Croatia was beautiful as we drove down from Budapest, but we didn’t know just how beautiful this country could get until we showed up at Plitvice Lakes National Park.
Plivice Park is the “Yellowstone” of Croatia. It boasts numerous waterfalls, lakes, thermal pools and caves. It is also full of tour buses and school groups.
Jackson and I decided to spend one full day at the park and it was a good decision. You can buy a multi-day pass, but the park is really not that big (we did one of the hikes that billed itself as taking between 4-6 hours to complete in 2.5 hours).
Honestly, the only disappointing part of this park is how crowded the wooden walkways can get. Tour groups come in a bunch together taking up the whole path and making the walk slow as molasses. Being that we were there in May (shoulder season in Croatia) it wasn’t too bad. I can only imagine this place on a weekend in the summer: yikes.
Also, if the sun goes behind a cloud your view suffers immensely. If you do wind up visiting this park ONLY GO IF IT IS SUNNY.
But: you must go. It is heaven on earth.
Leaving Plitvice (and our wonderful AirBnB) we started to head to the coast to stay at Crikvenica, a coastal town on the Adriatic Sea.
Croatia, as a country, is full of mountain ranges, coastal villages and everything in between. Therefore: driving around means rising and falling elevations and very serpentine roads. I liked to call the switchbacks the “Nappy feels Crappy” roads. Hair-pin turns, steep elevations and sometimes all on a one lane street! If you’re not a confident driver at the best of times you’ll shit your pants here. I know I almost did. Kudos to Jackson for driving a manual on the opposite side of the road. What a champion.
The benefit of rising and falling roads? EPIC VIEWS.
It doesn’t end at epic views, either. Croatia is dotted with medieval castles and forts everywhere, so we stopped anywhere that looked cool. Including Senj, which has an old fort and a beautiful seaside town.
Crikvenica was our first introduction to the Adriatic Sea. This sea is outstanding! It wasn’t very warm, feels a bit of a shock when you first get in, but on a sunny day it’s nice and you get used to it quickly. The water is very clear: you can see everything! It’s also very salty so you can float incredibly easily.
When we arrived in Crikvenica (tsrik ven itsa- try saying that 3 times fast.) We needed to get lunch and after checking into our AirBnB, we walked into the first place we came on: “Konoba-Restaurant Maslina”. I ordered grilled calamari and it was one of the best meals I have ever eaten. I felt like a little part of me died of happiness as I ate buttery, melt-in-your-mouth calamari covered in light and flavorful olive oil and garlic. Even the bread on the table was perfect for mopping up the juices. Good lord that was good. It also cost about $7USD.
The locals think that mid-May was too cold to go to the beach. The weather temperature hovers around 75-80F (24-27C) most of the time and the water temperature is probably about 65F (18C). There is very little humidity, so if the sun goes away it can feel chilly. But, if there is a beating sun (which happened most of the time we were there) the beach is lovely: not too hot and perfect for sunbathing. It’s also empty. No tourists, no locals; the season hasn’t picked up yet. Perfect.
We walked along the Crikvenica beach and dipped our toes for the first time while watching the sunset. Croatia was forming an excellent opinion of itself and we were loving it.
We only stayed the night as we wanted to continue on toward the Istria region. The next morning Jackson and I decided to go check out this tiny little peninsula just north of Crikvenice.
The park was empty and it was about 10:00am so very few people were there. We strolled along a pathway that opened out onto STUNNING views of the sea. Jackson and I would stop and stare totally agog at the scenery. Then we noticed little staircases leading down the white sandstone cliffs to the sea. This, friends, is where our lives changed forever.
It’s a scramble down to the beach which is rocky, full of pebbles and sharp stones, but it was gleaming white against a turquoise sea and all to ourselves. There were also large “FKK” signs on the walkways (which indicate that the beach is a nudist beach) so, after a moment’s hesitation, we pulled our clothes off. Jackson was the real driving force with this decision. I was a little worried about getting butt-naked in a foreign country, but since there was NO ONE I figured “what the hell?”. I’m so glad we did this. This was one of the prettiest beaches I have ever seen. The sun was shining and was very warm so getting into the cold sea felt delightful. We floated in the calm water for almost an hour before another couple showed up and we decided it was time to leave.
Swimming naked in the sea feels as natural as chewing food. It feels right. I felt relaxed, free and beautiful. If I close my eyes and imagine a happy place I think of the beach in Croatia. Little did I know just how much more of this there was to come.