Don’t go chas­ing wa­ter­falls...

Let the party peo­ple have coastal Croa­tia – Shereen Low leaves the crowds and heads in­land for stun­ning sights and in­vig­o­rat­ing walks

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - GLOBE TROTTING -

I’VE been com­ing here ev­ery day for more than seven years and I never get tired of the view,” says my guide Ana. The an­tic­i­pa­tion now build­ing, I push my way through the hordes of tourists and make my way along the rick­ety wooden walk­ways which me­an­der around the wa­ter­falls at Pl­itvice Lakes Na­tional Park.

Ana is right – the view doesn’t dis­ap­point.

I can feel the brute strength of the cur­rent un­der­neath my feet and the mist on my face as the wa­ter thunders away at my side. It’s a scary feel­ing con­sid­er­ing just a few planks of wood are pro­tect­ing me from this tremen­dous force of na­ture.

Nat­u­ral won­ders such as the wa­ter­falls at Pl­itvice are in abun­dance, once visi­tors head in­land to­wards the heart of the coun­try.

Croa­tia has be­come one of the most pop­u­lar Euro­pean des­ti­na­tions in re­cent years, thanks to a pro­lif­er­a­tion of two-hour flights from the UK, but the ma­jor­ity of tourists are party lovers and sun-seek­ers, head­ing to the many is­lands that string the coast­line.

Yet there’s plenty for na­ture lovers to dis­cover once they head in­land to­wards the heart of the coun­try, where the glo­ri­ous Pl­itvice and Pak­lenica parks are lo­cated.

The largest na­tional park in Croa­tia, Pl­itvice, a UNESCO World Nat­u­ral Her­itage site, con­sists of 16 lakes and nu­mer­ous cas­cad­ing wa­ter­falls.

Sit­ting down for lunch by the lakeside is a mag­i­cal mo­ment – it’s prob­a­bly one of the most scenic spots I’ve ever had a sand­wich and chips!

Sur­rounded by forests of beech and fir trees, this park, ac­cessed by paths and trails, as well as an elec­tric boat across the big­gest lake, Koz­jak, is a nat­u­ral trea­sure and home to more than 1,250 dif­fer­ent species of plants, wolves, lynxes, wild boar and wild cats. Ana tells me brown bears also live here, although luck­ily we didn’t meet one.

About an hour’s drive from Pl­itvice is Pak­lenica Na­tional Park.

With the Ve­lika (Big) and Mala (Small) Pak­lenica gorges in­cised into the south­ern slopes of the Velebit moun­tains, Pak­lenica is more suited to ac­tive types.

Rock climbers of vary­ing ages show off their strength as they take on the Anica Kuk wall, an al­most ver­ti­cal lime­stone rock face. I’m sur­prised to see that some even have young chil­dren with them on ropes. With over 400 marked climb­ing routes of dif­fer­ent lev­els and strengths, bud­ding be­gin­ners to ex­pe­ri­enced scram­blers will find it a wor­thy test.

For those who, like me, find climb­ing a chal­lenge, other ac­tive op­tions in­clude hik­ing, trail run­ning, raft­ing and ca­noe­ing on the Zr­manja river. Or, if sport re­ally isn’t your bag, there are photo sa­fari tours, where 4WD ve­hi­cles trans­port bud­ding pho­tog­ra­phers through the wild ter­rains.

This is my first visit to Croa­tia, and I’ve al­ready fallen in love with the coun­try, the friendly peo­ple, their cus­toms and the cul­ture.

“Ev­ery­body likes to tell you their story and ask you about yours,” my driver Mario tells me.

True enough, ev­ery per­son I meet hap­pily opens up about their life – even the Mayor of Ozalj who takes time out from her busy sched­ule to join me for a day.

No sub­ject is off-lim­its, and they are even will­ing to speak about the im­pact of the war with Ser­bia.

It may be 20 years since the Croa­t­ian War of In­de­pen­dence ended in 1995, af­ter four years of fight­ing, but the wounds are still vis­i­ble.

Empty houses with bullet holes in walls and bombed roofs can still be found on the out­skirts of Karlovac. Fam­i­lies have since moved into newer neigh­bour­ing build­ings, but they don’t in­tend to for­get the past, Mario tells me.

“We never want to for­get. The scars are still vis­i­ble and we are proud of the wounds.”

Not all views here are as in­spir­ing as those en­coun­tered in the beau­ti­ful na­tional parks, but they are all un­for­get­table.

Pic­tures: PA Photo/think­stock­pho­tos

Wa­ter­falls at the Pl­itvice Lakes Na­tional Park, in Croa­tia

Lake Koz­jak

Pl­itvice Lakes Na­tional Park, Croa­tia

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.