Perfection at Plitvice National Park

From our base at Split we were perfectly placed to visit some of the stunning natural scenery that Croatia has to offer. And where better to see some of the very best on offer than at some of the country’s national parks.

First up was the three and a half hour trip to Plitvice Lakes, the largest national park in Croatia and the oldest national park in South East Europe.

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Plitvice Lakes national park was founded in 1949 and is situated in the mountainous karst area of central Croatia, at the border to Bosnia.

It’s made up of 16 interconnected lakes – the Upper and Lower lake areas, separated by the large Kozjak lake.

Once in the park we take the panoramic land train to the upper lakes to begin our walk (included in the entrance ticket price).

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Check out the park logo – a brown bear! These wily creatures are just some of the wildlife that roams this huge, beautiful area. Other inhabitants include wolves, lynx, wildcats and around 157 different types of bird.

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The park extends over 296.85 square kilometres (73,350 acres) and the 16 lakes are arranged in cascades. There are a variety of different walking routes that visitors can take.

These range in duration from a gentle two hour potter all the way to a day long, eight hour trek. You can plan your trip in advance here.

Visitors can get up close and personal to the lakes thanks to a series of wooden walkways that criss cross the park and waterways.

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The lakes are a result of the confluence of several small rivers and subterranean karst rivers. Around every corner is yet another breath taking view of a serene lake or thundering waterfall.

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Due to the heavy rains this year, the lakes and waterfalls were all at full capacity with the volume of water creating incredible natural spectacles. It also made the walking a little muddy .. . .

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The lakes are separated by natural dams of travertine, which is deposited by the action of moss, algae, and bacteria.

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The name Plitvice was first mentioned in a written document in 1777 by Dominik Vukasović, the priest of Otočac.

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This name was given thanks to the natural phenomena that created the lakes. These are naturally formed shallow basins – in Croatian known as pličina or plitvak – which have been filled with water.

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Autumn adds its own golden tones to the spectacular landscape, and when the sunlight hits the trees and water it is simply breath taking.

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The lakes are well known for their distinctive and beautiful colours, ranging from azure to green, grey or turquoise blue.

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They are like the most delicate of artist’s palettes and the colours change constantly depending on the quantity of minerals or organisms in the water and the angle of sunlight.

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We were lucky enough to see the waters in a variety of different lights. The day went from cloudy and overcast with corresponding slatey grey waters to sun shine and blue skies that turned the lakes and pools into enchanting mirrors of green and aqua.

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The lakes of Plitvice are a result of century-old processes and the sedimentation of chalk, which is abundantly available in the waters of this karst area. These sedimentations are called tufa or travertine.

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The park has a fairy-tale like feel. If it wasn’t for the hordes of tourists (trust us – we picked a national holiday to visit!) you’d expect to see some woodland nymph or middle earth hobbit poke their heads from behind a tree.

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Also included in the entrance ticket price is a boat trip to take you between the upper and lower lakes, however, due to the massive volume of visitors we couldn’t get on! So we only managed to see the upper lake area.

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All in all though an utterly magical day in a truly breath taking place. I would definately recommend spending at least a day in this amazing natural wonderland.
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Split sights and beachlife

After surviving the climb to the top of the bell tower, we headed out and about to grab a snapshot of the sights of Split.

P1020020Artwork nestles against the ancient mellow stones while a shoal of rainbow fish wiggle tantalisingly for shoppers.

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Bouganvilla blazes on every house and hides even the most broken down of ruins.

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Ramshackle little back yards can be glimpsed through half open doors and peeling paint tempts the camera.

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*Wikipedia interesting fact alert* The city draws its name from the spiny broom (calicotome spinosa; brnistra or žuka in modern Croatian), a common shrub in the area.

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From abstract artworks to labryinthian alley ways that abruptly turn into shady courtyards full of ancient artifacts, balconies and greenery, the city has plenty of hidden delights.

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Split is said to be one of the centres of Croatian culture and its literary tradition can be traced to medieval times. In recognition of its importance, in 1979, the historic center of Split was included in the UNESCO list of World Heritage sites.

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There’s also a strip of beach where all the locals meet up to play the hectic game of Picigin – a ball game played in in shallow water.

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Players stay in shallow water and hit the ball with the palm of their hand trying to keep it in the air for as long as possible.

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This ensures plenty of hilarity as players belly flop into the water in a desperate attempt to keep the ball in the air.

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Head for heights in Split

Pretty Split is a maze of little back alleys, sun drenched courtyards and cosmopolitan feeling harbour front.

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Here’s Neil, making it all slightly less classy with his beer. .

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The city lives cheek by jowl with its history thanks to the main attraction the Diocletian Palace.

The palace was built by the Roman emperor Diocletian at the turn of the fourth century CE and now forms the center of the city of Split.

While it is referred to as a “palace” because of its intended use as the retirement residence of Diocletian, the structure is massive and more resembles a large fortress.

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Above is a view of the peristyle (the central square of the Palace) towards the entrance of Diocletian’s quarters and some of the narrow alleyways.

The bell tower looms over the centre of the old city and provide a perfect, albeit rather vertigo inducing viewpoint of the whole area.

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Here’s a view of the rather rickety staircases heading upwards! Try not to look too closely at the wobbly rivets, that’s the key .  .

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And some rather spiffing views across Split from the cosy look out at the top.

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You get to peek into windows and spy over roof top courtyards (if you dare peek out from between your hands that is)

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It’s a sea of terracotta, wave upon wave of warm reds, undulating tiles and endless windows.

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For your viewing pleasure an elusive glimpse of your very own pasty blogger, posing awkwardly (proving once again why it is preferable to be safely hidden behind the camera not in front of it!).

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And finally heading back down on rather wobbly legs .  .

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800 miles of road

So leaving Dubrovnik behind for a few days, we embark on our epic journey across Croatia. Here’s a misty goodbye (for now) to the harbour and fort.

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As part of my impeccably planned manic route march across the country, the long suffering other half ends up driving over 800 miles in total. The next step after Dubrovnik is heading North to Split. Here’s our tiny little hire car for the week!

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Heading for the open road we get onto the epic A1 road, a huge, winding and empty dual carriageway that eats up the miles.

We zoom onwards, ploughing through the middles of mountains thanks to the endless succession of tunnels, including one 6 kilometre monster!

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Along the way we see some of the most incredible scenery including this breath taking view over fertile plains full of oranges as far as the eye can see.

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You can almost see the curve of the sky from our vantage point at the side of the road. it seems to only just skim the tops of the mountain range in the distance.

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After about three hours we arrive in Split where we’re staying in one of tiny back alleyways of the old town in the impeccably presented Fabio Residence 2.

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This was complete with the most hair raising parking experience ever as you have to negotiate the (barely) single file back streets praying all the while that another car doesn’t come haring around the corner at you.

Cosmopolitan feeling Split has the air of a high end resort in the South of France, sort of Cannes or Nice but a lot cheaper!

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The city is literally living history as most of the shops and restaurants of the old town are set in and around Diocletian’s Palace – an ancient palace built by the Roman emperor Diocletian at the turn of the fourth century CE. Below you can see the outer walls of the palace.

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During our stay we’ll whisk our way through the narrow alleyways and enjoy a vertigo inducing climb up the bell tower. Rest assured, photos to follow!

St John’s fortress and harbour

The old town of Dubrovnik is defended and encircled by formidable walls and incorporates the imposing St John’s fortress.

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The St. John Fortress, often called Mulo Tower, is a complex monumental building on the southeastern side of the old city port, controlling and protecting its entrance.

The first fort was built in the mid 14th century, but it was modified on several occasions in the course of the 15th and 16th centuries,

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The harbour was designed and constructed by engineer Paskoje Miličević in the late 15th century.

The most prominent portion of the harbour are the three enormous arches (the fourth original arch was walled in) of a large arsenal built in the late 12th century and enlarged in the latter part 15th century.

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The harbour is also the oldest shipyard in the city and is still in use today

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Around the fort is a favourite place for locals to take a refreshing swim and even though it was a grey day and the sea was choppy people were still taking a dip.

St John’s fortress is just one of the imposing fortifications that are dotted around the city’s huge walls. We’ll spot more of them during our walk around the walls later on in the week.

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Dubrovnik – pearl of the adriatic

For years I have dreamt of visiting Dubrovnik. Seduced by the iconic pictures of St John’s fortress imposingly towering over the Adriatic while a picture postcard beach shimmers in the foreground.

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Well now I’ve managed it! Having just spent an incredible but all to short week in Croatia,as usual making a mad dash around a country with far too much to see and far too little time to see it!

Starting and ending in Dubrovnik, our whistle stop tour covered over 800 miles and included heading north upto Split and further afield to the stunning national parks of Plitvice and Krka, a brief stop in Trogir and a hair raising jaunt into Bosnia to see the beautiful town of Mostar.

But let’s start with Dubrovnik. A stunning old town hewn from shining white stone that is sadly overwhelmed by endless tour groups that pour forth from the leviathan cruise ships that hover in the ports.

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We arrived on a rather overcast day with the threat of rain never too far away. Nevertheless you can still see how gobsmackingly lovely the place is.

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Our first apartment was the family run Villa Dard. Set on the hillside above the old town it is a ten minute walk to reach all the sites (although it is a steep climb back up via lots of steps)

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First stop, via Pile Gate, was the fashionable and stunning main street – Stradun.

The limestone-paved pedestrian street runs for about 300 metres through the Old Town and is blindingly bright in the sunlight (not that we saw any for the first few days!)

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The old town is incredible, almost unreal in its beauty, and almost feels staged like a film set (indeed we only just missed the infamous nude Games of Thrones scene that was filmed a few days before we arrived)

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To aid us with our tour we headed to the tasty Dolce Vita ice cream parlour for a dollop of loveliness.

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The first day was warm but cloudy and the second day it positively chucked it down! Not to be daunted we donned our fashionable pac a macs (!) and sallied forth to explore some of the little back streets of the town. More of that later!