Beautiful sea, beautiful towns, beautiful mountains and beautiful drives in beautiful Croatia

After our tour of Dubrovnik we carried on north up the coast and into Bosnia and Herzegovina. We spent 28 minutes covering the 22 kilometers of coastline, learnt the interesting fact that Bosnia & Herzegovina is the country with the second shortest coastline in the world after Monaco, and then crossed the border back into Croatia.

We had decided we need a couple of rest days so parked up in the small village of Podaca at a campsite which was about 30 metres from the beach, straight down, so a bit sweaty on the climb back up. We had stayed there purposely because they had a washing machine but the very nice man who worked there didn’t seem to be able to track down the key for it so we had our first, and hopefully only, experience of hand washing bed sheets. That evening we metaphorically waved the Union Jack with one of our favourite camp meals; bacon and eggs, prior to James heading off in search of the football.

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It was so hot that we decided to try sleeping with the doors of Delaney open for the first time, necessitating the assembly of the mosquito net.

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This is no small undertaking and one which we perfected over the course of the next few weeks, that first night it did feel a bit like sleeping in a net coffin but had the desired result that it was cool enough to sleep. Our next destination was Zadar and we set off on one of the most beautiful drives that we have done yet, along the coast between Podaca and Split, we were just stunned by the green abundance and the mountains.

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We made a short detour into Split; we have been there before so didn’t feel the need to visit again on this trip but it does have a Decathlon which is now James’s favourite shop, having had his first experience of it a few weeks earlier. We were there ostensibly to buy gas canisters for the cooker but we have yet to walk out of a Decathlon without a couple of extra bits and pieces. This time was no different and resulted in the purchase of a new pair of flip flops each (vital as ours were falling apart) and a fisherman’s hat for Caro which James has made fun of ever since but we all know that he secretly wants one.

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We camped at Camp Matea which was, like all of the other campsites in the area, a little bit strange. The land is parcelled up into long thing strips with just a few metres of beachfront at one narrow end and, either by fluke or design, was alternately private property and campsite so you felt as though you were always encroaching on someone’s garden. It was fine for one night though and the sunset from the beach was spectacular.

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Zadar is a lovely mishmash of old and new and feels like people actually live there as opposed to just go on holiday there. Our first challenge was parking and this presented some issues as we found spaces but couldn’t tell if we needed to pay for them, or drove past carparks which were either full to bursting or vastly expensive. In the end we lucked out hugely because we wound our way around the one way system in the Old Town until we came to Park Perivoj Vladimira Nazora, which is just South of the gate into the Old Town. Just South of the park is a huge car park which only costs KN2 per hour, was an absolutely bargain compared to the rest and was easy walking distance to the key sights.

We approached the old town through the Land Gate or Kopnena Vrata which dates from the 16th century and makes a lovely intro to the town.

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Just before you go through the gate there is also a picturesque little harbor to your left.

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Once inside the walls you can stroll around the whole area quite easily, dipping into shops and stumbling across the odd ruin. It was high season so we were, once again, in the company of many other tourists but this didn’t really mar the experience. The streets are fairly narrow here and the buildings quite tall so even on a sunny day you can walk in the shade and relative cool.

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One of the best spots in the old town is the Roman Forum which is part ruin and part functional building. The forum is dominated by the peculiarly shaped 9th century church of St Donatus.

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Behind the church is the Pillar of Shame, historically used as a place of punishment and humiliation it now stands slightly forlornly being gradually dissolved by the elements.

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Perhaps the most famous attraction in Zadar is a far more recent installment; the Sea Organ. We strolled along the lovely waterfront promenade to reach the organ at the far end.

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The Sea Organ isn’t something that can really be captured in pictures as it just looks like a set of steps down to the sea, you really need sound to appreciate it. The structure is designed so that waves move sea water through a set of tubes built into the steps and this produces different notes. It is definitely worth spending 10 minutes sat on the promenade listening the noises and watching the world go by.

From Zadar we headed inland on what has to be one of the most scenic motorways ever; it winds its way up through the mountains until you reach a plateau of woodland, rocky outcrops and very few buildings. It is all very sparse apart from the motorway.

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We came off the motorway at Otočac and paid the extortionate toll charge. It doesn’t matter how scenic the motorway is, it is never worth €18. We vowed to avoid Croatian motorways from then onwards. The first thing we did was track down our campsite in the tiny village of Zalužnica, the excellent Camp Telebit which was surrounded by more gorgeous countryside.

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We whiled away the afternoon before heading back out again to reach the Kuterevo Bear Sanctuary  for early evening as we had been advised that we would be more likely to see bears once it had cooled off. The sanctuary takes in wild bears which have been orphaned as well as rehoming them from zoos. Rather suprisingly, it is free to go and take a look around. The site is rather bizarrely located within the bounds of a small village, with houses practically bordering the enclosures.

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We are not sure how we feel about the sanctuary, the bears all seemed in good condition and had plenty of foraging within the enclosure, but we aren’t sure that they had enough space. More enclosures were being constructed while we were there and the sanctuary is funded by well-known wildlife organisations but still something didn’t quite sit right with us, a personal thing perhaps as we are both animal lovers and would always prefer to see them in the wild.

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We started the next day on the Gacka river, which meanders through the surrounding little villages and is simply beautiful. It is not a major attraction but it’s well worth parking up for a few minutes and taking it in.

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We had ummed and ahed about whether to visit Plitviče Lakes National Park, it is one of the top places to visit in Croatia but costs an unbelievable 250kn / £30 each to get in in July and August. We simply could not justify paying this much money and we have since read that they have had to close the park gates for periods during the day because of overcrowding, so it was definitely the right call. Instead, we went to the North Velebit National Park in search of a hike. It was by no means abandoned but we had the track to ourselves for a good chunk of the time and it only cost  30kn / £3.60 each. We entered the park through the main gate at Babić Siča and walked the return loop to Zavižan. The man at the gate gaves us a quick overview of the walk, informed us quite blithely that there are bears and wolves in the park, gave us absolutely no advice about what we should do if faced with a large carnivore and waved us on our way. We started to question if salami sandwiches were the right packed lunch choice for this walk but soldiered on anyway. We can’t decide if we are disappointed or not that we didn’t encounter any wildlife.

The walk starts as a fairly ordinary stroll up through the forest.

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Things start to get interesting once you rise above the tree line and the achingly beautiful views over the sea are revealed.

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The views only get better the higher you go, though partnered with a significant drop in temperature and significant increase in wind speed. Despite nearly being blown off the side of the hill we just had to keep stopping to take more and more pictures

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If you do go up there, make sure to climb the peak just beyond Zavižan, it will take you about 45 minutes to get up and down and you will feel like you are in a wind tunnel but you will also feel like you are on top of the world and the views are just magnificent from up there.

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Regardless of the time of year that you visit, make sure to bring plenty of layers, it was 16°c when we left Velebit National Park and 30°c when we got back down to the coast. On our last night in Croatia we camped just outside of Senj at Camp Bunica, which is nestled in a cove almost directly under the coast road, although you wouldn’t know the road was there once you are sat on the beach. It was a little slice of paradise and a perfect last stop on the Adriatic.

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It wasn’t the fact that they had the football on or that the beach was clean or that the sea was blue and perfectly clear that made this a fantastic campsite, it was the fact that we were sharing it with these heroes who had bought a teepee for their dog.

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