As I made my way from dappled woods to a clearing with a bubbling mountain stream beside a quaint, old wooden mill, I congratulated myself. Not only had I found a shortcut to Plitvice Lakes National Park, but I’d also discovered one that was so off the beaten track. It was as if I’d travelled through time. Had I passed a woodsman with an axe slung over his shoulder, holding the hand of a girl wearing a hooded red cape, I wouldn’t have blinked twice.
In fact, much of what I’d experienced in Croatia was like travelling through a land that had been untouched and unspoiled by time.
In a country that has a population of only 4.28 million people, there’s an awful lot of virgin countryside. Every turn in the road seems to bring views that overwhelm with their epic beauty. From tiny coves lapped by clear, emerald water and rugged limestone mountain ranges, to sprawling fertile plains and thick lush forests galore, Croatia still feels like a wild wonderland untamed by man.
Although I’d already seen some spectacular sights during my first few days on Croatia holiday, the scenery I beheld at Veliki Slap (Big Waterfall), near entrance 1 at Plitvice Lakes National Park was unlike anything I’d seen before. The cascading waterfalls and lovely jade pools here made everything else seem like tasty appetizers.
During the high season, Plitvice Lakes can be incredibly busy to the point of distraction. But in spring, when the door to the busy period is only slightly ajar, the charming and sometimes rickety wooden walkways that twist their way under waterfalls and alongside mirror-calm lakes are mainly empty. At points it felt as though I had this incredible place all to myself.
A lot of people talk about the falls, especially the impact of first setting eyes on the 78 metre-high Big Waterfall. Whilst it did elicit a clichéd ‘WOW’, I was nearly as blown away by the intense beauty of some of the park’s emerald colour lakes whose calm surfaces reflected the lime cliffs that enclosed them.
For many other countries, Plitvice Lakes alone would be the crowning natural glory. But Croatia is blessed with an abundance of scenic sensations and a couple of weeks after visiting Plitvice, I was serenaded by another enchanting Croatian National Park.
Although Mljet National Park doesn’t possess the powerful drama of Plitvice, its charm and beauty is more elegant. Rolling forests of Aleppo pines lead to idyllic inlets and lakes the colour of transparent teal. Where Plitvice inspires, Mljet has a calming influence. Lakeside views prompt moments of quiet introspection. Indeed, time dissolves far too easily when sitting on a tree trunk bench at the edge of Malo Jerezo, hypnotised by its serene surface. It’s no surprise that religious orders chose to make Mljet their home; the most famous being the Benedictines who built a monastery on the island of Sveta Marija in the 12th century.
Although you might think a Benedictine monastery on an island might not sound like a big deal, why not consider this: Sveta Martija is actually an island within an island. That concept might take a bit of time to get your head around.
That’s Croatia in a nutshell—a country full of mind-blowing surprises.
About Jack Montgomery:
Jack Montgomery is a travel blogger, writing on behalf of Cosmos Holidays. As well as writing about where he lives in the Canary Islands for his own travel blog, Buzz Trips, he is often found travelling the globe. He was recently in Croatia and is soon off to the Pyrenees.