2016 is my year of going places, so just a few weeks after this fab adventure in Ljubljana, I hopped on a plane back to that part of the world, this time landing in Croatia. I’ve wanted to go to Croatia for a while, with Hvar, Split and Dubrovnik high on my list ever since I did some freelance work for Thomson and was given the Croatia project. In working hard to craft copy that really sold the little country to would-be holiday makers, I totally convinced myself I needed to go.
For now though, I’ll have to wait to explore those well-known parts of Croatia, because our itinerary was all about trekking the waterfalls of Lake Plitvice, which is pretty much at the other end. Along with three ready-for-a-chilled-one girlfriends, I packed my Ryan Air-friendly hand luggage with trainers, jeans and hoodies. One of my friends had found a pretty unbelievable deal on Holiday Pirates (follow them on Facebook and you’ll be plotting a bargainous bon voyage in no time!), which meant we were headed for a rather lovely campsite (complete with cute log cabins NOT a spot to pitch a tent, thank god), not far from Lake Plitvice for four nights, with breakfast included each morning. With the flights as well that came to a grand total of £80 each. Not bad, eh?
When we touched down in Zadar, we picked up our hire car and drove about 2 hours to our campsite, Camp Korana. THIS IS A TOTAL LIE. We actually drove for nearer 6 hours, got lost in some cabin-in-the-woods-style-woods, I had to chase ducks across a bridge in the pitch black and we were eventually escorted by the police to where we were supposed to be staying. #fail. If you’re planning a stay near Lake Plitvice and fancy Camp Korana, you should avoid Google Maps as a source of direction like the plague. It lies. It thinks the campsite is at the top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere. It’s not. It’s off of a very clear main road and if you use the TripAdvisor map, you will get there in good time. Also, the sign for the camp says ‘Autocamp Korana’. Look it up on Google images / Street View before you set off..
Having checked in at 4am, the village dog, who I named Fluffy, escorted us to the toilet block, and then back to our 2-women cabins so we could get some of that shut eye we so craved. Bar Fluffy’s barking, it wasn’t hard to get a good night’s sleep at Camp Korana. It’s really quiet and secluded, the cabins are warm enough (though you will appreciate that big ol’ sheepy-looking blanket at the end of the room) and the beds are really comfy. There’s a good amount of space in between the two single beds and a table at the end by the double doors. There’s even a plug point!
On the first day, owing to our late night jaunt, we missed breakfast so after a quick freshen up in the supremely clean shower block about a 2 minute walk from our cabins, we headed out in search of snacks. Croatian food is something I can get on board with – there’s a lot of bread, a lot of meat, often of the cured variety and a hell of a lot of pickles. What more could you want? They’re also fans of cider, which as a beer-hater, I’m always pleased to discover when I travel. Somersby’s Apple Cider (lighter packaging and a crisper more apple juice-like taste than the one here) is where it’s at and if anyone can find it in the UK, holler.
When you reach the National Park you have to buy a ticket. It equates to about £10 for an adult and if you buy a 2-day pass, which we did, you’ll save. That’s more Somersby pennies! Your ticket includes access to the whole park and all Lake Plitvice has to offers as well as the shuttle buses and ferries within the area, which are really handy for getting back to the entrance without having to walk for another three million miles or for getting to the beginning of another route you fancy exploring. Get to the park before lunchtime and you’ll dodge a good chunk of tourist coaches arriving but even if you don’t miss them, worry not, there are various routes you can choose and they’ll no doubt choose a short one where you can lose ’em. It’s all very well organised and signposted with the option to take 2-3 hour paths or, if you’re feeling particularly lithe, 6-8 hour paths. Whichever you choose, stick.to.the.path. My friend bumped into a couple who’d veered off the guided route and ended up stomping around for 6 hours longer than they’d intended. Croatia – good for getting lost!
On our first day at Lake Plitvice we took it pretty easy, doing a few hours on the lower levels. The first waterfall view, which we reached pretty sharpish was so incredible, we stayed quite a while taking pictures and selfies and generally just oohing and ahhing. Further along the trail we came to a slope and a stone staircase, which an uber friendly American told us would lead to a cave. Half of the group were unhappy about the mention of the cave, but we threw caution to the wind with the promise of amazing views and fear-conquering hanging in the air. The walk wasn’t as treachourous as it first looked and after a quick diversion through a crave, which was large and very easy to navigate through, we found the little wooden walkways I’d seen people Instagramming #lakeplitvice. The walk was amazing, at points we were sprayed with water from the falls, there were wide open lakes, little springs, wooded areas and we even saw a snake. Well, the rest of the girls saw a snake, I was outta there! We sat on bridges, dipped our fingers in the cool water and got some great exercise – it was a pretty idyllic day. Then we stopped off for a drink, hopped on a ferry, got another drink there (the ferries are all close to a cafe, shop and toilets, as well as benches and picnic spots) and then walked up the hill to the shuttle bus. All in all, we’d walked for about 4 hours, so we stopped off for crisps and cola to mix with our duty free Disaronno (we like to keep things classy…) on the way home and set up camp outside our cabins for the rest of the afternoon.
That evening we sampled the delights of Camp Korana’s restaurant, which due to it being their quiet season played host to us and just two other tables. It’s a huge venue though and I’m told it’ll get really busy over the next few weeks. Our waiter was a very sweet Croatian man who spoke a little English but still found us incredibly entertaining (see: a bit drunk on Disaronno). We ordered a litre bottle of red wine, as is the norm for me on Euro trips now and went bold with starters and mains. Three out of four of us went for deep fried cheese to start and one opted for cold meats and cheese. The portions were far too generous to be main courses if I’m honest – nobody needs two of those cheese pillows – but when on holiday… For our second course two of the girls shared a meat platter, which consisted of basically every meat under the sun, from veal chop to pork loin to bacon, as well as some veg and chips. One had a veal schnitzel, which was stuffed with ham and cheese, served in gravy and teamed with croquettes, and I went for the beef stroganoff with rice, which was delicious. It was super rich and very salty (as was everything we ate in Croatia), and the variety of mushrooms in there was superb. The additional dollops of creme fraiche, which is how I’d serve it at home, sealed the deal. Aside from the food being really wholesome, filling and tasty, it was a really relaxed place to eat with great service and we would have kept the party going had we not felt bad that the staff were just looking after us at 10.30pm and probably wanted to go home. Because it was off season the bar next door wasn’t open, but our waiter, potentially thrilled that we were finally leaving, let us buy another litre of red wine to take back to our cabins. We sat up for hours with that wine, at a picnic bench outside our makeshift homes, looking at the very clear and starry sky and singing to the little bit of Spotify our 3G would allow, probably a bit too loudly..
The next day, we got up in time to try the breakfast included in our stay. The spread isn’t massive but you’ve got everything you might need, from toast and jams and yoghurts, to cereals, eggs, cheese, cold meats and, erm, mini hot dogs. I’m not gonna lie, I quite miss having a sneaky hot dog with my cocoa pops in the morning…
Then it was back to Lake Plitvice for day two of our walking expedition. This time, we took the shuttle bus straight to the top, which is a bit scary and brilliant at the same time because the buses are made up of a zillion carriages that bounce and swing around the twisty, turny roads up the mountain giving you a stunning view of the steep, steep drop below.
This is where the real waterfalls are. The falls were huge and there were so many of them, all lined up, cascading down into huge lakes. There were old fallen trees in the clearest of pools and amazing rock faces splodged with green. If you’re into your photography, you won’t find a much better subject.
Then it was back to camp for a well-deserved-feet-up and you know what… Yep, that tasty, tasty cider! And in 22 degree sunshine! That evening, we ventured out of the camp, trundled along the motorway and found a spot on the (rather cold) terrace to eat our last supper. Again, our waiter found us delightfully entertaining, so we thought we’d give him a real laugh and order a litre of red wine AND a litre of white wine. Ha. The food was good here too. I had veal escalopes and handmade gnocchi with mozzarella and sultanas on top. The sauce was meaty and mushroom-y and the veal was really beautifully cooked. The merlot helped wash it down nicely too! Other dishes included lamb with dried cherries, some ugly fish and chicken cordon bleu with a creamy potato salad. It was super cheap too, about £15 a head, with wine.
The next morning, we packed up our stuff, had a quick hot dog or three and left. We spent the afternoon in sunny Zadar (I’ll definitely be back to explore the Old Town there) before our flight and then jetted back to London.
If you’re looking for a really affordable escape, some picturesque nature scenes and the lack of pressure that not having a huge amount of things to do in the place you’re staying in offers, you’ll love Lake Plitvice in Croatia.
Planning a trip to this beautiful part of the world? Already been? Hit me up in the comments below.