The emerald heart of Croatia
Gorski Kotar has so much to offer that even weeks would not be enough to visit even the best places; and that is why we can rightly call it the emerald heart of Croatia.
With warmer days, all roads slowly start to lead towards the south. During winter, they turn mostly towards Slovenia and onwards – towards the ski resorts, until the sun starts to warm us up and we, without even consciously realizing, start going towards south, heading across Karlovac towards the sea. I usually drive towards Rijeka and I cannot even begin to count how many times have I just thought, looking at the beautiful forest and seductive mountains, how I should stop and spend a few days in that emerald heart of Croatia.
This story goes in exactly that direction. Suggestions where and how to exit the highway, spend a few hours in the woods, and what to visit if we decide to stay in Gorski Kotar. In just two days, I have visited the Risnjak National Park, film locations, Fužine, Ravna Gora, and Vrbovsko.
Risnjak National Park
My trip was very carefully planned, and that is a good thing because otherwise I would have stayed much longer on my first stop. Risnjak National Park certainly deserves at least three days to explore the three main routes. Leska educational trail, the source of the Kupa river, and the ascent to Risnjak. This time, I just stayed on the track.
Less than half an hour by car from the highway exit is the entrance to Risnjak behind the village of Crni Lug. The educational trail Leska, which is very popular among visitors, also begins there. It is pretty straight, not demanding, and not overly long, so it can be explored in about an hour. It is just enough to stretch and take a break from driving instead of drinking coffee at a roadside rest area. After walking through the deep green forest, we, of course, got hungry and stopped at a restaurant opened in a house with several rooms, where the administration of Risnjak National Park is located as well. A good venison stew with dumplings and pancakes with wild berries were just enough to keep us moving forward.
Movie location for westerns
The next stop was the Vrelo cave. It is unique in its position. Namely, the cave is flat, so there is no need to climb slippery stairs like in some other caves.
It is not huge, but it is big enough for you to get a glimpse of the karst underground, see the source of the creek, cool down to a soothing temperature of plus eight degrees and get familiar with the Indian totem placed at the end of the cave. Namely, a part of the film about the Indian chief Winnetou, based on the novel by Karl May, was filmed in it.
Having already moved on to the topic of the Wild West, it made sense to visit Roswell as well. The film set in which a good part of the film was shot remains in use today. It is used by families with children and various other western enthusiasts. The set has a real sheriff who knows how to play the piano, a real saloon, horses that could be ridden, and a lot of interesting places that you need to discover for yourself. On weekends, it is a very popular resort.
Next to Fužine is a large field named Lič. The rich history of this area can be explored in a small ethnographic museum within the primary school. Next to it is the church of Our Lady of Snow. It is known for the fact that many trucks, cars and other means of transport gather around it on a holy day. They come for her blessings, which is why many swear there is no need to buy fully comprehensive vehicle insurance afterward.
Fužine is an excellent gastronomic destination.
Fužine is located between Lake Bajer and the Lič field. In the centre of Fužine, one of maybe the best hotels in this part of Croatia is located.
Hotel and Restaurant Bitoraj is a 4-star hotel and is really very comfortable and well decorated. My room on the third floor was no different than a five-star hotel room in terms of size and decoration. The food is very tasty. I tried the boar lasagne and the house specialty: the wild blueberry strudel.
It was so good that the next morning I requested two more pieces to get packed so I could take them home. Breakfast was a-la-carte so I was not left hungry. Hotel Bitoraj is a great choice for anyone who loves staying in hotels as I do.
Bicycle tour of Fužine
I started the morning in Fužine with a bicycle ride. Behind the gas station, there is a wooden house where the company ALPI bike rent offers the service of bicycle rental. They offer “ordinary” and electric bicycles of good quality. I chose the electric one, of course, and the electric aspect of it came in handy during some fifteen miles we went through in an hour’s drive. Licensed guide Luka took me on a circular path around Lake Bayer.
The view of the blue-green combination of water and forest is seen from all sides. Even the high viaduct of the highway merges into the content like some giant monument. There is a swimming area in several places, although it is not allowed to swim in the lake according to the decision of the lake’s owner – HEP. There are also two nice beach bars right on the shore. We saw the other two lakes as well. One is right next to Bajer, and the other one is in the Lič field. An hour of cycling was a time well spent.
In the parking lot behind the gas station, several wooden huts are selling local products. I noticed local honey, but also “medun”. Who is not familiar with this “medun” product, as I was not either, it is best to ask Jelena who produces and sells it. After her explanation, I immediately bought both “medun” and honey with two hundred different species of mountain flowers.
Ravna Gora could be a real tourist attraction
Unfortunately, I had to leave Fužine and head for Zagreb – but I will return for sure soon. However, I did not continue straight on but decided to drive partly via the old road. My first stop was Ravna Gora.
The place is located centrally in Gorki Kotar and is quite large. On the outskirts of town, the castle Stara Sušica, which I have always wanted to visit, is located. The castle is essentially a country villa that looks great from the outside, but there is nothing special about it from the inside. It hosts groups of children and groups of mountaineers, and it is desperately crying out for some serious interior redesign.
There is nothing similar in the area and it could become a real tourist attraction. The Large Carnivores Visitor Centre is close to being completed, which will certainly enrich the tourist offer of this area.
Vrbovsko and the canyon of the river Kamačnik
Vrbovsko, which is crossed by the river Dobra, is situated twelve kilometres in the direction of Zagreb. Next to the city centre is one of the most beautiful canyons of Gorski Kotar. The river Kamačnik is not long. Alongside it, there is a hiking trail about 3.5 km long stretching from the mouth of the river Dobra to its source. The canyon was bathed in glittering drops of rain and it looked very attractive. The water is crystal clear. Kamačnik should be visited in different seasons because every season there has its own colour scheme. At the canyon entrance, there is a restaurant where you can have lunch. I tried a good trout and, of course, a wild blueberry strudel.
Kamačnik canyon is about ten minutes away from the highway, so it is another great idea for a quick stop on your way to the south where you can take a walk in the beautiful nature, eat some trout and continue on your way.
In two days, I saw and experienced so much that I returned to Zagreb with my soul and body fully content, promising myself that I would soon return to this emerald heart of Croatia. I also found a good reason for that, but let it remain a secret for now. I can only say, as a hint, that photo safaris do not exist only in Africa. The emerald heart of Croatia is a pleasant journey from Capitol Zagreb.
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