Republic of Croatia: Wildlife and Culture!
The Republic of Croatia (Hrvatska), part of the former Yugoslavia, is a crescent shaped country lying at the westernmost end of the Balkans and bord
The Republic of Croatia (Hrvatska), part of the former Yugoslavia, is a crescent shaped country lying at the westernmost end of the Balkans and bordering the clear blue waters of the Adriatic Sea. It has a rich blend of cultures and history, archaeological ruins and superb scenery. In addition it has some lovely scenery and special wildlife as it lies on one of Europe's main bird migration flyways and at the crossroads of four biogeographical regions. We will explore the region’s diverse habitats, from the dry Mediterranean scrub and rocky pastures of the heavily-grazed island of Pag to the subalpine meadows and cool forests of the Velebit Mountains, part of the Dinaric Alps. The area’s rich biodiversity is a product of its landscape diversity, and the area’s birds, butterflies and other wildlife complement its rich history, with Roman, Ottoman, Venetian and Slav influences.
Arrive in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia and transfer to hotel in the city. Afternoon exploring the Gothic Upper town of Zagreb, including the 12th Century twin spired cathedral and 13th century St Marks church. Overnight in Zagreb.
From the capital it is a 2.5 hour drive to Plitvice Lakes National Park. Founded in 1949, Plitvice is a UNESCO World Heritage site, a picturesque forested karst lake-land fed by the clear waters of the River Korana and other karst streams, and dotted with lush meadows and pastures. Overnight in Dreznik Grad, near Plitvice Lakes National Park.
The Velebit mountain chain is subject to high levels of precipitation, especially in the winter months and that water has to go somewhere. It infiltrates into the cracks and crannies, caves and potholes on the limestone massif before re-emerging in springs lower down. At certain sites such as along the Paklenica and Krka, the infiltrating water encounters less permeable strata and emerges on the surface before making its way towards the sea, cutting deep gorges that today are characteristic of the Dalmatian coast. Drive south for an hour for overnight at Lake Vrana.
This morning we will start our day’s excursions with a short stop near the lake before proceeding to the island of Pag, which is about an hour away. One of the largest islands in Dalmatia, Pag covers 285km2 and exemplifies the plate tectonics of the area, running parallel to the coast, separated from the mainland by a deep channel and overlooked by the towering peaks of Velebit. Overnight at Lake Vrana.
Lake Vrana, a warm, shallow freshwater lake, is the largest in Croatia, produced by rising sea-levels at the end of the last Ice Age and fed by springs from the overlying limestone. The lake is a magnet for waterbirds on migration, including Garganey, Purple Heron and Glossy Ibis together with waders such as Black-winged Stilt and Greenshank. The local farmland is low-intensity and small-scale with abundant songbird populations including Hoopoe, Corn Bunting, Linnet and Crested Lark while the village itself supports enormous numbers of Spanish Sparrows together with Blue Rock Thrushes and Black Redstarts. After a morning in and around Lake Vrana, we will make the short drive up the coast to the city of Zadar. Increasingly popular with visitors, it is known for it’s Roman and Venetian ruins in its old town, as well as various venetian gates in the old city walls and other interesting historical buildings. Overnight at Lake Vrana.
After an hours drive, today we will visit Krka National Park, named after the River Krka, and the dry grasslands along the southwestern edge of the park which is an Important Bird Area. The National Park is rightly famous for its lakes and waterfalls, notably Skradinski Buk which is a set of travertine cascades not dissimilar to the more famous Plitvice Lakes to the north-east, and produced in a similar fashion by the chemical deposition of dissolved carbonates eroded from the limestone massif.
The city of Split, the second-largest city in Croatia and the largest in Dalmatia, is home to Diocletian's Palace, built for the Roman emperor in 305 A.D together with many other splendid antiquities from this period. Founded as the Greek colony of Aspálathos (and hence the Italian name “Spálaton”), it became an important city in the Eastern Roman Empire under Byzantium following the sack of Dalmatia’s capital, nearby Salona (modern day Solin) by the Avars and Slavs moving westwards.