One of the Balkan definite must sees is a country of Croatia, placed on the shores of Mediterranean Sea (Adriatic), on the slopes of the Alps (so called Dinaric Alpes) and the edge of the Pannonian Basin. I know I can’t be considered too objective when it comes to Croatia, but, I’ll try. Croatia offers an unique combination of everything – vast rank and green valleys, miles and miles of untouched forest, clear water springs and creeks, high mountain chains, crystal clear turquoise sea, 1244 inhabited and uninhabited islands, amazing history and incredible architecture, delicious food and tasty wines, rich culture and unique folklore. Some of you might also know Croatia as the Game of Thrones King’s Landing or a place where new Star Wars Episode VIII is currently being filmed. Croatia offers a great mixture of everything your heart could desire!
Plitvice Lakes National Park
Another place I simply can’t be objective about is definitely the mountain region of Lika in Croatia that devides Croatian inland from coastline – not just because it’s a birthplace of my grandparents, but simply as a huge nature and adventure lover. Nature and active holiday enthusiasts have limitless opportunities in this particular region as it is interspersed with numerous hiking, cycling and climbing trails, while history buffs can visit many of the nearby ancient and medieval forts and cities. With its rivers, springs, mountains, woods and untouched forests, and not to mention lakes, pools, gorges and caves, the inland region of Lika has Croatia’s highest concentration of national and natural parks.
The most iconic of all is Plitvice Lakes National Park, that captivates visitors with its wild beauty, 16 shimmering lakes and 129 bird species, placing it firmly on the must see list for any nature enthusiast. In 1979, Plitvice Lakes National Park was even added to the UNESCO World Heritage register. It is also one of the oldest national parks in Southeast Europe, the largest national park in Croatia, and in my humble opinion, one of the most magical and surreal places on planet Earth. First time I went there I thought I wondered into the Imladris Valley – Elvish city of Rivendell from the movie franchise The Lord of the Rings.
The national park, situated in the deep woodland, covers a total area of 300 square km, whilst the lakes join together over a distance of eight kilometers. Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of the most impressive European national parks with its 16 turquoise crystalline lakes tumble into each other via a series of beautiful waterfalls and cascades. The terraced lakes are curved into a huge limestone canyon with numerous caves with majority of the water disappearing underground and reappearing on the surface again. The mineral-rich water carves the surrounding rocks, continually changing the parks formations.
The most intriguing thing about Plitvice Lakes are its mysterious travertine barriers (cro. sedrene barijere) whose exact origem is still quite undiscovered. Travartine barriers are quite often found throughout Croatia (Krka River National Park, Rastoke…) but not so much in the rest of the world due to the specific limestone landscape. However, one thing is for sure – traventine barriers are incredibly beautiful, but fragile, so entering into the lakes (along with throwing food to numerous fishes) is strictly not allowed! No swimming guys, I am sorry!
Veliki Slap (eng. The Big Waterfall) is the most famous sight in the national park. It is the tallest waterfall in Croatia reaching the height of 78 m. Veliki Slap is a really popular destination for wedding ceremonies even since the times of Former Republic of Yugoslavia. The first wedding on Plitvice Lakes was held in 1968. under the Big Waterfall as a part of Yugoslav tradition. Since then, more then 300 couples from more then 20 countries got married in this heavenly environment of hundred-year old woods, the murmur of the waterfalls and the crystal-clear turquoise of the Lakes. Last time I went to Plitvice Lakes National Park, in September this year, I tumbled into a beautiful traditional Indian wedding under the Big Waterfall and it was an amazing sight to see.
There’s more then 18 km of wooden footbrigdes and pathways that snake around, across and on the rambling water and falls – so, you are literally passing over, under or right next to the waterfalls. Guess it would take you the entire day to explore all the lakes (16 in total) on foot, but you can easily take one of the park’s free boats or buses (departing every 30 minutes from the Entrances 1 and 2). If you have got limited time you could visit only the upper-lake part (with the most famous and iconic waterfall – Veliki Slap) that takes 2 hours in total to explore.
Eat like a local
While you’re there, visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park, you should definitely have a taste of Lika’s (and Croatia’s) famous dish – ličke pole. It’s a quite simple peasant dish, but it secret lies in an authentic, natural-grown, huge Lika potatos, home-made bacon, onions, ajvar (a type of relish, made principally from red bell peppers and egg plant, with garlic, also called ”vegetable caviar”) and fresh high-fat cow cheese – all grown and produced in Lika region by Lika people. Another Lika famous speciality is lamb under the bell that you can find on literally each and every step on your way to Plitvice Lakes.
All the beer lovers out there should try Velebitsko beer – a popular beer brand from Lika, Croatia, brewed naturally on the Velebit mountains. Known for its high quality brewery, the dark beer has been voted best beer by one English beer expert website. One of the holy temples of Lika’s cuisine is so called Lička kuća (Lika’s House) right next to the Entrance 1 of Plitvice Lakes National Park. There you can enjoy the traditional dishes with the sounds of Lika’s folklore in the background and arm yourself with energy and positive vibes for your day spent exploring and admiring Plitvice Lakes National Park.
So, are Plitvice Lakes really a real life Rivendell – you be the judge! Visit it and let it dazzle you with its charm, mystery and untouched beauty. As the famous croatian saying goes – Great things are done when water and mountains meet. So, you’re welcome to dive into this magical, mystery mountain land full of untouched nature, beautiful sights, rich wildlife, amazing people and witness the truth behind this famous croatian saying. And, after coming here once, try not to come again – I dare you!