A couple of weeks ago it was my birthday (cue the fanfare) and so as a treat, my boyfriend Alex decided to take me away somewhere nice. My first reaction was I’d like to go to Prague, since a couple of years ago we had been planning an anniversary trip to Prague, got to the gate and had a rather nasty experience with one of the boarding staff. The issue stemmed from my boyfriend’s passport being a little bit damaged but was made worse by the Wizz Air stewardess as she ripped and tore at it until it was clearly no longer usable. The result was Alex not being permitted to board the plane, forcing us to turn back and head for home. Ever since then I have promised myself two things:
1. I will never fly Wizz Air again.
2. Alex ‘owes me a Prague’
Anyway I digress. The fact is I was being offered a free holiday! Amazing, right? So let’s get going! But after thinking about it for a while, I really wasn’t in the mood for a city break. My last holiday in July was a whistlestop tour through Central America, moving on every day or every other day. It was pretty stressful and so for my birthday trip I actually really just wanted somewhere I could go and stay somewhere with a local feel, do some hiking and have some peace and quiet. After some Youtube surfing, we came across a place which fitted the bill perfectly. Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia (Prague will have to wait for another day!).
Why Plitvice Lakes?
In case you’ve never heard of this awesome place, it’s the first national park in Croatia and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s about 3 hours from Split, about 2 hours from Zagreb or if you fly into Zadar like we did, it’s about a 2 hour drive, so it’s really accessible. It’s also one of the most beautiful places I’ve been (almost rivalling my ‘happy place’, Iguazu Falls in South America) and it’s pretty good value, too! Ryanair fly from the UK direct to Zadar, and we paid around £90 each return including 1 piece of checked baggage between us.
The park consists of about 300 sq km of protected area with a river running through the centre. The river plateaus out to create 16 blue and green lakes on different levels, all flowing into one another with foaming cascades and pounding waterfalls to create the most beautiful natural spectacle.
As we visited in Autumn, the leaves were changing colour and it set the scene for some of the most beautiful vistas I’ve had the pleasure of seeing. Visiting in the off-season also meant that we had the place to ourselves a lot of the time, and the weather was still around 20 degrees and mostly sunny!
There were still a few people wandering the park on day trips from Zagreb and other large cities, so if you’re staying in the area, it’s advisable to try to get there before 10 and you’ll have the place all to yourselves. Plus some of the best light for photos as the sun sits behind the waterfalls of most of the day.
We spent 2 days hiking around the lakes area of the national park, and visited the nearby town of Rastoke and the Barac Caves on our other full day in the area (posts to follow). You can fill as much time as you like hiking about in the park, but it takes at least 4-5 hours to see all of the main waterfalls so make sure you have a full day.
As we had 2 days we split the areas and did the lower lakes on day 1 and the upper lakes on day 2.The hikes are clearly marked and the paths even extend over the waterfalls for some of the best views – make sure you have loads of memory on your camera! You can also hike through forests on the rim of the lakes for some awesome views looking down. Sweet.
On day one we chose to hike the lower lakes area which consisted of Veliki Slap, or ‘The Big Waterfall’, as well as a couple of cool cave systems and the main event; the free-flowing central waterfalls. Park in entrance number 1 and after paying your entrance fee (180 Kuna or about £22 each for 2 days, about two thirds for a day’s entry), you’ll be off exploring in no time!
Take the trail down to the ‘Big Waterfall’ and swing round towards the middle lakes and the boat across the middle lake (Jazero Kozjac) where you’ll find a cafe with places to sit for lunch. The boat across the biggest lake in the park is free and takes about 10-15 minutes to get to the next area (near entrance 2 where you can get a free shuttle bus back to where you parked).
The upper lakes which we saw on day 2 are perhaps even more beautiful. We parked at entrance 2 and got a free shuttle up to stop 3 where we meandered back down to entrance 2 in about 4 hours, taking the windiest road possible and stopping for lots of photos. Speaking of photos….!
The Forbidden Hike
OK this isn’t strictly above board. But we found a path not far from the bottom of the switchbacks at entrance 1 which was blocked off and decide to explore a little further. It’s a bit treacherous (overgrown, crumbly and parts of the path missing but you HAVE to take that forbidden path. Because it leads here…
You’re also not allowed to swim in the lakes – we overheard some people saying the fine was 5,000 Euros, so probably best not to – even if you are already kind of on the forbidden path…
We stayed at a little place called House Osana for 4 nights, which including breakfast cost about £170 for the 2 of us for 4 nights. This little B&B is owned by Osana and her husband Nicolo, and in the true style of the region, is named after herself. We also saw House Ivana, House Sara and House Maria.
Osana greeted us with a shot of Slivovitz (home brewed with plums and served as a double measure!) and let us get settled in. As it was my birthday, she also baked me an amazing birthday cake which was far too big for the two of us to eat so we worked on it for breakfast for the whole trip! I’d really recommend this place for a few days of relaxing amongst the lovely scenery of the lakes.
The food in ‘inland’ Croatia isn’t particularly inspired. Think meat, stuffed with meat. Oh, and potatoes. Lots of potatoes. The wine is utter shite so don’t even go there. Stick to beer and that mad Slivovitz stuff.
Apart from Osana, who was our obliging host for our stay, the people there are a mixed bunch. Some will grunt at you, some will ignore you completely. They’re a hardy bunch, these countryside Croatians. They like their Slivovitz home-brewed, their eggs hard-boiled and their skin with that sand-blasted quality. We did find a few nice ones though, who were more than happy to give you a couple of free cheeky shots with your meal. Quality.
Overall, I really loved my stay in Plitvice Lakes. If you’re spending a few more days in the area, I’d definitely recommend a drive north to Rastoke, which is a beautiful little town intertwined with waterfalls and famous for its fresh river trout.
I’ve also done a quick video of the Plitvice Lakes, so you can see exactly what it was like. Hope you enjoy!
Please let me know what you think using the comments box below!
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