TAK­ING THE IN­DI­RECT ROUTE

It’s not just about get­ting to your des­ti­na­tion, it’s about the jour­ney, as proved by this 1,200-mile road trip from Slove­nia to the Croa­t­ian coast.

Mini Magazine - - Contents - Words and Pho­tog­ra­phy Meris Čulić

Stun­ning scenery and cul­ture aplenty on this 1,200-mile road­trip from Slove­nia to the Croa­t­ian coast.

When a friend of mine in­formed me that two of my friends had opened a bar on the Croa­t­ian coast and had pro­posed we pay them a visit, I ac­cepted straight away. De­pend­ing on traf­fic, the trip would last four to five hours. But we are not fans of the high­way, in­stead pre­fer­ring roads that give you the feel­ing of ex­plo­ration with each pass­ing cor­ner; roads with a story to tell. So a de­ci­sion was made to go for it, but with a longer route in mind.

With the ig­ni­tion key in­serted my Clas­sic Rover Mini burst into life with sound­waves pound­ing through the tip of the af­ter­mar­ket ex­haust sys­tem, the noise bounc­ing from the garage walls and mak­ing its way into neigh­bour­ing houses. “It’s okay,” I said to my­self, “they’re prob­a­bly used to it by now.” But my guess is that they still don’t like it, es­pe­cially at 6am – so there was no time to spare!

First gear se­lected and a min­i­mum rev start fol­lowed. It was a calm, sun­ray­filled Sun­day. The roads were empty, and for a while it was just me and my Mini head­ing to the cap­i­tal. It takes a lit­tle over an hour to get from Je­senice to Ljubl­jana with­out a high­way. It was a great warm up for the roads that were to come.

In Ljubl­jana I met up with a friend whose Austin Mini Club­man es­tate was proudly show­ing its fresh black paint and ea­gerly await­ing for us to em­bark on our jour­ney. But where were we head­ing? Our des­ti­na­tion for the first day was a city called Ja­jce, about 250 miles away, in Bos­nia. Along the way there are many in­ter­est­ing places to visit and many de­lights to try out, first of which was the re­gional road tak­ing us to Croa­tia. It goes through quaint vil­lages, forests, and twists it­self around the high­way for a while. We miss out on so much while sav­ing time on the dual car­riage­ways.

We crossed the Slovene-Croa­t­ian bor­der at Met­lika and reached Karlovac, where we took our first break at the Open Air War Mu­seum. Thick ar­mor steel shaped into tanks, per­son­nel car­ri­ers, ar­tillery and light­weight alu­minum into he­li­copters and fighter planes. These were the re­minders left from Croa­tia’s war for in­de­pen­dence, one of the ’90s Yu­goslav wars which tore the for­mer re­pub­lic apart.

A short drive fur­ther brought us to our next point of in­ter­est, Ras­toke. A 300-year-old milling set­tle­ment that was con­structed next to gor­geous wa­ter­falls and rapids. A place where na­ture shows its playful and artis­tic side. The Ko­rana river con­nects it to the fa­mous Pl­itvice lakes and it’s for that rea­son it’s also known as ˝the small lakes of Pl­itvice˝.

A few pic­tures taken, a few cups emp­tied, and quite a few wheel ro­ta­tions made, and we ended up over­look­ing the Bos­nian bor­der, but we weren’t go­ing to cross it just yet, as we were head­ing to a his­toric gem hid­den nearby…

Ob­ject 505, bet­ter known as air­field Žel­java, is a mil­i­tary air­field hid­den within a moun­tain. It was built in

se­crecy be­tween 1948 and 1968 and is known as Yu­goslavia’s most ex­pen­sive project. Ex­chang­ing the main road for a side road, we passed the last few houses and the first in­di­ca­tion that we were near was the re­mains of a Dou­glas DC-3 Dakota on an aban­doned air­field. The road then trans­formed into one of the run­ways and took us to the near­est en­trance to the un­der­ground base, named Klek – then two miles of tun­nels, space for 57 MIGs and over 3,000 peo­ple, a hos­pi­tal, ed­u­ca­tional, ser­vice and op­er­a­tional cen­tres, nu­mer­ous ware­houses, pitch dark­ness and echoes.

In May 1992, at the out­break of war in Bos­nia, the base got heav­ily dam­aged with more than 50 tonnes of ex­plo­sives. The pass­ing time hasn’t helped it but the area is still very in­ter­est­ing to ex­plore. Once back out­side and tak­ing a longer look at the run­way, it was very tempt­ing to take the Minis on a high-speed run, but we kept in mind that the run­way is lo­cated on the bor­der it­self and cross­ing at high speed might have just grabbed the un­wanted at­ten­tion of a nearby po­lice pa­trol ve­hi­cle (al­though some­thing tells me they’re used to it)!

So we re­turned to the main road, (legally) crossed the bor­der and headed on­wards to our des­ti­na­tion. A few more cities passed and the E761 opened on to nice coun­try­side, where the road’s kinks got ironed out nicely.

HIS­TOR­I­CAL BEAUTY

The city of Ja­jce has al­ways been sit­u­ated at im­por­tant in­ter­sec­tions on which trad­ing routes, na­tion­al­i­ties, cul­tures and even rivers meet. With its nat­u­ral beauty and his­tory, it’s a very at­trac­tive city to visit. Since it was built, in the 14th cen­tury, the rul­ing hand has changed many times. That is a story that starts un­fold­ing once you en­ter the city through its de­fen­sive walls and progress up hill to the fortress, which is be­side the 55-foot tall wa­ter­fall that con­nects the river Pliva to the river Vr­bas. The old wa­ter mills con­structed be­tween the Pliva lakes is one of the big­gest vis­i­tor mag­nets in the area.

Once we waved good­bye to this lovely city we set our sights on the Bos­nian cap­i­tal, and af­ter a few hours of driv­ing we reached Sara­jevo. It’s a city that’s clearly had its fair share of his­toric events – re­minders of which can be seen as mon­u­ments with in­scrip­tions un­der­neath or as bul­let holes and shell ex­plo­sion ef­fects that are still vis­i­ble. Dur­ing the ’90s war this be­came the long­est be­sieged city in his­tory.

Af­ter park­ing up, we en­tered the city to en­joy a fine mix of ar­chi­tec­ture and a food-lover’s heaven – a great time was had. We then took a trip to the out­skirts to soak in the beau­ti­ful land­scape.

Af­ter leav­ing the cap­i­tal, we met the E73, a road I have driven on few times be­fore but one that never ceases to amaze me. It winds its way south through beau­ti­ful val­leys, carved by a mighty river, and takes you to the Adri­atic sea. It has many places on its route that, if not missed, prom­ise an in­ter­est­ing ex­pe­ri­ence; like driv­ing through a dam in Id­bar, Yu­goslavia’s best-kept se­cret.

Be­fore reach­ing Id­bar we ar­rived at the city of Kon­jic dur­ing a down­pour. The heavy rain made it harder for us to find a sign with D-0 ARK writ­ten on it, which later led us to a nar­row road on the city’s out­skirts. Just as the clouds cleared above us a mil­i­tary post ap­peared, where a guard­ing sol­dier said we should con­tinue down the road and park next to “the house”, which was sit­u­ated in the mid­dle of nowhere.

The house is one of three se­cret en­trances to an un­der­ground bunker called Fa­cil­ity D-0, oth­er­wise known as ‘the army’s re­serve com­mand’ or ‘Tito’s bunker’. It was built dur­ing the Cold War pe­riod as a sanc­tu­ary for Mar­shal Tito, his wife Jo­vanka, and 350 oth­ers from Yu­goslavia’s supreme com­mand, thus en­abling their man­age­ment over the armed forces for up to six months of iso­la­tion in the case of a nu­clear at­tack. It has 69,000 ft2 of liv­ing area, the low­est point of which is 920 ft be­low ground and made up of 12 con­nect­ing blocks that hold strate­gic plan­ning rooms, con­fer­ence rooms, res­i­den­tial ar­eas and of­fices. The break-up of Yu­goslavia un­veiled this se­cret and the D- 0 saw its

“The E73 never ceases to amaze me, wind­ing its way to the Adri­atic sea”

first pub­lic tour in 2011. To­day, the bunker, which is of­fi­cially still un­der mil­i­tary con­trol, serves as a meet­ing point for artists from around the world.

As we drove fur­ther to­wards the south on the E73, we were go­ing fur­ther back into Yu­goslavia’s his­tory. The town of Jablan­ica got us to the year 1943, when Yu­goslavia was un­der Axis oc­cu­pa­tion. Fight­ing against the oc­cu­pa­tion were the Yu­goslav Par­ti­sans, led by Tito. A walk around the lo­cal mu­seum re­vealed the ex­tra­or­di­nary tale of the ‘ bat­tle for the wounded’. It’s well worth a visit. For us, a de­ci­sion to fol­low his­tory’s foot­steps then took us east on to the M6.1.

The road was in fairly good con­di­tion, at points in a rough state and in cer­tain ar­eas com­pletely ab­sent where the oc­ca­sional avalanche hid it from our eyes. Most of the time we had the road to our­selves, which was fun with its sweep­ing twists and turns. Even­tu­ally it brought us into a val­ley where a big sculp­ture ap­peared, vis­i­ble from afar. The Val­ley of He­roes is a monument to those who lost their lives in the bat­tle to es­cape an­other en­cir­clement. One which marked a turn­ing point to­wards Par­ti­san con­trol of Yu­goslavia. They man­aged to lib­er­ate the coun­try from the Axis grasp just two years af­ter this bat­tle.

HID­DEN TREA­SURES

Af­ter the master­class in Yu­goslav his­tory, we em­barked on a brief ex­plo­ration of the won­der­ful city of Mostar be­fore cross­ing the bor­der into Croa­tia at Metkoviči. An ex­cit­ing mo­ment as it meant we would soon reach the D8, a coastal tourist road known as the ‘Adri­atic high­way’. It’s a great ex­pe­ri­ence for both na­ture lovers and pas­sion­ate driv­ers, as ev­ery mile de­liv­ers breath­tak­ing coastal panorama. It takes you high up the hills where you can ad­mire the views of seem­ingly end­less is­lands and also down to al­most sea level, where you can wit­ness the bat­tle be­tween the waves and the coastal rocks. It goes through calm, pic­turesque fish­ing vil­lages as well as bustling sea­side cities. It’s a true de­light, made even sweeter if you hap­pen to stum­ble upon a beau­ti­ful empty beach where a chance to cool off and rest a bit oc­curs. We were pass­ing one is­land af­ter an­other. And slowly my left arm was get­ting browner, whilst my right was hid­ing in the shade and min­gling with the gear shifter.

Even­tu­ally we reached the city of Šibenik, where the newly-opened Beach Bar Mini is sit­u­ated. What was sup­posed to be a four- to five-hour drive, de­pend­ing on the high­way traf­fic, ended up be­ing a 1,200-mile, week-long road trip. The day ended with a bar­be­cue on the sea­side where even Mor­ris, the bar’s puppy mas­cot, took a break from his job of greet­ing vis­i­tors and en­joyed a dish of grilled meat.

We ar­rived home some 300-miles later the evening of the next day, mov­ing the gear lever into re­verse and ma­neu­ver­ing the car slowly into the garage. Those sound­waves were once again ex­it­ing through the tip of the ex­haust sys­tem and bounc­ing around the garage walls into neigh­bour­ing houses. “They’re prob­a­bly used to it by now,” I said to my­self, but I guess they still don’t like it, es­pe­cially at 10pm…

“Ev­ery mile of the high­way de­liv­ers breath­tak­ing coastal panorama”

The Clas­sic Minis in search of hid­den gems in Žel­java. Ja­jce, the road trip­pers’ first port of call.

Minis and the re­mains of a Dou­glas DC-3 plane. Driv­ing through a dam in Id­bar. Fa­cil­ity D-0, an amaz­ing un­der­ground bunker.

Breath­tak­ing scenery on the D8 coastal road. The labyrinthine Tito’s bunker. The fi­nal des­ti­na­tion: the Beach Bar Mini. His­tory-rich town of Jablan­ica. The Sut­jeska Monument.

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