On leaving the Istrian peninsula we began to zigzag across the country heading in a general southerly direction. We had no particular plan, just a few places we thought we’d like to see, and a loose timeframe of about five or six weeks before we had to start heading north again.
Our first stop was the small coastal town of Senj and an overnight stop in a car park. As we walked around the town, which like many Croatian towns has an old part which is all narrow alleyways, and a fortress, we could see the sky turning greyer and darker.
We had parked in the main car park and as we were staying the night, we had headed to the far end by the harbour wall to be out of peoples way. Those grey skies we had seen earlier were the edge of an incoming storm and we were rudely awakened in the early hours by the waves coming over the wall and crashing down on to the van roof!
We then headed inland on our way to Plitvice Lakes National Park, one of the leading tourist spots in Croatia. Once over the coastal mountain range, we found ourselves on a wide open, agricultural plain and spent the night in Otocac. Another strange night in that we were parked in an unused motorhome aire – it had EHU posts, toilets, showers, barriers (one side was permanently raised) and a little office complete with a computer and screen, but nothing was connected. Still, we were able to empty the grey tank and the WC.
As recommended on their website, we booked the Plitvice tickets online but at this time of the year that’s probably unnecessary – tickets are limited and you get a timed entry but there was no more than a handful of cars in the car park when we visited. Our tickets cost kn80 each (about £9) but in the peak season, admission is kn250 or £28, plus parking of another kn80 for a motorhome. The entrance fee does include use of the boats and busses within the park and multiple day tickets are available – there are extensive hiking trails in the wider area.
After entering the park (a reasonable walk from car park 2 and all uphill on the way back), we chose the lakeside walking path which took us down to the lower lakes and main waterfalls ending up at Veliki Slap which literally translates as “Big Waterfall” although as there hadn’t been too much rain at that point, it wasn’t so big!
We had originally planned to follow the longest walking path which is about 18km but with the shorter days, the park closes earlier so instead we took one of the boats back across the main lake which gave great views of the surrounding hillsides and the glorious autumn colours. From pier 2 we were able to explore some of the upper lakes via the wooden boardwalks and we could see close up the travertine formations that had created the lakes and the waterfalls in the crystal clear water.
There was limited local camping and the campsites that were open were very expensive but we managed to find a place via Park4Night. It was basically someone’s back garden in which they let a couple of vans park. Entrance is via a steep driveway, the owner is really friendly and the site is only 10 mins from the park entrance and has stunning views across the valley. We also met for the first, but not the last time on this trip, @landylifeoverland who we knew via Instagram, and spent a couple of hours chatting about van life.
Throughout the countries that made up the former Yugoslavia there are plenty of reminders of the period of socialist rule and the subsequent war that saw the break up of the country in the early 1990s. Close to Plitvice is Zeljava Airfield, a now disused airfield from the Cold War where the hangars were inside the mountain.
There are miles of tunnels through the mountains running in to Bosnia and Herzegovina (there is a continual police presence as the tunnels are used by immigrants trying to cross the border in to the EU) and the border between the two countries also crosses one of the runways. An eerie but interesting place to visit!
We moved on from Plitvice back out to the coast and on to the Pag peninsula. Big commercial all-singing campsites are not our style but with limited choice we opted for Camping Village Simumi, a huge complex of touring pitches, static caravans and holiday lodges. Thankfully the campsite offered a special winter rate – summer rates for the beachside pitch we had went as high as EUR80 per night, but we pretty much had the place to ourselves on a fully serviced pitch and with free use of the washing machines as a bonus!
We passed our time here walking along the coast and swimming. One of the onsite restaurants was still open but we didn’t use it and there was quite a bit of work going on – luckily we were there for the weekend and were only woken by workmen once when they started just before 7am on Monday morning.
Senj harbour car park: kn40 (approx £4.50). All tarmac and no facilities
Camping Otocac: free when we stayed. Small aire like site but currently disused. Full EHU and facilities looked to be in place but all switched off.
Apartmani San Poljanak 5A, near Plitvice: kn70 p/n. Steep sloping grass parking. No facilities other than rubbish disposal and fresh water.
Camping Village Simuni, Pag: kn142 p/n (about £16.50) for beachside pitch in November with EHU and water. Huge site with various price bands based on proximity to beach. All the facilities you would expect of a site this size catering for families. 6 beaches and something like 500 pitches (mix of touring, seasonal and lodges).