Knowing that Croatia’s Plitvice National Park was on our radar and also knowing there weren’t very many places to stay near it, we set out to rent an apartment in the quaint (very small and old) mill town of Rastoke.
Croatia doesn’t seem to have a lot of Hotels in general but instead offers a lot of “Sobe” homestays. A Sobe is essentially a room or a house for rent. We noticed the signs for these everywhere.
Upon arriving from Rovinj to Rastoke, our host, Zlatko, greeted us with a welcoming smile. He offered advice and helpful information on the area immediately. Zlatko explained that this is the exact house that he grew up in and he now rents rooms out of it. As we got to chit chat, he told us his story of his family fleeing from the area during the Serbian invasion when he was only seven years old. This is truly something because he is only ONE year older than I am. I can’t even imagine.
As we sat on the couch (and as tears welled up in my eyes), he told us how he kissed a specific corner of the wall as his family feared they would never see their home again. In attempts to escape, they had to drive a very long roundabout way to get to the capital city of Zagreb. He said they were so lucky to have survived and been unharmed by the Serbs and this was mostly thanks to Mother Nature. On the day they departed, there was an extremely dense fog in the area. As a result, the Serbian helicopters could not fly adequately, allowing them to flee; but the area around Zlatko’s house was hit only hours after they left. When they did finally return to their home sometime later, they found only partial walls and the doorway remaining. They have continued to rebuild since. Zlatko has been dedicated to the rebuilding efforts and has been renting apartments in his home for the past seven years. This has worked out for him immensely since American interest to visit Croatia has substantially picked up in recent years. We hope he continues to have great success as he gives people a genuine local experience in the area near Plitvice National Park.
The tiny town of Rastoke itself is very charming. There were a couple of quaint coffee shops, one of which overlooks the water, and a great restaurant named Petro which we ate at several times. You will even find bear on the menu – eeek. Hey, I told you that this is the country! Plenty of delicious other choices if bear is not your thing. The bread was some of the best we’ve had in Europe because the flour is literally milled next door to the restaurant!
After a good night rest, we woke up early, packed up our lunches and drove the short (30 minutes) ride to one of Croatia’s National Parks – Plitvice National Park. We wanted to arrive as close to opening time as possible as we knew a thunderstorm was brewing. We were one of only a few cars in the parking lot when we arrived.
Plitvice is made up of sixteen lakes that cascade and connect through many scenic waterfalls. The water is a gorgeous shade of blue and is crystal clear. The park is divided into two distinct areas – the Upper and the Lower Lakes.
Per Zlatko’s recommendation, we started in the lower area and ended up hiking to the upper area and getting the tram back to where we started. The walking path is a mixture of wooden walkways which are situated a few inches above the water and well-maintained dirt pathways. There are some climbs, but most of it is very doable for people of all ages. The route we chose involved taking a loop around nearly the entire group of lakes and was about 12 miles; 8 of which we hiked, the other 4 we spent on the tram due to the deteriorating weather later in the day. But you can hike much shorter distances and still see LOTS.
We were very satisfied with what we saw before the storm hit and the tourist groups were seemingly everywhere towards the end of our visit. Upon reaching the parking lot, we found that it was now completely packed with cars spilling out onto the roadway. So I would definitely recommend getting there earlier in the day.
Overall, both Rastoke and Plitvice National Park were worth the trip. Plitvice is well photographed and documented and certainly magnificent, so we knew what to expect there, but Rastoke was a nice little surprise as well and is definitely worth seeing.