We drove for around 2 hours before reaching our hotel near Plitvice (pronounced Plit-vit-sah). I hadn’t known when we’d booked, but this place was actually a campsite as well as a hotel. It featured a small market and restaurant as well as RV hookups, outdoor bathrooms, and laundry facilities. We were living in luxury however and had a private cabin to ourselves. After checking in we quickly looked up a good place for dinner and made the short drive there. I had tasty cheese Gnocchi and a schnitzel-like fried turkey dish. After dinner we had gelato. Needless to say it was good, I had hazelnut and a vanilla flavor.
We had actually rearranged our trip to be here on a Wednesday. Plitvice is the biggest tourist-draw in Croatia and we knew if we’d been here on a weekend we’d be fighting crowds. Consequently, we made it a priority to get up and out of the cabin early. We got a few groceries at the market for lunch, then made it to the park around 8:00 AM.
Entering the park, we found ourselves in what felt like an alien world. Surrounded by waterfalls, crystal-clear lakes, and charming wooden pathways, we had the place nearly to ourselves for the first hour or two.
We took the opportunity to explore the more-popular lower falls first, which glistened in the morning sun. I was ecstatic to see the place so empty, as I had seen nightmarish-pictures of crowded walkways packed with tourists. We took the long way around and crossed several sets of falls – tall ones, wide ones, and walls of water elegantly cascading through rocks and plants looking like fissures in the earth.
There were so many waterfalls we occasionally noticed that some of them had been covered up by the walkway, as if they weren’t pretty enough to warrant a view given the surroundings. We continued up past the lower falls (which were growing more crowded now) and went to the larger upper lakes. We took a winding trail circling the biggest lake and were delighted to find it nearly empty. The path alternated between shady forest and fleeting glimpses of the lake, dotted by more waterfalls. We unfortunately forgot the sunscreen in the car, so the shade offered by the trees was a big benefit for us.
Our path took us up above one of the most impressive falls in the park. With such a nice view, we of course opted to stop for a picnic. We were only occasionally interrupted by other visitors who wanted us to take pictures for them. I would say it was the best view in the whole park – high praise for such a beautiful place. Another hiker pointed out a brilliantly camouflaged lizard which we surely would have missed otherwise. I grabbed a few pictures before Chelsea scared it off with her GoPro.
We climbed down from our vantage point and found the park had filled up significantly. We wandered some of the boardwalks to get an up-close view, occasionally fighting through crowds to do so. We took a couple of ferries to access different areas of the park, and found even more to explore in the seemingly endless maze of crystalline water and lush greenery.
We witnessed an altercation between a German-speaking tour guide and an old woman who seemed Italian. The tour guide insisted that her group go together, splitting up the woman’s party onto two boats. She was very upset and made a lot of sarcastic comments. I caught the tour guide calling the woman crazy to her group.
It was striking just how densely concentrated all the beautiful waterfalls were. Chelsea noted that it was hard to properly appreciate all of it; whenever you saw something pretty another beautiful scene caught your eye. The afternoon light illuminated the lakes with a bright blue hue, making the whole park look a little surreal. Chelsea also pointed out how ironic it was that any of these waterfalls could be the highlight or main attraction of a different park, but here some of them were covered up and others given no special attention. We had a bit of a drive ahead of us to get to the next place, so we left the park around 4 or 5 PM after a quick stop for a postcard.
Our next lodging was out in the middle of nowhere. Our drive took us through a lot of farmland and tiny villages. We took the opportunity to knock out a Croatian must- obtaining roadside cheese! We stopped at a tiny shack with a hand-written sign and were greeted by a tiny dog with lots of enthusiasm. The man working at the stand offered us two options – sheep+cow cheese or goat+cow. The sheep seemed stranger to me so I opted for that one. I got the smallest quantity they’d sell me (about 10 EUR worth) and gave it a try – I liked it! Maybe it tasted better because it had a little character, but I enjoyed the mix of flavors and textures.
We arrived at a small guesthouse in a little village called Japodi. This was the closest we could stay to the hike we’d picked out for the next day. A medium-sized dog with a ton of energy bounded out to greet us and a smile spread across my face as I played with the dog and chased her a bit. The guest-house was very nice with elegant wood decoration and lots of space.
Unfortunately there was no real option for dinner that we could find in town, but luckily our hosts had prepared dinner for us! If there’s one thing I like better than dinner it’s a surprise dinner served where you’ll be sleeping. Two French-Canadian women were also staying there, we ate with them. Chelsea didn’t care for the food much – I felt bad for her but didn’t see a viable alternative as we weren’t likely to find any restaurant nearby. I ate quite well (a 3-course meal) and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Thankfully we had some groceries left over from before so I went out and fetched food for her afterwards.
We went to bed shortly afterwards.
The next day our hosts served a breakfast which Chelsea found much more agreeable. She enjoyed croissants, rolls, and eggs while I had some meat and cheese. We had been planning to hike (Bijele I Samarske) but Chelsea’s knee wasn’t feeling 100%, so we opted for a rest day instead. Per a recommendation from our host, we drove over to check out the coastal town of Opatija (Oh-patch-yah). The town is close to Italy and consequently had an Italian feel to it, with white buildings capped by orange roofs. We spent most of our time walking along the coast, where a wide walkway connected the towns and featured all sorts of restaurants, artisans, and yes, gelato shops.
Our host had told us to walk to the next town over, so we went west without a second thought for about 2 miles till we reached the town, only to find it pretty dead with not much going on. Only later we realized she had meant the town to the East. We wandered around the town and didn’t find much to do. We noticed a trail head sign and decided we’d climb up a bit to get a nice view overlooking the water. As a bonus, it seemed like we could take a higher trail back to Opatija to form a nice loop. Therefore, on our rest day from hiking, we set off hiking. Yep.
The hike was actually tougher than either of us had realized when we’d started. With a 450m climb through twisting city roads, we were forced to take some breaks due to the hot sun and lack of wind. We (unknowingly) passed the point where we were supposed to make our turn and continued to climb into a nearby park. We continued for a while before growing frustrated and eventually turning around. It was good that we did as we were now pretty far from the car with no clear direction on how to get to any decent viewpoint. Chelsea got frustrated that the time posted at the trail head seemed to be faster than we were capable of.
We made our way back to Opatija and stopped at an art stand where I bought Chelsea a few handmade paintings. Croatia turned out to be more beautiful than we could have imagined. Afterwards we set off to leave Croatia for our next stop: Triglav National Park in Slovenia. You’ll hear about our time there in my next post!
Best wishes and safe travels everyone,
– Ben (+ Chelsea)