worth the extra hike up the light grey peaks spread as far as you can see and almost back down to the Adriatic. Once up on the ridge there is some respite from scrambling with the surface changing from slightly muddy tree shaded path to stark white rocks. All the time though there was a myriad of colour from wild flowers taking hold in any gap or crevice.
At the next cross roads the car park was marked, even more reassuring, and there is a fairly steep, scree scattered path down to the gorge floor, before heading back down the main trail.
That evening we stayed in the tiny harbour town of Vinjerac on the Rab Peninsula. A happy mistake as we had thought our accommodation was the Paklenica side of the inlet, but Vinjerac was unspoilt and as like a picture postcard as it is possible to be.
Next day we headed by a cross country and coastal route to Krka. Stopping at a few towns along the way. Inland there was little tourist activity. The centre of several towns being dominated by newly built supermarkets. Useful to stop and buy some samples of local wine. More lovely roadside verges.
Tourism was more prevalent in the coastal towns with some seriously large boats in some of the harbours. Tourist €s and $s taking over from fishing. Murter is a good starting point for trips to the Kornati Islands. Tours can be picked up from Zadar, but you will add another hour to the journey time to the Islands.
Towns worth a visit are Skaradin, which would be a good base for the Krka National Park, as would Sibenik. Sibenik being slightly larger but both have rambling old towns with restaurants serving local seafood.
Last on our list was a visit to Krka National Park. Another area of lush water and travertine, over flowing with plants and wildlife. Again the park is strung along a gorge of magnificent proportions. This time we opted to try to drive between the sections. Not a wise move. There is a boat and it would have been far easier to take it. The roads do not run close to the Krka and we covered many more miles than the river.
It is possible to ‘do’ Krka in a day. Make an early start and be there when the park opens at 9, or take the 8am free boat up from Skaradin. You will then ‘beat’ the crowds arriving on the tour busses around 11am. Arrive early, after 11 the coach tours arrive and the peace disintegrates.
So after a week in Croatia. Grim and grey replaced by a vibrant, welcoming colour wash.
Follow the links for more pictures. Contact me for info on places we stayed and more info.