Now it’s fair to say that Plitvice Lakes has been long earmarked as a likely Croatian highlight. I’ve admired friends’ pictures somewhat enviously, I’ve googled extensively (almost never happens – much of our travel runs on a very organic process) and I’ve read the guide book from cover to cover. So as we set off this morning, it’s with more than a little excitement that the day we get to see the lakes has finally arrived.
The light as we leave Starigrad is fabulous. Combined with a still ocean, it reflects perfectly, offering great views of the mussel farms, the bays and the headlands.
In a rare departure from form, we’ve elected to travel up the toll road. Between us and the lakes is a large, rather daunting mountain range. I think I’d prefer to drive through them, tunnel after tunnel, vs (I suspect) over them. It’s also a bit quicker, which can only be a good thing.
Interestingly, once we’re through the mountains,
our landscape is immediately different. Beachscapes are gone, of course, replaced with farmland, but the most striking difference is that autumn colours have exploded here. There’s barely a hint of autumn by the sea, but behind the mountains, russet tones rule.
For the first time it dawns on me that the lakes we’ll see will look quite different to the green settings of summer photos. Should make for fabulous pictures, I’m hoping. I’ve read about the animals here: lynxes, foxes, boar, wild cats, bears, beavers and even otters live here. They will all be busy, no doubt, getting ready for winter. Spotting any of them would be an absolute thrill. Excitement levels are high.
Making a welcome return on this side of the mountains is farm life – sheep and cattle graze peacefully
and farmers offer their produce in roadside stalls; cheese and honey a speciality.
I can’t resist stopping for cheese and end up with a wheel of chilli cheese, as our stall holder says “paprika piquant”.
It’s delicious, light and tangy with just the right bite of chilli. I would have bought honey too, but I already have two types and I’m pretty sure we’re not allowed to bring it home.
Closer to the lakes, traffic becomes intense, bumper to bumper with two lanes competing for clearance, cars parked precariously each side, for miles. Coaches and motorhomes squeeze through single file. It’s a bit of a madhouse, very reminiscent of the insanity of Amalfi coast traffic. And this is allegedly “off peak”.
We plough on, nevertheless. A while further on, we’re turned away from the first carpark. Full, they say. Try the next carpark along, 2 km down. Given that cars are parked in the streets for miles before, in between and miles after that next car park, it’s no surprise that it ends up being full as well. It’s Sunday. Perhaps this is weekend traffic, I hope. I ask the attendant about Mondays – are they busy? It’s like this every day, he says. Hmmm. This isn’t looking good.
To add to the challenge, there’s no place to turn off, or pull over on the narrow road and a five car pile up ahead, blocking part of the road completely. It’s not until 10 km or so past, that we can finally pull over and assess the situation.
In the end a motorhone app “Camper Contact” comes to the rescue – there’s privately run accommodation, 4 km ahead, that also caters for motorhomes. A review states that our enterprising hosts, who offer a wide range of home made produce, built the accommodation and motorhome park after their house was burnt down in the 1990s war. You have to admire their resilience, don’t you.
Our welcome could not be warmer, and laden with new purchases of home grown walnuts, fruit syrup and homemade cherry liquor, we settle in.
As an added bonus, our hosts will drive us to the lakes tomorrow and pick us up at day’s end. Excellent – I wasn’t looking forward to tackling those carparks again and missing the lakes isn’t an option.
We also find out that parking at the lakes was reduced today. It’s fairly expensive usually, over €30, so that would account for some of the traffic. Having made the long trek inland, those who found the carparks full took to the streets where they could. The unseasonably good autumn weather would account for some additional volume too.
There’s just time for a walk to admire the autumn colours
and play with our host’s gorgeous puppy before settling in for the rest of the afternoon.
A brief respite from the busyness of the past couple of months is rather welcome. Other motorhomes in the same boat as us, roll in as the afternoon progresses. We’re not the only ones caught short it seems.