National Parks

by Peter Baxter  

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With the division of Yugoslavia, Croatia got the 1000+ islands of the Adriatic, the varied and beautiful coastline, and seven of the most beautiful national parks in the region. Not exactly the short end of the stick.

With the designation of Sjeverni Velebit as a national park in 1999, now there are eight national parks, broken down for you below.

Risnjak- Massive mountains and coniferous forests decorate this park north of Rijeka near the Istria peninsula. A popular mountaineering and hiking destination, the blend of climatic influences of sea and sun and cool temperatures has fostered the growth of a wildly diverse plant system. The park is named after the ris, the Croatian word for lynx, and among the lynx thriving populations of brown bears, wolves, wild boars, wild cats and deer can be found.

For the vacationing spelunker, or the spelunking vacationer, a nearby system of caves is open in the summer where you can explore the calcified columns, stalactites and stalagmites of Lokvarska, the most popular cave.

Brijuni- The former summer playground for Europes aristocrats, Brijuni is an island where the offspring of Marshal Tito’s exotic animal collection roam throughout the park. Tours take visitors on “safaris” to see the animal life and for those inclined to spend a little extra time at the island’s beaches, there are several three star hotels on the island.

Plitvice jezera- Cascading water like you’ve never seen it before at Plitvice Lakes. Bring extra film or memory for your camera. The park circles a chain of lakes linked by waterfalls and underground tunnels that disappear and reemerge in dramatic fashion amid lush foliage and unusually tame and photogenic wildlife. Boardwalks and hiking trails allow visitors to traverse the park in ease, and boats allow for quick transport from the prolific north end of the park to the Valiki slap, the country’s tallest waterfall. A must-see.

Sjeverni Velebit- The youngest national park in Croatia, Sjeverni Velebit was founded June 2, 1999 and opened that September. The park occupies the side of the biggest mountain in Croatia and also contains the highest meteorological station.

Paklenica- A smorgasbord of outdoor recreation options, the Paklenica canyon is home to Paklenica national park. The park contains the largest rock in Croatia and a series of caves, as well as a fortified underground bunker system built for Josip Bros Tito during the 1940s.

Krka- Like Plitvice, Krka features a series of waterfalls connecting lakes and rivers. Although not as large as Plitvice, swimmers are allowed to bathe in the (cold!) clear water and dive in the pools.
Unlike Plitvice, a visit to Krka includes a visit to an ancient monastery and unique limestone formations. Remarkable for its unspoiled nature, Krka is an opportunity to see the diversity and beauty of the natural environment of Croatia.

Kornati- The Kornati islands are an archipelago extending into the Adriatic Sea near the central part of Croatia. With majestic cliffs and astounding geomorphology of the sea floor, half of Kornati’s beauty lies below the sea, half above. Popular as a scuba diving destination, 89 of Kornati’s 149 islands have been classified as a national park. Although no full-time residents live on the islands, there are huts without electricity or running water that allow tourists to have a Robinson Crusoe style vacation.

Mljet- There is a lot of legend surrounding Mljet. Maybe it’s because of the saltwater lakes, maybe it’s the difficulty of getting there, maybe it’s because the park is said to have been the vacation destination of choice for Greek hero Ulysses—whatever it is, this is a special place.
Mljet national park occupies the west end of Mljet island, where the geography becomes exotic and spits and peninsulas create calm, secluded coves.

If Ulysses were to stay at Mljet today, he would be at Hotel Odisej, the only hotel in Mljet, and he would spend his days on Saplunara beach, a beautiful bar of white sand running parallel to the shore and sheltering a pool of still blue water.

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