Spotlight

Croatia Calling :: Plitvice Lakes

[trip style = active + adventure]

For the final installment of our Croatia series, we're pulling back from the coast and heading inland. Scroll to the bottom of the post for more on Dubrovnik, the Dalmatian Islands and Rovinj.

Plitvice Lakes National Park might be the most beautiful natural wonder in Europe you've never heard of. Croatia's stunning coast receives most of the attention—and crowds—but away from the coast lies a gorgeous and unforgettable park made up of 16 crystal-clear lakes laced together by countless waterfalls. At Plitvice, the colors of the lakes are so vibrant you might think you're in Bora Bora or the Rockies. My Croatia guru Rick Steves compares Plitvice Lakes to a European Niagara Falls sliced, diced and sprinkled over a heavily forested Grand Canyon. With its lush landscape rich in deep blues and bright greens, I'd compare it to the Blue Lagoon meets the Shire. Whatever your comparison, you'll realize it's uniquely Plitvice and well worth a day or two on your Croatian itinerary.

 Plan to spend three to four hours in the park if you stick to the main paths, or longer if you take the paths less traveled.

Plan to spend three to four hours in the park if you stick to the main paths, or longer if you take the paths less traveled.

 A path along the Lower Lakes and the biggest waterfall in the park—Big Waterfall {seriously, that's the name}—a short walk from the main path.

A path along the Lower Lakes and the biggest waterfall in the park—Big Waterfall {seriously, that's the name}—a short walk from the main path.

 Waters flowing over limestone and chalk have, over thousands of years, deposited travertine barriers, creating natural dams, which in turn have created lakes, caves and waterfalls.

Waters flowing over limestone and chalk have, over thousands of years, deposited travertine barriers, creating natural dams, which in turn have created lakes, caves and waterfalls.

 The no-swimming and no-fishing rules guarantee a serene surrounding, but if it's warm, you'll really, really want to jump in.

The no-swimming and no-fishing rules guarantee a serene surrounding, but if it's warm, you'll really, really want to jump in.

 Electric boats shuttle visitors across the park's largest lake.

Electric boats shuttle visitors across the park's largest lake.

 During the 1960s, several "spaghetti westerns" were filmed in Plitvice because Germans and Italians believed certain sections of the park looked like the American West.

During the 1960s, several "spaghetti westerns" were filmed in Plitvice because Germans and Italians believed certain sections of the park looked like the American West.

 Miles of plank walks connect the 16 lakes.

Miles of plank walks connect the 16 lakes.

 Most park visitors focus on the Lower Lakes; hike all the way to the end of the Upper Lakes for a more peaceful experience.

Most park visitors focus on the Lower Lakes; hike all the way to the end of the Upper Lakes for a more peaceful experience.

 It's hard to believe that in 1991, the first shots of the Croatia-Yugoslavia war were fired in Plitvice. The Serbs controlled the park until 1995, which allowed the ecosystem to recover from years of visitors prior to the war.

It's hard to believe that in 1991, the first shots of the Croatia-Yugoslavia war were fired in Plitvice. The Serbs controlled the park until 1995, which allowed the ecosystem to recover from years of visitors prior to the war.

 Plitvice is one of Croatia's seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Plitvice is one of Croatia's seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

 For a Euro-Disney-meets-Jurassic-Park experience, take a "train" {which the park calls its shuttle buses} from the top of the Upper Lakes back to the park entrance. 

For a Euro-Disney-meets-Jurassic-Park experience, take a "train" {which the park calls its shuttle buses} from the top of the Upper Lakes back to the park entrance. 

Things to know

  • With over a million visitors a year—up to 10,000 a day—Plitvice {Pleet-veet-seh} is a packed park. Visit during the shoulder or low seasons for fewer crowds, or before 10am or after 3pm to avoid the bus tours. 
  • Stop at a nearby grocery store to stock up on snacks and enjoy a picnic on the shores of the largest lake.
  • Adult cost: ~$10-33/day depending on the season
  • The park is located two hours from Zagreb, or three hours from Rovinj. It has three hotels, but we chose to stay in an apartment nearby.

This post is written by Trip Styler's Assistant Wayfarer/Editor Heather.

Related
Croatia Calling: Dalmatian Islands
Croatia Calling: Dubrovnik
Roam+Board: Hotel Lone

[images by @heatherlovesit]

Croatia Calling: Dalmatian Islands

[trip style = beach & sun]

It's hard to choose an island or two when visiting Croatia — especially with over a thousand to choose from. Set against the shimmering Adriatic, Croatia's islands boast romantic towns, pebbled beaches, fresh seafood and dramatic landscapes. Whether you're looking for a low-key escape or a jet-set experience, there's an island for you.

I visited two Dalmatian islands — Korčula and Hvar — during shoulder season, before the hiking sandal and bikini clad crowds {respectively} took over these otherwise sleepy southern islands. Korčula is humbler than its hipper and ritzier sister island; with an easygoing appeal. Picture-perfect as either a day trip or a two-day vacation from your vacation, Korčula — the purported birthplace of Marco Polo — is also known for its medieval old town and local dessert wine. Hvar is Croatia's answer to Ibiza, otherwise known as the "Croat d'Azur". In the summer, this fishing village turns into a catwalk as multiple yachts drop anchor in the busy Hvar town harbor. I was amused by the signs outside businesses {even the fortress} banning visitors wearing only bathing suits. Its popularity must be due to its undeniable beauty — a harbor edged with bougainvillea, crystal-clear water and an intoxicating scent of sea air and lavender.

Korčula

 DO // Travel via car ferry to  Kor  čula.

DO // Travel via car ferry to Korčula.

 DO // Enjoy a coffee or beer along Šetalište Petra Kanavelića in Old Town.

DO // Enjoy a coffee or beer along Šetalište Petra Kanavelića in Old Town.

 A fisherman on the Adriatic Sea 

A fisherman on the Adriatic Sea 

 DO // S et off on foot to explore the island and find secret swimming spots, basketball courts or vineyards

DO // Set off on foot to explore the island and find secret swimming spots, basketball courts or vineyards

 STAY // Our charming apartment in Old Town , recommended by Rick Steves and found on Booking.com

STAY // Our charming apartment in Old Town, recommended by Rick Steves and found on Booking.com

Hvar

 DO // Travel via catamaran from Korčula to Hvar {BYO Gravol}

DO // Travel via catamaran from Korčula to Hvar {BYO Gravol}

 STAY // Our room at  Adriana Hvar Spa Hotel , a modern waterfront hotel 

STAY // Our room at Adriana Hvar Spa Hotel, a modern waterfront hotel 

 View of the Hvar town harbor from our hotel room balcony 

View of the Hvar town harbor from our hotel room balcony 

 Indoor infinity seawater pool with adjacent rooftop terrace

Indoor infinity seawater pool with adjacent rooftop terrace

 Harbor views from our hotel restaurant, which served a champagne breakfast {included in room rate}

Harbor views from our hotel restaurant, which served a champagne breakfast {included in room rate}

 Sailboats lined up along the Hvar harbor

Sailboats lined up along the Hvar harbor

 DO // Hike up to Hvar Fortress for gorgeous views and tiny churches {see image at top for harbor view}.

DO // Hike up to Hvar Fortress for gorgeous views and tiny churches {see image at top for harbor view}.

Things to know

  • A little pronunciation help: KOR-choo-lah and h-VAR
  • To avoid Hvar's Ibiza-level crowds, visit before or after the height of summer in mid May/June or September/early October.
  • Don't miss out on the regional cuisine: fresh-off-the-boat, melt-in-your-mouth fish and shellfish.
  • Croatia has a very good national ferry company, Jadrolinija. Buy tickets early for peak-season travel.

This post is written by Trip Styler's Assistant Wayfarer/Editor Heather.

Related
Croatia Calling: Dubrovnik
Roam+Board: Hotel Lone

[images by @heatherlovesit]

Croatia Calling: Dubrovnik

[trip style = urban + beach & sun]

Dubrovnik is a modern city whose rugged beauty rivals the Mediterranean, as well as a medieval city that serves as a metaphor for freedom and Croatia's complex cultural past as a Republic of the former Yugoslavia. These elements, coupled with the affordability of the region in relation to the Côte d'Azur or the Amalfi Coast, make it a charming and cost-effective destination. Not quite a hidden gem, as charter flight and cruise ship crowds descend in droves over the summer months, Dubrovnik — the Pearl of the Adriatic — is still the country's single best destination. Check out our Drink and Do recommendations below. Must-do's: walk the wall, swim the sea and drink the wine!

 DO // Explore the side streets of Old Town. Above left: The view from our apartment.

DO // Explore the side streets of Old Town. Above left: The view from our apartment.

 DO // Rent a kayak and paddle to the nearby island of Lokrum.

DO // Rent a kayak and paddle to the nearby island of Lokrum.

 Kayakers outside the city walls

Kayakers outside the city walls

 DRINK // This literal hole-in-the-wall bar — accessed through a hole in the ancient city walls — boasts spectacular views and pricey beer. To find Buza Bar, follow the signs that read "Cold drinks with the most beautiful view".

DRINK // This literal hole-in-the-wall bar — accessed through a hole in the ancient city walls — boasts spectacular views and pricey beer. To find Buza Bar, follow the signs that read "Cold drinks with the most beautiful view".

 DO // You may notice it's more difficult to swim in the saltier waters of the Adriatic Sea, but swimming off the rocks outside medieval city walls is not to be missed.

DO // You may notice it's more difficult to swim in the saltier waters of the Adriatic Sea, but swimming off the rocks outside medieval city walls is not to be missed.

 DO // Walk the walls of Old Town [~$16] to get a feel of the place.

DO // Walk the walls of Old Town [~$16] to get a feel of the place.

 City walls view

City walls view

 City walls view

City walls view

 City walls view

City walls view

 DO // Hop a boat to a nearby island — Lokrum, Mljet or the Elaphiti Islands  —  for the best beaches and hikes.

DO // Hop a boat to a nearby island — Lokrum, Mljet or the Elaphiti Islands  for the best beaches and hikes.

 The cliffs below Dubrovnik castle, included in the city walls walk

The cliffs below Dubrovnik castle, included in the city walls walk

 DRINK // Try a flight of Croatian wine at  d'vino wine bar  on a charming side street in Old Town. 

DRINK // Try a flight of Croatian wine at d'vino wine bar on a charming side street in Old Town. 

 DO // Ride the  cable car  high above Old Town for a history lesson and panoramic views. Buy a one-way ticket [~$10] and hike down the mountain and through the steeply set hill homes.

DO // Ride the cable car high above Old Town for a history lesson and panoramic views. Buy a one-way ticket [~$10] and hike down the mountain and through the steeply set hill homes.

Things to know

  • The best time to visit is April to October. Avoid the charter and cruise ship passengers by visiting in shoulder season or staying away from Old Town in the mornings and early afternoons.
  • Staying inside the walls of Old Town is charming, but consider an apartment or hotel up the hill or in the newer area of town for a quieter atmosphere and a view.
  • I booked our apartment on Booking.com, which doesn't charge the booking fees of Airbnb [but offers many of the same properties for rent!]. Another option is to wait until you arrive, where in the summer months you'll be greeted by homeowners advertising their suites at the city gates.
  • I still miss the lemon, lime and grapefruit beer in Croatia. Seek out the refreshing and affordable radlers from Ožujsko and Karlovačko.
  • Our best meal in Dubrovnik was in nearby Cavtat at Bugenvila.
  • English is widely spoken throughout the city.
  • A member of the EU since 2013, Croatia still has its own currency, the kuna, for now.
  • Rick Steves' Croatia and Slovenia Guidebook is a worthwhile sidekick for history tidbits and self-guided walks.

This post is written by Trip Styler's Assistant Wayfarer/Editor Heather.

Related
Roam+Board: Hotel Lone

[images by @heatherlovesit]

¡Hola Barcelona!

[trip style = urban + beach & sun]

Mention Barcelona to Europeans and the response will be Ahh... Barcelona! I love Barcelona! The beach, the food, the city... Mention Barcelona to North Americans and the response will be Watch out for pickpockets! I traveled to the largest city on the Mediterranean Sea with high hopes and street smarts, ready to conquer the city on my own before meeting up with friends. Follow along for my Do / Eat / Stay recommendations.

 DO // Walk along the waterfront and out to the beach in  La Barceloneta .

DO // Walk along the waterfront and out to the beach in La Barceloneta.

 DO // Neighborhoods so charming that I didn't mind getting lost in them: El Born, Barri Gòtic and El Raval. Explore the Ciutat Vella {old city} by foot and always remember to look up.

DO // Neighborhoods so charming that I didn't mind getting lost in them: El Born, Barri Gòtic and El Raval. Explore the Ciutat Vella {old city} by foot and always remember to look up.

 El Born

El Born

 DO // Visit Gaudí's  Park Güell  to experience art nouveau architect Antoni Gaudí's curvy mosaic masterpiece/public park.

DO // Visit Gaudí's Park Güell to experience art nouveau architect Antoni Gaudí's curvy mosaic masterpiece/public park.

 Casa Trias, Park Güell

Casa Trias, Park Güell

 DO // Don't miss the architectural centerpiece of the city, Gaudí's  La Sagrada Familia , and if you plan on going inside, buy tickets ahead. The detail will blow your mind! No wonder it's still a work in progress.

DO // Don't miss the architectural centerpiece of the city, Gaudí's La Sagrada Familia, and if you plan on going inside, buy tickets ahead. The detail will blow your mind! No wonder it's still a work in progress.

 Six-story human tower {castell}, Catalan festival

Six-story human tower {castell}, Catalan festival

 DO // All Gaudí all the time? Marvel at the mind of Spain's most famous architect inside  Casa Batlló   and  Casa Milà .

DO // All Gaudí all the time? Marvel at the mind of Spain's most famous architect inside Casa Batlló and Casa Milà.

 DO // Trek up to the highest point in the city for incredible views and  amusement park rides  at Mount Tibidabo. Best reached by bus or metro and 1901-built funicular. Bonus points for re-enacting scenes from  Vicky Cristina Barcelona .

DO // Trek up to the highest point in the city for incredible views and amusement park rides at Mount Tibidabo. Best reached by bus or metro and 1901-built funicular. Bonus points for re-enacting scenes from Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

 Sagrat Cor church, Tibidabo

Sagrat Cor church, Tibidabo

 EAT //  Bar Lobo  is a fun indoor/outdoor restaurant with memorable fried eggplant and tuna tataki near the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art {MACBA} in El Raval.

EAT // Bar Lobo is a fun indoor/outdoor restaurant with memorable fried eggplant and tuna tataki near the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art {MACBA} in El Raval.

 EAT // "Come for one and stay till two" as the expression goes at one of the city's cheap, cheerful and tiny cava bars —  El Xampanyet  in El Born or  Can Paixano  {La Xampanyeria} in La Barceloneta.

EAT // "Come for one and stay till two" as the expression goes at one of the city's cheap, cheerful and tiny cava bars — El Xampanyet in El Born or Can Paixano {La Xampanyeria} in La Barceloneta.

 EAT //  Luzia  is the perfect hideaway off Las Ramblas for delicious cava sangria and tomato salad.

EAT // Luzia is the perfect hideaway off Las Ramblas for delicious cava sangria and tomato salad.

 EAT //  Café Cometa  is a colorful rest stop for a coffee or a juice in Sant Antoni.

EAT // Café Cometa is a colorful rest stop for a coffee or a juice in Sant Antoni.

 STAY // I stayed at the budget-friendly and stylish  Praktik Garden  in the Eixample neighborhood. It's close to the metro, shopping street Passeig de Gracia and Gaudí's Casa Batlló and Casa Milà.

STAY // I stayed at the budget-friendly and stylish Praktik Garden in the Eixample neighborhood. It's close to the metro, shopping street Passeig de Gracia and Gaudí's Casa Batlló and Casa Milà.

Things to know

  • Many residents speak only Catalan and Spanish
  • Aerobús is the easiest way to travel between the airport and the city centre
  • The best times to visit are Spring and Fall
  • The city is very walkable with a good transit system
  • Be vigilant with your wallet/handbag in busy tourist areas
  • Many shops are closed on Sundays
  • Dinner is traditionally eaten after 9pm
  • If you have time, leave the city limits to visit Monserrat or Sitges or Figueres and Cadaqués
     

This post is written by Trip Styler's Assistant Wayfarer/Editor Heather.

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Hola España
Spotlight :: Amsterdam

[images by @heatherlovesit, 12hrs.net, airbnb.com, parcguell.cat, sagradafamilia.cat, lapedrera.com, anekdotique.com]

Joshua Tree

[trip style = active & adventure + weekend getaway]

It's hard to explain Joshua Tree to someone who's never been; it's a magical desert landscape that must be experienced because words can't describe this strange and surreal corner of the world.

"Somewhere in America, about two and half hours inland from the Los Angeles sprawl is another America, a stranger one. There's a long tradition of people coming out here to get away or to simply get weird. And once you're past Palm Springs and into the high desert, people start to vibrate at a different pitch than they do elsewhere." [No Reservations: US Desert]

Joshua Tree is a dusty and desolate community about an hour from Palm Springs, where new age spiritualists, artists, musicians, hippies, hikers and even Marines (thanks to its proximity to the world's largest Marine base) coexist. 

Neighboring Joshua Tree National Park houses the Mojave and Colorado Deserts and is known for its eponymous trees, ancient rock formations and pop culture prominence. You may remember the episode of Entourage in which the gang took a trip to the park for another type of "trip" on a search for clarity. And I have to mention U2's iconic album, The Joshua Tree, which was inspired by American desert landscapes, physical as well as metaphorical and spiritual, though not Joshua Tree itself. Bono chose the title on a trip to the Mojave to shoot album photos. The band came across a single Joshua tree about 200 miles from the park and the tree inspired the title and the album packaging.

Legend has it that Joshua trees were named by Mormon travelers in the mid-19th century who believed the trees looked like Joshua lifting his hands in prayer. These Dr. Seussical trees can live, incredibly, for hundreds of years. 

 Driving through Joshua Tree National Park

Driving through Joshua Tree National Park

Visiting Joshua Tree

After three visits to the 800,000-acre park, I've barely scratched the surface and have kept primarily to the paths well traveled. While it's an excellent day trip from Palm Springs, to really experience the park, you need to camp or stay nearby.

If you only have a day, enter from the Joshua Tree gate and explore Jumbo Rocks, Arch Rock, Cholla Cactus Garden and Keys View. The high desert is known for its extreme weather, so remember to pack accordingly {good shoes, a hat, an extra layer, lots of water}. A one-day vehicle pass costs $15.

 The Shadow Mountain Band at Pappy & Harriet's

The Shadow Mountain Band at Pappy & Harriet's

Pappy & Harriet's Pioneertown Palace

Drive five miles off Twentynine Palms Highway, down a winding, lonely road, and you'll feel like you've traveled back in time to the Wild West. Built in the late 1940s by Hollywood stars like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers, Pioneertown is an 1870s western town that served as both a film set and a small community with a motel, a bowling alley and a cantina. While the film crews have long departed, the cantina remains and houses an epic roadside bar that promises "live music, great barbecue and good times." 

I loved this desert watering hole so much that I visited twice on a trip to Palm Springs earlier this month. The perfect place to cap off a day at Joshua Tree, listen to live music, order a bourbon and eat a rack of ribs with fellow hikers, LA hipsters, bikers, baby boomers and desert dwellers. If you want to sit and eat, reservations are recommended on weekends {there was a two-hour table wait on the Saturday night we visited}. Pappy & Harriet's is a come-as-you-are bar that might be my new favorite place.

 Roadside rock formations

Roadside rock formations

 Cholla Cactus Garden

Cholla Cactus Garden

 A cholla cactus and Skull Rock

A cholla cactus and Skull Rock

 Jumbo Rocks and sunset at Keys View

Jumbo Rocks and sunset at Keys View

 Sunset at Keys View

Sunset at Keys View

This post is written by Trip Styler's Assistant Wayfarer/Editor Heather.

[photos by @heatherlovesit & @graceyvr]