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Croatia

Curious what backpackers do in Croatia? Discover travel destinations all over the world of travelers writing a travel blog on FindPenguins.
  • The rain and cloud had given way to a warm sun and bright blue sky. The clear water of Starigrad bay looked so inviting... until we stepped into it in our wetsuits and snorkeling gear! It was too cold even for Will and that is saying something! We stayed in for a freezing 5 minutes, seeing a few fish, some tall anemones and clam like creatures before hurrying out and into the van for a nice hot shower! Luckily the air was a lot warmer and we enjoyed lunch outside with Poppy.

    The next day the rain returned and we visited wind blown Pag island via the bridge. The terrain as we entered the island was startlingly barren. Loose rocks covered a surface devoid of any real topsoil and the only plants we could see were the occasional sprig of wild sage.

    As we progressed further onto Pag, vegetation in the form of tall reeds, scrubby bushes and trees had a foothold. We passed salt pans in the shallows and sheep huddled in dells. Arriving in Pag town, we found the majority of shops were shut, including the tourist information office, despite it being Saturday. It was similar to Zadar in that it had a harbour, narrow streets and a light stone church, only on a much smaller scale. We bought lunch at a bakery and ate it on the bracing seafront. Will particularly enjoyed the cottage cheese wrapped in filo pastry!

    Another shop that was thankfully open was the little cheese shop. Pag is famous for its Paški Sir (Pag Cheese), a strong hard ewes' milk cheese, a bit like a cross between Cheddar and Parmesan.

    On our way back to the van we were accosted by a stray tabby cat and her brood of kittens. They came running down the street towards us and the only suitable food we had for her was butter which she didn't seem too keen on. (Will wouldn't let Vicky feed her the Pag Cheese). Vicky found it difficult not to take the whole family back with her to the van!
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  • Plitvice Lakes had been recommended to us by several people. It is the largest National Park in Croatia and follows the course of a river valley over numerous waterfalls.

    The day was blanketed in a very thick fog, so some views weren't quite as spectacular as they may otherwise have been and others were non existent. Autumn entry prices were cheaper than summer but we were given no information about the land train and ferries that transported visitors within the park and we assumed that like so many things, they had stopped for winter.

    From the entrance high up on the valley side, we could hear the roar of water. As we decended the zig zag track, a view of a waterfall feeding into a small, clear green lake emerged. We were able to cross over the lake and waterfalls using a boardwalk that ran close to the water surface. Once we were within the valley, the fog gave the place a mystical atmosphere. The route taken by the downriver boardwalk was incredible. It led us along the side of a vertical cliff face and over the head of a high waterfall. We could almost reach out and touch the water as it bubbled and splashed up, before dropping tens of meters into the plunge pool created by it and several other waterfalls. Around the corner we found ourselves at the foot of three long thin falls, the white water the same colour as the fog obscuring the clifftop over which it spilled.

    Turning upstream we crossed a wide section of river, past a shallow cave and up steep stone steps cut into the rock. To our right we found the entrance to a far deeper cave. Luckily Will had a torch because otherwise it would have been pitch black. Inside, a narrow track led around large stalactites and stalagmites to a depth of about 25m. Shining the torch around, the surroundings seemed really quite alien, with the deposits left behind from water flowing down the walls, forming bulbous projections from every side, above and below.

    Back in the open air, we climbed up the cliff track and along the top of the valley which was covered in beautiful Beech forest. Either side of the path was thick with rich brown leaves and dead wood that supported small bracket fungi of a similar hue.
    Dropping down ready to return along a riverside track, we found our way barred without any explanation. There was no other direct route back so we retraced our steps, only to be overtaken by a shuttle bus. We caught up with it where it had stopped but there was no room and the driver was shut in a separate cab so it was difficult to ask when the next one would be along. As Will's plantar fasciitis was beginning to hurt his feet, we just walked back to the van instead of seeing any more.

    On reflection we were a little disappointed by the lack of information and closed path had restricted what we saw, but we certainly weren't disappointed with what we did see. The park is unique and magical; we'd definitely recommend a visit!

    As we left we kept our fingers crossed that tonight's stopover would be open and have the water we needed. Camp Korana was at the end of a 1km gravel track down the side of a valley. Our hopes rose as we saw there was a car with its lights on outside the log cabin. Our arrival was greeted by 5 cats who leaped from the cabin's 1st floor windows and trotted up to the van mewing. The owner said the stopover was closed but that we could stay for free and take the drinking water we needed from his log cabin. As Will was filling our water bag from the tap in his bathroom, he offered us schnapps so we joined him in his living room and were introduced to the 5 cats!

    When he left for the night, his cats came over to the van. They were very friendly and Vicky fussed 3 outside while a fourth sneekily evaded Poppy's detection on the van step. When Poppy went out later, the same cat snuck in and stealthily explored her bed! When they were shut out, one cat took up residence on the bonnet, staring in at us through the windscreen and another climbed on the roof, giving Vicky a real start when it mewed at her through the fly screen of the open roof vent in the toilet!

    Apart from the feline antics, our last night in Croatia was very quiet and still. The loudest sound was that of the river and its small waterfall a little way upstream. The sky was clear and the stars bright - lovely!
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  • We were astounding by the beauty of the Croatian coastline as we drove along it. The road ran in and out, following the cove pitted cliffsides, the hills ahead in shadow as the sun shone and sparkled on the sea, spreading out to the rocky grey islands. The water below us was intense blue and we could see whitecaps and squalls swirling on the surface - not a day for sailing!

    Seeing a sign for a dog beach, we pulled up, walked past some bee hives and took the stone steps under an arched tunnel to a small stony cove. Unfortunately Poppy had to stay in the van as she is too old to make it that far now. Vicky was quite happy to soak in the sunshine out of the wind but Will couldn't resist a swim. He didn't stay in for long but enjoyed the time he was in once he got over the initial shock of cold! On shore we picked some wild sage and bay leaves to flavour the evening's gravy before continuing on our journey.

    Turning off the coast road we climbed the hillside making our way towards Zavizan peak in Velebit National Park, from where there was supposed to be brilliant views of the Kvarner Gulf coastline. The sights as we climbed were pretty amazing and the hillside itself was covered in full blown autumnal trees whose growth had been stunted by wild winds and lack of nutrition on the steep rocky slopes. The ground between the trees was filled with grey green sage. Upon reaching the lee side of the hill, the tree cover phased into taller firs, then swathes of leafless beeches as we rose over 1000m.

    The road was challenging and when the sat nav tried to direct us down a single track road that hardly looked wide enough for a car never mind a 3.5 tonne 7 meter van we decided against it. We followed directions for an alternative road and the road got narrower and narrower until it reached the point where two cars couldn't pass, never mind the van and a car. The bank fell away steeply from the road and we lost count of the number of hair pin bends. Despite the difficulty with driving, the route was magical, like something out of a fairytale. Sunlight filtered through trees, reflected off limestone rocks and lit up a carpet of fallen leaves.

    Reaching the alternative turning to the peak we found it had a gate over it, but we weren't too disappointed because the drive to that point had been so incredible. We found a place to park and stayed up in the woods at 1185m above sea level. The temperature had sunk to 5°C so we wrapped up warm for a walk in the woods where the only sounds we heard were bird calls and the beating of ravens' wings as they flew overhead.
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  • Well, we thought we'd driven on narrow and winding roads to reach the overnight spot. It turned out Velebit National Park was to educate us as to the meaning of 'narrow winding road' on the journey down the mountain. We spent 90 minutes driving at 20mph or less on a road that was at times only about 30cm wider than the wheels of the van. This in itself was challenging. The fact that the road hairpinned countless times and over the edge was an extremely steep plunging mountainside made it rather scary on more than a few occasions! We only met one other driver who passed and gawped at us with his jaw literally hanging open. The sat nav twice tried to direct us along gravel tracks but we drew the line at these and took the long way round, only having to dodge random fallen rocks as opposed to driving on top of them.

    Despite the level of concentration required, the route was stunningly beautiful. At one point a deer jumped across the road just 10m ahead of us. A carpet of copper coloured beech leaves swallowed the sides of the road most of the time and there were glimpses of far off valleys filled with morning mist. Exposed rock added to the ruggedness of the scenery.

    We eventually reached a wide valley floor and the main road that caused us to breathe a sigh of relief when we saw it had a white line down the middle! Conical hills and craggy outcrops rose up at the edges of the valley and we passed small fields with a single cow or a flock of a dozen hardy looking sheep.

    There were a great number of abandoned houses along this stretch and stopping for lunch we were approached by what looked like an abandoned dog. Her long hair helped to mask how skinny she was and it was matted around burrs on her tail that she kept tucked tightly between her legs. She looked very flighty and far too nervous to handle us getting out of the van so Vicky threw a nugget of dog food out for her. She scurried away, thinking it was a stone but after a while she approached, sniffed and ate it. She had a small meal this way but was still far too wary to be approached and so we just had to move on.

    Camp 'Jaz' is a small campsite site by the sea, backed by rocky mountains and protected from the wind and waves by the island of Pag, running parallel with the shore and almost touching the mainland at one end. The sun was getting low in the sky as we arrived but it was still warm so we carried the canoe a few meters over the stony shore and launched out into the bay. The water surface was smooth and we never lost sight of the sea bed through the clear water, despite being more than 5m deep. As the big orange sun set over Pag island, it lit up the mountains behind us with a pretty pink hue. Darkness fell and we were treated to a clear sky and a great view of the stars.
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  • It's 4 months today that we left home and it seems like we've come a long way!

    We left Italy this morning and cut through Slovenia with its high rolling hills swathed in green trees (Autumn doesn't seem to have made much of an impression). Although we'd climbed 500m from our starting point, the scale of the hills was so much smaller than we'd experienced in the Alps they seemed small to us. The countryside appeared at times like a dry UK, but it was rocky with scrub and shorter trees than we've been used to.

    We passed a state gardening team maintaining the verges. They'd set alight the leaves that had fallen and smoke was blowing over the road with the strong wind. A few hundred meters down the road there was a large sign warning of the likelihood of forest fires. Whilst the technique may well have been adopted to dispose of material that could act as tinder, it did make us wonder!

    There was a shock in store at the Croatian border because we had to drive through passport control! Croatia only joined the EU in 2013 but we are so used to mainland EU countries also being in the Shengen zone that we didn't expect to have to show our passports. Anyway, the officials allowed us through without any bother and we passed the signs marking the start of Croatia soon afterwards.

    It really does feel like a different world down here. Olive orchards cover the hills alongside vine terraces. Will even picked some olives to soak! There was a strong but warm wind blowing through stone-built terracotta towns with short church towers poking out above the rooftops.

    We soon turned off the main road towards our stopover; a farm in inland Istria (a triangular peninsula on the North West coast. The road became cracked and too narrow for us to pass other vehicles without using the verges and we had several near misses when vans came hurtling towards us round steep bends, with one of the drivers unhelpfully shaking his head at us. We had to turn back at one point because of a low bridge and poor Will was finding it tough going as Vicky still couldn't drive.

    We stopped in Buzet to get some Kuna out of the 'Bankomat'. Our Sat Nav had previously been able to locate banks along the route but banks were just one of the many services it didn't have in its database for Croatia so the Maps.Me app came to the rescue yet again. Walking through the streets we found the garden pomegranate trees we'd seen in Italy had been swapped for palm trees. There were some well maintained houses but a number of low rise flats with flaking plaster and significant signs of damp.

    Setting off again, street side billboards advertised truffle shops and olive specialists, underlining the differences between Croatia and where we'd spent the last 4 months. Just 10km away from our stopover, the exit of the roundabout was closed. There were no diversion signs but the recalculation on the sat nav took us via Novigrad on the coast added 34km! There was no better way round but it wasn't what Will needed so near the end of a long drive in the third country of the day.

    The detour was scenic and we saw Great White Egrets wading alongside Little Egrets and Grey Herons in the shallows of the Adriatic.

    Finally pulling up at our stopover, we found it to again ve in someone's back yard. We scoped the house out but nobody was around so we returned to the van for a well deserved rest. If someone wanted to register us we wouldn't be hard to find!
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  • Zadar is one of the larger towns along Croatia's coastline. There was no problem parking here like there had been in Pula, despite a no stopping sign with a picture of a camper van outside the main car park. It was a wet weekday outside of the tourist season so the parking attendant saw no problem with the van taking up two spaces.

    Heading first to the morning market, we walked alongside the lengthy marina. There was a film of oil on the surface but we could still see down into the water and watch shoals of fish milling around the moored boats.

    Climbing to the top of the town walls, we spotted the market just inside them. It was quite different to Pula's market, less about businesses selling to tourists and more more about individuals' cottage industries selling to locals. The small, dark wood tables had metal weighing scales and weights to measure the produce and stall holders called out to us in a friendly manner. We bought some home dried figs and olive oil, the latter in a reused plastic water bottle. Will's eyes were drawn to a cheese counter laden with rounds of hard cheese. Germany had a dearth of strong hard cheese and Will has been determined to make up for it! The stallholder, knowing the quality of the product would do the selling, encouraged us to try a sliver. We came away with quarter of a truckle and smiles on our faces. Picking up potatoes, clementines and a pomegranate, we managed to resist the tempting looking squid and cured meats and started our exploration of the town.

    Many of Zadar's streets were narrow, with smooth light coloured stone lining the walkways. There was the remains of a Roman marketplace around a church and people could just wander in and out of the large, ornately carved ancient stone fragments laying on the ground. We passed through these on our way to the seafront where two interesting sound and light art installations had been built into the promenade. The Sea Organ produces music when waves push air through holes and Greeting to the Sun, a huge horizontal disc of solar panels emits random bursts of coloured light. It was too light to see the later to full effect but we enjoyed both.

    Darkness closed in as we returned to Camp Jaz but we got to see a beautiful sunset glow over the water from the head of the bay.
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  • Intending to make use of a day of fine weather we took a trip to Krka National Park. Leaving the van in the top car park we made our way down the steep rocky track into the gorge carved by the River Krka.

    Brown and red dragonflies hovered in the air and basked on rocks. Vibrant pink cyclamen splashed colour on the forest floor while the aroma of pine sap wafted on the breeze. Reaching the river, we started out on the 1.9km boardwalk over the water. Swimming wasn't allowed due to the high water level, which disappointed Will. However, the heavy rainfall caused water to gush over grass, through reeds and around tree trunks. It even came over the side of the walkway at times. We could see and hear hundreds of waterfalls of different sizes spilling over pools and channels all around us. Progressing downriver the falls increased in their height and volume, ending in the largest one; Skradinski Buk. At this point a bridge crossed the wide river and we got a wonderful view upstream.

    There was a heritage hamlet accross the bridge and an old woman with a stall of sugared almonds, dried figs and sea shells. She encouraged us to try some and we ended up buying a little pot of almonds.

    Arriving back at the van, slightly out of breath from the uphill hike, we took a double take at the van parked next to us. The number plate was British! We'd seen very few other vans, let alone British ones since arriving in Croatia and so when the owners (Rhea and Gareth) returned, Will eagerly invited them over for a cuppa. We chatted for quite a while and got on well. They are a young couple who worked all the hours they could to save up, buy a van and travel for 6 months. They also had a canoe and bikes and like Will, Gareth had brought his guitar and fishing rods with him.

    Saying our goodbyes we set off back to Camp Kalebić via InterSpar supermarket who had a special offer on mattress toppers. Vicky had been sleeping on an inflatable camping mat for a while as she had been getting a bad back. The bed cushions where comfortable enough for short term use but after over 5 months of constant use, we could feel the metal crossbars underneath. The mattress topper had memory foam and we had the most comfortable night's sleep in quite a while!

    N.B. We shot a short video at the main waterfall and have uploaded it on our VnW Travels Facebook Page. Follow this link to watch it: https://www.facebook.com/pg/vnwtravels/videos/
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  • Bosnia Herzegovina is excluded from the list of countries our van insurance allows us to drive in but with the border so tantalisingly close we didn't see the harm in driving up to it and walking across!

    The campsite manager of a few nights ago had shared his thoughts on Bosnia Herzegovina. His home town was in North East Croatia and to get there he could either drive 400km through Bosnia Herzegovina or 800km within Croatia. He had decided he would rather undertake the longer journey than take the 'shortcut'. His thoughts were that Bosnia Herzegovina was really two countries, the predominantly muslim Bosnia and the mainly catholic Herzegovina. Whilst he had no problem with the Herzogovenians, he had felt extremely uncomfortable when in Bosnian areas, as if he was being watched. He said the muslim faith was very hard line there and that about 300 ISIL fighters had returned to Bosnia from Syria. We don't know how much of this was fact and how much was chinese whispers, nor do we know how much his experience was shaped by his preconceptions. However we found it very interesting to listen to his perspective. The creation of national borders has too often been done by removed politicians seeking an advantage, or as a compromise in the face of a feared situation. The interests of groups of people on the ground have often played only a small part and whilst it is almost impossible to please everyone, there are obvious tensions between groups with different histories, cultures and beliefs.

    The road in the sat nav seemed to end at the border but as we weren't wanting to go further, that didn't matter to us. We didn't see a single other vehicle as the route took us up higher into the hills. The further it got, the further the vegetation spilled over onto the concrete. Cow pats splattered the road and Vicky had only just told Will not to be surprised if we came face to face with a herd of cows, than we turned the corner and there was a cow, glancing with a bamboozled expression between us and the other 3 further up the hill. Rocks littered our path, some of them sizeable.

    We got to a point 1.3km away from the border where bushes closed in and the concrete ended. The track beyond was stoney so we decided to park the van up (there was no room to turn it round) and continue on foot. It was only as we were setting off we saw that the gravel track was actually a 'repair' where it looked like the road had been washed away. Driving on, we found there were several patches like this but we took it slowly and kept our fingers crossed that the tyres would hold out.

    The border was marked by a small sign saying 'state border' in Croatian. It didn't look as if it wanted pedestrians to continue along the path so we took some photos, reversed back to a point that was just wide enough to shuffle the van round and headed towards our second border of the day -Montenegro!
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  • Dodging dogs in the road and holding our breath as we drove under low hanging telephone wires we drew closer to Montenegro. We know nothing about the country itself but it is another place we aren't insured to drive so today's breif visit is likely to be the only time we spend there.

    Parking up at a litter strewn patch of concrete just before the border controls, we grabbed our passports and struck out on foot towards what would be the third country of the day. There was a group of uniformed officials and one stayed around when he saw us approaching. Luckily he spoke English, although we could see him questioning his understanding of the language when we handed over the passports and explained what we wanted to do. "You want to walk to Montenegro?" he asked. We nodded eagerly and he let us through. About 500m further on there was a 'Welcome to Montenegro' sign with a view of a valley winding down to the sea beyond which we thought as good a point to turn back at as any.

    The officials were ready for us on our return. One diligently checked our passports asking with mock seriousness that didn't quite come over in translation "So, where are you going?" We started to answer until he cut in with a grin "And where have you been?". We guess they don't get many British people crossing the border on foot!
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  • We took a break from driving today and set out instead on an exploratory stroll. Heading through the hamlet of Vizinada we fell in love with the sleepy streets, helped along we are sure, by the fact we were both in T-shirts, with the warm sun shining down from a bright blue sky. Cats lounged on benches and a few small friendly dogs roamed free. Some houses were abandoned, some had beautiful natural stone walls and varnished wooden shutters, others appeared more modern with smooth colourful walls. All were topped with terracotta tiles and chimneys.

    We followed a well maintained dry stone wall along a quiet single track road, that became a dirt track, that became a grassy path with trees arching over. There were small olive groves and vinyards and Jays flew overhead as frequently as pigeons do in the UK. Getting back on a concrete road we got a big shock; there, slithering over the road in front of us, was a metre long black worm! We thought for all the world it was a snake at first glance!

    The walk took us to midday and still nobody had asked us to pay for the stopover so we went to the restaurant associated with it for a drink (to help us get over the shock of seeing that worm ;)

    We had learned Croatian for 'hello' (dobar dan) and 'do you speak English?' (govrite li engleski). We gathered the waitress understood what we meant but she answered us in Croatian so we guessed she didn't know enough for a conversation! She did however speak Italian and German so we were able to communicate well. We asked for a local red wine and were presented with a half litre jug she had poured from the tap (she said it was very local)! We sat outside at our chequered cloth table and enjoyed taking in our surroundings. The restaurant seemed to be the ground floor of a house, it had a garden area with a few small fig trees and huge pumpkins lined up along the wall. Against an end wall, a grill hovered over a waist height metal plate, on which an open log fire was burning. A wicker basket brimming over with wild mushrooms stood close by and upon seeing these we resolved to return that evening!

    Our evening meal was delicious! We love eating local dishes and what we were served ticked so many boxes for the Croatian region of Istria. For starters we shared homemade fuzi pasta (a regional style of pasta rolled into a tube) with those gorgeous mushrooms. After this a locally made wooden chopping board presented cured meats (one of which was the regional prsut ham), cheese and what we think was a truffle flavoured humus.

    We chose an Istrian red wine (Teran) and were told it was one of the house wines. It was only on closer inspection of the bottle we discovered they really did mean house wine- it was made at the restaurant!

    We'd picked out some regional dishes from the menu for mains but the waitress recommended a T-bone steak so we went with her suggestion. It was presented on a silver platter for two, lathered in creamy truffle sauce with courgettes, polenta and baked potatoes. The bone was charred black which makes us think it was cooked the traditional Croatian way - peka style; slow roasted under a large metal lid with embers of an open fire heaped on top. Truffles are also a big thing around here and we've seen several sets of dog kennels whose inhabitants' jobs may well be to sniff them out!

    We turned down desert as we couldn't fit any in, but were persuaded with the offer of some schnapps. It came in its bottle together with complimentary sweet nibbles (bite sized doughnut balls and a small slice of yummy mandarin drizzle cake topped with chocolate). The schnapps turned out to be Biska, a mistletoe flavoured brandy that... you've guessed it; the region of Istria is famous for.
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You might also know this place by the following names:

Republic of Croatia, Kroatien, Croatia, Kroasië, Krowehyia, ክሮኤሽያ, Croacia, كرواتيا, ܩܪܘܐܛܝܐ, Xorvatiya, Харватыя, Хърватска, Kroasi, ক্রোয়েশিয়া, ཀུརོ་ཤི་ཡ།, Kroatia, Hrvatska, Croàcia, Chorvatsko, Kroatsia nutome, Κροατία, Kroatio, Horvaatia, Kroazia, کرواتیا, Korwasii, Croatie, Croacie, Cravuazie, Kroaasje, An Chróit, ક્રોએશિયા, Kurowaishiya, קרואטיה, क्रोएशिया, Chorwatska, Horvátország, Հորվաթիա, Kroasia, Croasia, Króatía, Croazia, クロアチア共和国, ჰორვატია, Korasia, ក្រូអាស៊ី, ಕ್ರೋಯೇಶಿಯಾ, 크로아티아, کرۆواتیا, Kroati, Хорватия, Kurowesya, Kroatië, Krowasi, ໂຄເອເຊຍ, Kroatija, Horvātija, Хрватска, ക്രൊയേഷ്യ, Kroazja, ခရိုအေးရှား, Kroaitsiya, କ୍ରୋଆଟିଆ, Croasya, Chorwacja, Croassia, کروواسيا, Croácia, Hurwatsuyu, Korowasiya, Croația, Croazzia, Kroasïi, Chorvátsko, Hrvaška, Korweeshiya, Kroacia, குரோசியா, క్రోయేషియా, ประเทศโครเอเชีย, Kroasya, Kuloisia, Hırvatistan, كرودىيە, Хорватія, کروشیا, Crô-a-ti-a (Croatia), Kroasän, Orílẹ́ède Kòróátíà, 克罗地亚, i-Croatia