with tips for cycling & hiking
After leaving Ptuj in Slovenia we took the motorway into Croatia and there was no real plan, other than we wanted to visit the two National Parks of Kyrka and Paklenica .
The motorways in Croatia use a toll system, the normal system of collecting a ticket and then paying at a manned toll booth operates, so there is no need for a vignette. The motorways are first class and in early June have very light traffic and as with the French motorways they use a similar vehicle classification and they tend not to be as expensive.
Speed limits on motorways are 130km/h and 90km/h on other roads which are generally in good condition. As you would expect in built up areas the limit is the standard 50km/h or 30mph. Be aware,however,that there are plenty of lower limits, particularly on the coastal roads, where the limit seems to change with the wind and be particularly careful in the vicinity of schools,where the limit drops to 20km/h. You will find in any case you will not want to hurry the coastal roads as the scenery is spectacular.
On the subject of currency,which is the Kuna,cash is king in Croatia which is indicated by the proliferation of ATM’s in the towns and at campsites. Some campsites accept cards but many of the smaller ones do not,though the larger supermarkets,as do some of the smaller ones and petrol stations accept cards.
Larger establishments will accept euros but you will get your change in kunas and in any case with so many Atms why not use the local currency. The Atms will charge you a local fee.
So it was a motorway dash to Skradin for the Kyrka National Park and then a leisurely coastal drive to Paklenica and then we continued to follow the Adriatic coast to Senj, onwards to Medveja and then to Pula on the Istrian Coast.
We would have liked to have done more of the Istrian coast but it was beginning to get busy as we were approaching the main holiday season and in any case we had to head back into Slovenia for our wedding in Gorizia.
Skradin for Kyka National Park
The plan was to go to Lozovac but as we approached Skradin and slowed down we waylaid by a lady beckoning us into this parking/campsite. She was quite insistent and persuasive, so we pulled in but before we committed to her persuasive powers, I asked a fellow German motorhomer if this was a good site for the park and he assured me that it was. Looking at the website later reference was made to the aggressive parking attendants outside of Skradin who tried to encourage you to park before reaching the main parks in the town. I think aggressive was a little bit of an exaggeration but they were certainly working hard to get their custom.
The site was probably more like a certified site but having said that the facilities were all in place, a little kitchen area, clean showers and toilets together with a motorhome service point. The real plus was that the site was a short walk to the really character laden town of Skradin, complete with picturesque harbour and old fortified castle ruin.
The piece de resistance, however, was that your park entry fee included a boat trip to the first set of falls at Skradinski Buk. If we had gone to Lozovac we would have had to have been content with a bus trip to the falls. The falls are certainly the most spectacular in the park and though they have been very much geared up to tourism, they were great fun and it was possible to avoid the main tour parties but bottlenecks inevitably did occur and this wasn’t peak season.
The falls were in full spate which was a plus from the fact that Croatia had a fairly wet spring. We got the boat at 9.00 from Skradin to spend the morning exploring the falls.
The second leg of our journey was a boat trip to the Franciscan monastery on Visovac island, which was pleasant enough. We bought the tickets at Skrakinski Buk but I would guess in peak season you would need to book them in advance.
In the first part of the journey we were downstairs in the cabin but all subsequent legs of the trip we made sure we had prime position at the top of the boat.
The highlight of the second leg was the trip through the gorge to Roski Slap waterfall, less spectacular than Skradinski Buk, in the latter you can clearly see the creation of the travertine layers, which led to the development of the falls.
There are some great walks at Roski Slap falls but we were rather limited by the need to catch the boat back and further hindered by the fact that we had to take time out for a rustic lunch of cheese, hams and salad, washed down with some real dodgy red wine but it was great fun.
Perhaps with hindsight we would have taken a picnic, which would have given us more exploring time but we were warned by the guide at the information centre at Skradin that this would be the case. There was no doubt in the translation what our options were as she was an Australian, Melbourne born whose father was Croatian and she had returned to her home country.
We decided to walk back from the falls to Skradin, a walk of about 3 miles, offering good views and a different perspective of the Kyrka river.
We took the motorway initially to get out of Skradin, before taking the coastal road and then cutting across country to Starigrad Paklenica. A word of warning that though you will save on motorway tolls, if you are not careful you will end up with a speeding fine of 1000 Kuna. Though speed cameras are far and few between speed traps are reasonably common.
With hindsight this wasn’t the best site for the Paklenica National Park, it was a couple of miles from the turnoff to the park and you then have approximately the same distance to the entrance, the round trip from the campsite to the start of the gorge walk is just under 7 miles. There are campsites located in the road leading to the park entrance and it appears in this part of the world, anyone with a spare piece of land, turns it into a Certificated Site type location. The best one we found was in the road on the left just before the entrance road to the park and we were tempted to switch to that. At the end of the day we decided to cycle in and left the bikes at the park entrance. There is parking at the site entrance but this is somewhat limited.
The campsite is fine, pitches are somewhat uneven and if you are lucky enough to get a seaview, be prepared for the necessity of getting on with your neighbour. The pitches are more spacious, the further you are away from the sea and there are plenty where you can avoid manouevring around trees, though they are ever present.
There is no designated motorhome service point but you can refill with water. The sanitary facilities etc are good. The campsite only takes cash, though there is an Atm at the site entrance and as is common in Croatia, numerous others in the town.
It was at this campsite that we were first introduced to the ubiquitous Croatian mosquitoes, which seem to have a voracious appetite.
The walk to the mountain refuge stopover from the park entrance is about an 8 mile return walk, the first part through a stunning narrow rocky gorge, before it opens up into something more gentle.
The first part of the gorge is popular with rock climbers and you can spend a few moments admiring their skills and spider like ability as they climb rockfaces which appear unclimbable.
There are plenty of places to picnic and water is readily available from piped springs. You can even take a simple lunch at the Lugarnica Forest Cottage. It is also possible to stay for free in bunk style accommodation at the mountain lodge, though it is best to reserve in advance. Continue for another kilometre after the mountain lodge and you arrive at the villages of Ramici & Parici where you can also get refreshments.
There are also numerous side activities and walks from the main path though we found a walk up and down to the mountain lodge with a picnic lunch easily filled out day.
The coastal town of Starigrad Paklenica is typical of so many on this coast, romantic and extremely picturesque and though esplanades are short, due to the nature of this rocky coast, what it lacks in distance is more than compensated by its outstanding coastal scenery with its backdrop of mountains.
It is not surprising that seafood dominates these coastal towns and we would recommend Restaurant Dalmacija, particularly if you like fresh seafood simply done.It was here that we were introduced to chard & potatoes mixed with a healthy dose of olive oil, such a simple dish but absolutely delicious. It was also of course necessary to have a dark beer, and though as in Slovenia it is the pale lager bretherens that dominate beer drinking, the dark beers are something special. My favourite was Tomislav, a dark strong beer, made from double malted barley and named after a Croatian King. This truly is the king of beers.
It is in a brilliant location overlooking the sea and if you reserve a table you can get an uninterrupted seaview, other than the local lads going back and forth on their push bikes. The restaurant only takes cash.
Having blasted through on the motorway from Ptuj in Slovenia to our first stop in Croatia at Skradin, it was now time to take the slow road following the Adriatic coast and what a road it was. There are simply not enough superlatives to describe this route and you can understand why it is so popular with the motorbike community. In early June traffic was unexpectedly extremely light, which added to the pleasure of this twisting and turning coastal drive with a view to die for at every turn.
After leaving Paklenica we stumbled across Senj, one of the oldest towns on the Adriatic and relatively little known. Even better we were able to stay at Camping Skyver, a turn off at the last roundabout, as you leave town. Again this shows the big plus of motorhoming, the impromptu stop in a glorious location and in this instance as we pulled in, we had the good fortune to get a seaside pitch.
The site's facilities are somewhat limited and if you ended up with a non seaside location, I think you would feel short changed. The site resembles an aire, though the pitches are marked out, space is at a premium but what you are paying for is the location and the site is relatively expensive given the very average facilities. There is, however, a very acceptable seaside location restaurant next door. A coastal walk past this restaurant soon takes you to a very attractive harbour area where the old town lies in its hinterland. The town will provide you with everything that you will need, with two supermarkets, shops and restaurants.
The highlight for us, however, was the walk through the narrow streets of the picturesque old town up to the impressive Nehaj Fortress, which towers over the town, built by the local Uskoks for defensive purposes, it was never taken, which is hardly surprising, when you see it. It was however, a focal point for violence as the Ottomans and Venetians repeatedly tried to take the castle. Sympathetically restored and now housing an interesting museum, with enough in English to retain your interest, this is a must see.
You are also rewarded with superb views over the town.
Though it is a reasonable climb to the fortress it has a cafe where you can take refreshment on the terrace. There is also a restaurant inside the castle and is a very atmospheric place to eat and the food is pretty good too.
Our journey along the picturesque Adriatic coast continued and even the journey through Rijeka, one of the largest conurbations, on the Adriatic, did not detract from the majesty of this coastline.
We called into Smart Selection Holiday Resort in Medveja which is across the main coastal road from a very attractive picture postcard bay. The only thing missing was the sweeping sands, as sandy beaches are very much a premium along this coast. We had planned to call into the island of Krk but this was a Sunday and like all sunny Sundays the world heads to the beaches but unfortunately the bridge to the island is a bit of a bottleneck and we did not fancy waiting in a half hour queue.
The campsite at Medveja is in a pleasant wooded area with rocky outcrops as a backdrop. As it was now getting hot, we found the obligatory shade. The campsite has perfectly adequate facilities though the grass on the pitches was very long. There is a motorhome service point though water is available on the pitches.
The campsite also doubles up as a parking area for the beach and as long as you avoid the bottom of the campsite, this poses few problems. It might be a different ball game in the peak season, when it could become a free for all.
The plus of this area for us was a 12 km coastal promenade walk, allegedly built for Emperor Franz Joseph. The downside was though there was a small coastal promenade leading from the bay at Medveja, this soon disappeared and we were faced with a 3km walk, most of it on the road before we picked up the Franz Joseph promenade. There is a bus service but not very regular, connecting Medveja with Opatija.
The walk is locally known as the Lungomare connects the elegant resorts of Lovran and Opatija and offers stunning coastline views. The latter is often referred to as the Cannes of the Adriatic and is a major resort but escapes the urban feel of Rijeka just up the road.
There are loads of restaurants and bars along the promenade. Lovran has many renovated opulent villas from the days of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
With hindsight we should have stopped at Camping Opatija, though not right in the town, certainly closer than the Medveja site, though the latter had the advantage that it was a stone’s throw from the beach and it’s bars.
There is a small supermarket in Medveja.
Pula wasn’t initially on the itinerary but given we had some time before the family wedding and the fact that it has one of the finest Roman amphitheatre's in Europe and that it would give us a taster of the Istrian coast, then it became a no brainer.
We continued along the Adriatic Coast for as long as we could before taking the road across the Istrian Peninsula to Pula.
We called into Camping Stoja on the Stoja Peninsula as it was still offering ACSI rates. This is a large site but despite its size it did not appear overwhelming. The interesting fact was that hardly surprisingly the site was divided into sections with those with a sea view commanding a premium price. More interestingly, though I could understand the attraction of paying extra for a sea view, I struggled to see how pitches in the premium section, which gave you a view of your neighbour's unit could also attract a premium price. We took the bargain ACSI rate, though we had positioned ourselves at the front on the road and had a very good seaview. Additionally in this section you had a little bit more space. I can not fault the site, it has all the facilities you would expect from a large commercial site.
The other tip is to check that you have set your sat nav for the campsite and not the centre of town. We realised our mistake as we passed the ampitheatre and our reckoning was that the last time anyone camped here was in Roman times.
The big plus was that a bus pulls right outside of the campsite, every 20 minutes, to the town centre. The first night we cycled in and though you follow busy roads, you can cycle on the pavements. Though it gave us a useful perspective of the town, the bus service is so good that this has to be the first choice of preference.
The old town is very atmospheric with its narrow streets and Roman remains but it can get very busy with numerous tour groups descending on the City but with a little careful planning you can avoid them.
It also has its own castle, the climb to which proved very useful in locating the ruins of the Roman Theatre, as it could be seen from the castle ramparts. Locating it at street level had eluded us and even with help from the local Olive Museum, it still proved tricky to find. Also as she had correctly identified, the tourist map is as about much use as a chocolate teapot. Sadly the Theatre has been neglected with some graffiti, litter strewn and overgrown, though I understand that there might be plans to renovate it, or at least tidy it up but at least we were rewarded with having the place to ourselves.
The Roman Temple and the Cathedral are also impressive.
The Temple of Augustus on the lefthand side with the medieval townhall on the righthand side.
Originally Pula was protected by walls with 10 gates into the town, only 3 of which remain today: The Arch of the Sergii, Hercules Arch and the Twin Gates,also called the Porta Gemina
These Roman remains so far are undoubtedly impressive but pièce de résistance is by a country mile, the amphitheatre, the 6th largest in the world and by postponing the visit until later in the day we had managed to avoid the tour parties.
It is also worthwhile taking a walk around it and climbing to the street above it and enjoying a drink overlooking this impressive monument, it is very satisfying to have walked with the ancients and to imagine the scene below you as you sip your beer or slurp your icecream.
After a long but enjoyable day it was time to take the bus back to the campsite.
There are plenty of coastal areas to explore from the site, though there are restricted areas, occupied by the Navy. What is not possible is a coastal walk, we found these very much at a premium.
We were very tempted to go up the Istrian coast to Rovinj but it was getting busy and the campsites were becoming increasingly expensive and in any case we had a wedding to attend in Gorizia. Also we wanted to go to the Skocjan Caves in Slovenia, so it was a trip across the border and an overnight stop at Ankaran.