Today we spent the whole day exploring the Plitvice Lakes National Park. It is somewhere that less than a fortnight ago, to my shame, I had never heard of. It was our guide, Filip, from our trips to Bosnia and Montenegro who had raved about the place, and urged us to visit. I am so pleased we took his advice.
Unfortunately today, the weather was against us a little, being overcast and drizzly for most of the day. But despite this, we were able to appreciate the amazing beauty of this National Park.
The park sits fairly close to the border with Bosnia, and is in stark contrast to the warm Croatian islands we had left the day before. There was a definite chill in the air last night, and from our campsite we could see snow on the distant mountains. Indeed, as we drove into the park this morning, we were able to spy patches of snow sitting still on the woodland floor.
Plitvice Lakes are an amazing natural phenomenon. They are a series of sixteen waterfalls and lakes, which have evolved slowly over time due to deposits of calcium carbonate in the river water. The calcium carbonate precipitates out on the vegetation, forming layers of tufa or travertine. This forms barriers to the flow of water in the rivers, this forming a series of interlinking waterfalls over these limestone deposits. Since the travertine is constantly being deposited this means that the landscape is constantly changing. Apparently in the sunlight, the water in the lakes is a vibrant turquoise green colour due to mineral deposits. Certainly looking at the postcards, the colours look iridescent. Sadly today we did not see the vibrant colours promised due to the overcast weather, but the park was still stunningly beautiful.
Having been awarded UNESCO World Heritage site status in 1979, the Croatians have clearly worked hard to make this place accessible to as many visitors as possible without turning it into a theme park. Today it is the most visited attraction in Croatia, but because it covers such a huge area, it does not seem crowded. There are many series of footpaths linking the lake and waterfall systems, some along boardwalks almost the falls, and an electric boat transports visitors from one end of the longest lake to the other. There are also shuttle buses around the outside the perimeter to transport people back to the entrances. But it all been done very sympathetically, and once you have paid your entrance fee, everything else is free.
It is hard to think that in the early 1990s, this National Park sat centre stage in the Balkan conflict. In fact, it was the first place in the Croatian War of Independence that was invaded by the Serbian Army. The first Croatian to be shot dead in the war was one of the Park Rangers, and the Serbian Army used some of the park hotels for their barracks.
Today, it seemed such an utterly peaceful place – with pleasant woods carpeted with wild flowers, and resonating bird-song. It was really hard to believe that less than 25 years ago, this was a war zone.
I had a wonderful day wandering around, taking lots of photographs, and enjoying the scenery. At one point, whilst I was engrossed in taking photos, I looked up to see a young Asian women further along the boardwalk jumping up and down, shrieking and with her arms in the air. Then I saw the reason. Howard was up to his old tricks again. ‘David Bailey’ was there on the path – directing various poses and compositions! Why is it that people always ask Howard to take their photographs?!! This girl though, unlike the last poor souls who requested he took their photos, had the sense to look at his efforts on her iPhone. She then re-directed him to take different compositions and angles! When I caught up with him, he looked rather sheepish when I asked him what had he been doing! Just obliging with a few photos, he replied.
Totally worn out from all our walking, we opted to take the boat back across the lake, especially since by then, the rain had really set in. I was struck by how like some parts of Scotland and the UK this landscape looked at times. The woodland flora was full of primroses, wild violets, celandines, wood anemones and water buttercups. We even saw some wild heather in flower. On the hillsides, the colours could have been those of Loch Tay, with it’s muted browns, and odd flashes of spring green where the trees where just coming into bud. We saw none of the wildlife promised in our guide – no bears, wolves or water snakes.
This morning, however, as we sat having our breakfast, a red squirrel popped out from behind a tree trunk by Oscar, and momentarily sat and looked at us. It was quite a bit darker than the Scottish reds, but with that same cheeky look and adorable tufted ears.
I think Plltvice Lakes is a destination that would look wonderful in all seasons, and I feel really lucky that we stumbled across it on our European tour.
Tomorrow we head back towards the coast for a final bit of seaside, before heading back up through Europe. Maybe David Bailey can find a few more poor souls to assist with their holiday photographs!