Because we’re a bit silly, we decided to abandon Italy for the time being, go BACK into Croatia and visit a God’s honest paradise–Plitvice Lakes. Nestled in a valley between densely-forested mountains is a stairway of sixteen, turquoise lakes. Each pool is fed by many small streams and brooks that spill over in foaming cascades and roaring waterfalls. Over the millennia, the eroding waters of these lakes have dissolved the limestone rock and carved out the magnificent valley in which they now lie. Plitvicka Jezera National Park is one of the most stunning, natural wonders in Europe. Don’t believe me? You can go on their website and experience a virtual, panoramic tour or better yet, go to Croatia and witness this true paradise!
The Garden of Eden, Shangri-la, or the Elysian Fields cannot compare to the natural beauty of this National Park. Picture gigantic steps of cascading waterfalls, schools of fish darting through shimmering pools, and bright-green water lilies resting on the shores. Twisting caves have been carved into the valley’s sheer cliffs and emerald blankets of moss cover every inch of rocky surface. Never before have I seen such natural beauty.
Though the entrance fee into Plitvice Lakes is a hefty $20, this actually includes services which can enhance your hike through the park. Besides the many trails they have to maintain, the parks services have built several wooden walkways over top the lakes and right along the waterfalls so you can get incredible views (and pictures!). With the many sights to see in Plitvice National park and kilometres to cover, sometimes a tourist only has a day to explore and a day is not enough to do it by foot. Luckily the parks services have several electric ferries which run across lakes throughout the day, taking you where you want to go while you relax and enjoy more amazing views on the water. A train also runs up and down along the whole park, a quick way to proceed to the highest lake and work your way down, or get back to the main entrance after a gruelling hike.
Ashleigh and I visited this park during the spring and, though the air was crisp, the sun was shining bright over the vibrant, turquoise water. We started at the main entrance, Ulaz 1, and warmed up quickly as we hiked along the cliffs and down the switchback trails to the lowest lake, Kaluđerovac. Stripping off our sweaters (because now we were sweating) we proceeded across the lake on a wooden walkway, enjoying the awe-inspiring views on the water. I had to plunge my face into the pure, glacial waters to get the full Plitvice experience. Unfortunately, you cannot swim in the lakes because pungent humans would pollute the water and disturb the fish, but I’m sure face-plunging is totally okay. Curious pijor (who have nothing to fear as there’s no fishing allowed) followed us along as we continued across the walkway to the largest waterfall in the park: Veliki Slap. 78 metres of pounding water showered us with a cloud of droplets as we crept up to bear witness to its might. Having been satisfyingly awed, we followed the plank walk along the high cliffs and up the whole series of Lower Lakes: Milanovac, Gavanovac, and Novakovića Brod, exploring several limestone caves along the way.
At last we made it to the shores of the largest lake in Plitvice, Kozjak, where we would depart via ferry across to the Upper Lakes. While waiting for the ferry we were surprised to find a convenient café providing us with our salty and/or sugary needs. Yes, it is kind of annoying to have a café in the middle of such pristine wilderness, but the coffee was a nice power-boost! Climbing aboard the boat we plunged lazily across Lake Kozjak on its non-polluting, electric motor and in no time at all we found ourselves at the first of the Upper Lakes, Burgeti. The small, terraced pools of Burgetti empty gracefully into Lake Kozjak along countless tiny cascades, it was something out of a storybook. Higher we climbed the various trails past ten more of the Upper Lakes: Gradinsko, Milino, Galovac, Vir, Malo, Veliko, Batinovac, Okrugljak, Ciginovac, and Prošćansko. Standing at the top, near the shores of Prošćansko, we could get the full view of this gigantic, terraced fountain, flowing elegantly down the valley… and it was glorious. Afterwards all we needed to do was catch the train which would take us all the way back to the main entrance. Talk about an easy hike!
After an incredible day filled with beautiful pictures and crystal waters, we left Plitvice with one last look at the sun setting over the lakes. Without a doubt Plitvice Lakes National Park has been one of highlights of our entire European trip. If you find yourself in Croatia (which you should!) make some time to hike around this incredible, natural wonder of a park, and experience the bliss!