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Published: November 5th 2021
So everyone needs a beach holiday and this is going to be ours, one month of sun and sand. Well none of that as I know from a visit to Split, Croatia with good friend Laura in 2019, sand is in short supply here, but you get the drift! We head to Polidor Camping, whilst I’m not a great fan of campsites there is the great pleasure in knowing that hot water will be plentiful and showers will be a daily occurrence, a real luxury in this lifestyle....
Graeme has only just about got the chairs and tables out and I’ve got washing in the on site washing machines, oh my, the simple things. We have 5 glorious days on the campsites own beach and the many small bays that hug the coast in this part of Croatia called Istria. As well as the bays there are campsites a plenty also spilling down to the coast, and oh my they are Big, this really would not be my ideal summer holiday destination. Thankfully nearly all are closed as it’s end of season, with daytime temperatures at a balmy 25c we are happy and Poppy gets to swim daily as do
we. We make full use of the electric bikes here and take excursions around the coast and visit Porec. Like many of these coastal towns they are set around a harbour, we enjoy a ramble, a great meal of squid and some of the cheapest, and best (in my opinion) Ice cream just £1 for a good size cone.
We take the time to plan our next stops until we get a message from a school friend of Graeme’s who tells us he is sailing off the coast of Croatia, so we hatch a plan to meet up and fingers crossed have a days sail. We leave Istria and decide to visit the island of Krk, this is an easy one to get to as it has a wide bridge spanning the sea channel. We drive to the end of the Island to its main Town, go for a stroll and then drive all the way back to a campsite and head to the beach again.
We decide we will head inland and sample the interior of Croatia and find a corker of a stopover at a Brown Bear sanctuary. Croatia has a population of around 1000 European
Brown Bears and the good news is that the numbers are increasing, working with universities, hunters and the government creating green corridors, for a bears range is around 250 miles. The community here at Kuterevo was founded in 2002 and started accepting bears in 2005 either from zoos or orphans who so stood no chance in the wild. Ivan its creator is still there today and we learn from 2 of the English volunteers that it really isn’t about the bears. Being a volunteer here is before anything else, developing a sense of sharing, mutual aid, the relationship of trust, the exchange with visitors, and its inhabitants, it’s called the Kuterevo Spirit, summed up by one of its volunteers “ The Spirit of Kuterevo consists of giving a lot of yourself, helping without expecting something back . It’s also being happy with what you have without looking for more” and some of it rubbed off onto me.... Just like van life you learn how little you really do need to sustain yourself and its more about the living. Jack who I meet whilst he is feeding these magnificent and quite large bears, has cycled from the UK, disillusioned after leaving
University, unable to get a job of any note, he just decided one day to get on his bike and is heading to Turkey. We have a good exchange talking about life and how sometimes just seizing the moment is what truly gives you happiness. I promise him that if our paths cross in Turkey a warm cuppa and a meal and probably a glass or two will be forthcoming from us. After another morning visit to the bears we tear ourselves away knowing this stop will be one of the Croatian Highlights.
Another night in nature is afforded us at a cave site in The Pecinski Park, buy a ticket and you get to sleep in the car park for the evening. We opt for the afternoon tour and we are informed by the guide that he will take the group speaking Croatian and the return for us 2 will be in English. The cave itself is it not too long 245m but it has all the features you want to see, the decent is down on a slippy path and the chap in front is very kindly lighting the way for me with his torch and I
am very grateful. At the end the Croatian visitors make their way back to the entrance and we walk slowly back hearing how the cave was formed... I inevitably turn the conversation to Bears and he tells us that at school they are told if they come across a bear to stay still, he laughs as he explains that Bears mainly omnivores do eat dead mammals so this approach puts you more at risk, as they will drag you way to be consumed later?!? He also tells us as an avid hill walker he has never come across a wild bear, my dreams are dashed but it doesn’t stop me staring into the hills just in case!
We have a couple of days before we meet John so head to Plitvice Lakes. Probably one of Croatia's most visited attractions away from the coast, the first National Park in Croatia it is situated between two mountainous regions, primarily covered in forest its most attractive and visited is the lakes area covering just 1%. The lake system comprises some 16 named lakes and many more smaller unnamed, it’s formation due to geological substrate has created two distinct areas, The Upper and
Lower Lakes. There are well defined walks and we opt for both the Upper and Lower Walk, it includes a boat trip across a lake and a land train back to the beginning of the Park. We wander for most of the day in this watery landscape the boardwalks cross the water most of the way and Poppy even gets to dip her toes in its clear azure waters.
The following morning we head back to the coast to the small coastal town of Vrsi. There’s space for John’s boat on the pier and a nice large car park for the Motorhome. We meet Steve and John and enjoy a catch up, a few drinks and a meal. As the evening descends the predicted storm approaches and we see flashes of thunder in the distance. The rain becomes heavy and the poor barman is fighting to keep the water from entering through the front doors, the sea is becoming choppy and John’s “The boats rocking a bit” comments are interrupted as two men are looking with interest at Johns boat tied to the end of the pier. Steve goes to investigate, and is back stating that they want it
moved and anchored further out in the bay, a quick discussion between us decides this is madness with the weather conditions as they are and the two men disappear and after a while so do we. The following morning the weather predictably wet but undaunted we head off first under power but as we turn the wind picks up and the sails are out, unfortunately not for long. The plan had been for us to be dropped on the other side of the inlet, a nice bit of lunch and then we walk back to the van, a couple of miles and John would continue to his next mooring point. By the time we get to lunch we are all wet and quite cold so call a halt to this plan we jump ship and send them on their way. Inevitably as we arrive back at the Motorhome the sun comes out, it’s short-lived and we spend the next 48hrs waiting for this weather to pass.
We have a campsite booking on the Island of Pag for a week, the weather looks changeable, not the best omen. As we drive along the length of the Island we are hit
with some strong winds and the landscape looks significantly bare so we are now wondering whether it suffers from this winds most of the time?!? The other thing it is famed form is the sheep’s cheese which is quite salty due to the sea winds, now that is telling and so our week at Simuni becomes a week of hunting down the least windy spot and enjoying the sun when it does show itself... one good thing becomes the free tokens for the washing machine with the winds helping us with the drying .
We leave after a not quite as restful week as imagined and head back to the coast road and the winds come on the journey with us. They are blustering at some 50-60 mph. We notice at the Motorway junction that it is closed, we assume because of the winds. We head to our nights stop and find a slightly sheltered spot and watch the wind creating sea clouds, aside from one good shunt during the night we sleep pretty well, in the morning we have a good sea crust of salt covering the van!
Senj gives us no further rest bite and I
am googling Croatian weather to see if this is anything out of the ordinary. Turns out it is the very ordinary Bora Winds, known as the good winds. Considered that way as they come off the mountains accompanied with sunshine and blue skies, allowing good drying conditions for hay and goods. The bad winds come with snow and ice, so glad we are missing those ones.
We are delaying our route further east as it will be November and so, we think noticeably colder! So there’s no choice we are going back to Polidor and enjoying that hot water and to visit some of the other towns nearby... We enter Istria again on the bottom coastal road and are immediately impressed by the great mansions that sit proudly with magnificent views over the ocean. If we hadn't picked a Sunday to travel we might have been able to stop, but the bikers and cars are out and a stop even at Graeme’s childhood holiday resort of Moscenicka Draga is impossible with the motorhome.
After several failed stops with ‘NO MOTORHOMES’ and one resident trying to move us on, we drift back into the Campsite a day early but
happy. It’s more of the same, temperatures down a bit but I manage probably my last swim of 2021 on October 20th, and we have a lovely meal of freshly caught Mackerel with the obligatory accompaniment of potatoes and spinach.
We have two more stops to make in Croatia. Zagreb, it’s capital and courtesy of the Insight guide a loop through the hills of Zagorje. ‘This is the land of farmhouses, castles and medieval fortresses, with the birth place of Tito and its open air museum’ We have grown fond of the interior of Croatia the villages and farms are industrious places but all have a charm about them and all the houses seem to take pride in their front yard and surrounding area. They are bringing in the harvest of corn or maize? And it is being artistically hung to dry and then stored in tall and thin holders, animal feed or for human consumption we are not sure!
Our first stop is to a lovely gorge with the abundance of trees and the river running through. We both comment on its similarity to Exmoor, except of course the striking azure waters . We are parked courtesy
of the restaurant and we make our way over to eat, their specialties are Trout seen in the river outside or goulash, luckily she recommends the goulash and strudel to finish all washed down with a Croatian beer.
The next day takes us to Staro Selo – birthplace of Tito the Yugoslavian socialist president for 27yrs. His childhood home recognisable by a large bronze statue in its front garden. The museum itself has bought up the surrounding houses as they have come up for sale and interspersed are houses still owned by individuals. Those that are part of the museum depict life as it would have been and it makes an interesting visit, as does up the hill to Tito’s political school a huge modernist building completed in 1981, the year following his death. This was the second school, as the first outgrew its usefulness before it too was completed. They were primarily a learning school for the officers of Tito’s government but such was his following people flocked here in their hundreds to attend lectures and conferences on Socialism and Marxism. It saw use again during The Croatian war of Independence and housed in its 145 bedrooms the
internally displaced persons from the city of Vukovar eastern Croatia which was heavily damaged during the conflict. Whilst abandoned for many years I read that it was sold to a Chinese company for 2 million euros in June 2019 whilst still abandoned on our visit, it seems the Chinese are stealthily moving their way through Europe.
Trakoscan Castle sits proudly on its own hill over looking its own beautiful lake reflecting the glorious autumn colours, the car Park is heaving, well it is a Sunday so we decide to walk the Lake today, which Poppy will enjoy and visit the Castle on the Monday, when it will be quieter. The plan works and we are then first visitors in to its walls. It is well signposted in English and we wander the rooms learning of the family that had lived within its walls.
We make our way to our last stop of this tour at Krapinsko Toplice and its Thermal waters after paying for 3 hours at the Baths we retire back to the van feeling well, rather relaxed.
Zagreb affords us a spectacular city stop at its rowing Lakes and we finish our time in Croatia
with a two-day city tour of the Lower and Upper area of the city. We meander around admiring its grand buildings and wide open park areas and climb to the Upper town and enjoy the vibrant cafe culture with a glass of mulled wine. This seems fitting as winter is on its way and we still have a few more countries to cross before Turkey and whilst we carry the obligatory snow chains we really don’t want to use them. Croatia perhaps not the lazy beach time we had planned but it’s interior has really made the visit to this country a memorable stay, and for those who choose to stick to its coastal area, they really are missing something.
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