Croatia is one of the ecologically best preserved parts of Europe. It is a land where the hues of the sunny and warm Mediterranean happily blend with the tranquillity and freshness of mountains and the gentle sway of the golden plains of Pannonia. A land of truly divine inspiration that has delighted many of the world’s prominent men of letters. A rare European landscape which boasts as many as eight national parks in so small an area!
With Risnjak, Paklenica, the Plitvice Lakes and Northern Velebit in the mountainous area, and with the Kornati Archipelago, the island of Mljet, the Brijuni Archipelago and the Krka waterfalls in the coastal area, Croatia is indeed a jewel of the primeval beauty of nature. Adding to that two arboretums, one in Trsteno, near Dubrovnik, and Opeka, near Vinica, numerous historical parks and protected nature parks, it is indeed a green land, with as many as 4300 plant and as many animal species.
Do not delay: sail the azure blue waters of the Adriatic and discover the island which is one of the last habitats of the griffon vulture in Europe. For dedicated nature lovers in Croatia you can put to sea with an adopted dolphin or, if you are particularly lucky, encounter the mysterious and rare Mediterranean monk seal. Whatever you decide to do, you will find that this is a place where the colours of nature are at their warmest and fullest.
The Brijuni Archipelago National Park comprises the islands of Veli Brijun, Mali Brijun and twelve smaller isles. These islands have been an oasis of rest since the times of Antiquity. Consequently, quite apart from their natural beauties they are also the setting for interesting historical sites. On the largest of the islands there are tracks and trails ideal for cycling along, while the smaller ones are best explored by kayak.
The Kornati archipelago is the most densely grouped cluster of islands in the Mediterranean, consisting of 152 islands, isles and reefs strewn between the islands of Dugi otok and Žirje, with high cliffs on Klobučar, Mana and Rašip Veli. Around the isle of Purara, towards the open sea, there is a special submarine reserve. Although the individual islands are small in area they are attractive not only as a part of kayaking and sailing routes but also as a hiking destination. Clean, clear waters teeming with life are perfect for diving and fishing.
KRKA RIVER AND WATERFALLS
For two-thirds of its course this virginally pure karstic river, with its seven magical waterfalls and which rises near the town of Knin, flows through canyons. The area is exceptionally rich in endemic flora and fauna, containing 222 types of bird. The watermills along the rivers and above the waterfalls, ruins of fortifications rising above the canyons, the picturesque mouth of the River Čikola above Skradinski buk waterfall - all are specific features of the river landscape. The Krka’s estuary, the 23.5 km-long Lake Pruklja, which reaches up to Skradinski buk is rich in shellfish, freshwater and saltwater fish. Sitting in Lake Visovac, between Roški slap and Skradinski buk (13 km) waterfalls, is a tiny island upon which, set amid a park of sylvan charm, is a Franciscan monastery with a long history. The Krka Monastery (Arhanđelovac) is located in the area of Kistanje, at the point where the canyon widens. The quiet river and lakes are ideal for canoe and kayak tours, but for which it is necessary to obtain a special permit.
The national park occupies the western, wooded part of the Island of Mljet. Five different types of forest and remnants of a primeval forest, numerous song birds, and the habitat of the snake (or short-toed) eagle which feeds on non-venomous snakes and lizards. A small, saline lake is linked to a larger lake by a canal. In the middle of that lake is the tiny isle of St Maria on which there is a 12th-century Benedictine monastery. It is possible to reach the most cunningly hidden beaches and sea caves, going beyond the boundaries of the lake and the park, by canoe or kayak; or to walk the shaded paths to Illyrian hill forts or the cliffs on the side of the island facing the open sea; or cycle to its karstic plains or the island settlements and view their traditional architecture, ancient churches, charming wine cellars and taverns offering local specialties.
NORTH VELEBIT MOUNTAIN
The widest part of the Velebit massif - edged on the seaward side by bare rocks, and on the mainland side by wooded plains - extends from the Vratnik Pass (698 m) on the road Otočac-Senj, to Veliki Alan (1379 m). The peak of Zavižan (1594 m), where there is a mountain lodge and a botanical garden, is an excellent starting out point for hiking and riding expeditions. The area offers serious challenges for experienced mountain bikers, climbers, fliers and speleologists. The ridge trail, known as the Premužić Trail, leads through the Rožanski kukovi reserve and offers breath-taking views of the sea and the islands all the way to the Island of Rab, as well as to the Hajdučki kukovi reserve, which is subject to a strict preservation regime.
The awe-inspiring torrent gorges of Velika Paklenica and Mala Paklenica which run parallel to each other offer an insight into the unspoilt wilderness that exists not far from the beaches of the Croatian side of the Adriatic Sea, and rank among the most attractive natural areas in the whole of the Mediterranean: dense forests of black pine and beech, watering points for game and delicious springs issuing from beneath the highest peaks of Velebit. Velika Paklenica is a veritable climbers’ Mecca, while cave lovers are drawn by the formidable Manita peć. A rocky trail leads to the entrance into the park, through the gorge to a mountain lodge (6 km). Several other organized shelters are to be found across the mountain. Mala Paklenica, with its dry bed and untamed wilderness of rugged karst and endemic plants and animals, should be negotiated only by experienced hikers.
A wondrous creation of forest landscapes snuggling between the mountains of Mala Kapela and Plješivica; a system of sixteen lakes interlinked by numerous waterfalls. The largest and highest of these lakes, resting on a dolomite bed, are Prošćansko jezero (639 m) and Kozjak; the lower lakes, covered in a layer of limestone, splash in a waterfall 136 m down, from whence the River Korana issues. The area also includes the primeval forest reserve of Čorkova uvala, where 120 types of bird and numerous caves still further enhance this unique landscape. The mountain climate makes for snow and ice across the mountains, forests, lakes and waterfalls from November to March. This park offers quite the most beautiful cycling and walking paths anywhere in Europe. If opting to travel instead by canoe, a special permit is required.
The western mountain massif linking the Alps with the Dinaric range, encompassing Veliki Risnjak (1528 m) and Snježnik (1506 m) abounds in karstic phenomena - rifts, abysses, gravel areas, caves and potholes; large areas are covered by mature coniferous forests, mountain pastures, sub-Alpine and Alpine flora, of which many species are endemic. Bears, wolves, chamois, Alpine deer, wild boar and lynx are the largest members of the animal world hereabouts. Mountain rivers and streams provide habitats for common trout and other fish of the Salmonidae family. Risnjak is extremely interesting for mountaineers and mountain bikers, while the River Kupa is ideal for kayaking and canoeing.