It is not only gastronomy that will leave visitors of Croatia breathless. Intact nature of the Croatian national parks and diversity of the flora and fauna always call for revisit. There are 8 national parks in Croatia today: Brijuni, Kornati, Krka, Mljet, Paklenica, Plitvice Lakes, Risnjak, and Northern Velebit whose pristine sceneries account for almost 8% of the area of Croatia. Let us look at the greatest treasures of Croatia one by one.
BRIJUNI NATIONAL PARK
The Brijuni Islands were created by separation from the Istrian coast. The Brijuni National Park and its 14 islands are often called heaven on earth. It includes the Safari Park, a place inhabited by an unusual union of autochthonous Istrian and exotic South American, African and Asian fauna. Here, you can also see an olive tree more than 1600 years old. The tree deserves our reverence. Furthermore, dinosaur footprints have been detected on four locations of Veliki Brijun and on the islands of Vanga, Galija and Vrsar. The Brijuni are a heaven on earth where both elderly and children enjoy. They are reached by boat from Fažana.
Is it Istria that you want to get to know? Do it in the proximity of Fažana, at Valbandon, in the Alla Beccaccia Tavern. Soups and bean stews with different side dishes and their dense structure, served with sour cabbage, crispy corn and soft and stringy pieces of meat are the main trump card of this place. They are oriented to the Italian cuisine and use anything growing in the surroundings; they stick to old recipes while observing novelties and trends. Gastronomes say that there, they have had the best wild boar ever in combination with grilled polenta.
Alla Becaccia. Photo: Duško Marušić/Pixsell
KORNATI NATIONAL PARK
After the Brijuni, we are going to the south, towards the Kornati. A maze of eighty-nine islands, islets and cliffs in the sea – those are the majestic Kornati, the most indented island group in the Mediterranean. A view of the Kornati islands is equally stunning from the air or from the sea or from the island belvederes. Drystone walls on the Kornati islands bear witness mutely and continually of the arduousness of human labour on scanty land.
Besides the beauty of the park, you will delight at a plate of the finest sea delicacies. The Opat Kornati Tavern offers various marinades, oysters, all the miracles from the sea and the surroundings. Black pasta with sea urchin roe and cherry tomatoes is one of the favourites in the offer.
Opat Kornati Tavern. Photo: Miranda Trklja
If you set off for the Kornati from Murter, be sure to call around to the Boba Restaurant on Murter. The traditional Kornati cuisine is synonymous with a “good bite” which you will really enjoy. The Boba is not prone to complicating recipes. Since, if the calamari is real, it is best when prepared in the simplest way, grilled. They follow the same rule with the tuna, and they also prepare white fish boiled or roasted under the bell.
Boba Restaurant. Photo: Duško Jaramaz/Pixsell
KRKA NATIONAL PARK
There is another national park in the Šibenik-Knin County, the Krka National Park, which is distinguished with its numerous lakes and waterfalls. The magnificent seven waterfalls are as follows: Bilušića buk, Brljan, Manojlovac, Rošnjak, Miljacka slap, Roški slap, and Skradinski buk. The park got its name after the Krka River. It is located only a few kilometres to the northeast from Šibenik. It covers an area along the Krka, which springs in the foothills of Dinara near Knin, runs through a 75 km long canyon, goes through Lake Prokljan and flows into the Bay of Šibenik.
And should you like to taste the true Dalmatian food, here is the Atrium Restaurant, located in the vicinity of the park entrance. Culinary artists pay attention to any detail, starting from quality and freshness of ingredients, their good preparation and decoration and serving to guests. Some dishes that cannot be tasted everywhere certainly include eel as well as smelts that are perfectly paired with chard prepared in the Dalmatian way.
Atrium Restaurant. Photo: Duško Jaramaz/Pixsell
If you like to sense the heart of Zagora, the Vinko Tavern is nearby. It is far known for its roast piglet meat from Drniš to Skradin to Knin. Pork offered is only from the spit, whereas veal and lamb is prepared under the bell as well as on the spit. A feast for the palate!
Konoba Vinko. Photo: Hrvoje Jelavić/Pixsell
MLJET NATIONAL PARK
And the southernmost of the larger islands boasts the magnificent Mljet National Park. Sea submerged bays, Malo and Veliko lakes, are the most prominent locations of this area and an important geomorphologic and oceanographic phenomenon. The whole area of the park is exceptionally rich in life and the importance of its protection is testified with numerous endemic and endangered species. A visit to the Mljet National Park is possible with the ferry line from Dubrovnik and from Pelješac, and numerous sightseeing boats. You will not be surprised by the gastronomy of the whole area either. Besides lobster, oysters of Ston, fish, and fabulous šporki makaruli, a dish that is always served at the Festivity of Saint Blaise, the cuisine of Dubrovnik is especially prodigal with the selection of original desserts among which rozata strikes out.
If you wish for good fish, it is splendid at the Proto Fish Restaurant, as it suits a restaurant a few meters off Stradun. The Proto is not only a fish restaurant, it also offers duck breast, beef entrecôte or rib-eye steak, beef tenderloin, lamb cutlets...
Fish Restaurant Proto. Photo: Grgo Jelavić/Pixsell
And you will also be able to taste superior delicacies above the roofs of the legendary City, with a view of numerous episodes of the Game of Thrones and thousands more memories and stories , because it is on the top of a restored building, now the the Stari grad Hotel, where the Above 5 Restaurant is located.
Above 5. Photo: Grgo Jelavić/Pixsell
PAKLENICA NATIONAL PARK
The park got its name after the black pine resin called “paklina” whose properties are used in the traditional medicine. The Paklenica National Park stretches on a part of the coastal slope of south Velebit, immediately above the Marasovići settlement. It is located in two counties – Zadar County and Lika-Senj County. If you walk along the main tourist paths, have in mind that you need good walking shoes. Avoid flip flops and sandals because they are not suitable. If possible, start climbing up early in the morning in order to avoid climbing down in greatest heat.
If you go towards Zadar after Paklenica, you can have refreshment in numerous restaurants including the Kornat. At the Kornat, as its name says, they serve mostly fish and a few meat specialties, and we certainly recommend their rich offer of shellfish as well as desserts.
Kornat Restaurant. Photo: Dino Stanin/Pixsell
In the vicinity of the very centre of the peninsula, in Varoš, the Pjat Restaurant has settled in Stomorica Street. The emphasis here is on marenda, or lunch, where you are served soup, main course, dessert and salad for a minimum amount. There is everything here, from fresh seafood (calamari, prawn, red mullet, tuna) to meat specialties in form of sarma, calf’s liver, pašticada.
Bistro Pjat. Photo: Dino Stanin/Pixsell
PLITVICE NATIONAL PARK
Plitvice Lakes are the oldest and the largest national park in Croatia, located in the area of the Lika-Senj and Karlovac Counties. Nestled in mountainous Croatia, among Mala Kapela mountain range to the west and northwest and Lička Plješvica to the southeast, this is an area that has always appealed to nature lovers, and as back as on 8 April 1949, it was declared the first national park in Croatia. It is a forested mountain area with 16 lakes of various sizes filled with crystal blue-greenish water. The lakes get water from numerous rivulets and brooks, and are mutually connected with cascades and waterfalls.
The Lička Kuća Restaurant is located in the vicinity of the park. The restaurant offers specialties from the Lika area, recipes according to which locals used to prepare dishes with ingredients that can possibly be found nowadays at villages in the surroundings. Some specialties are: prosciutto, sausages, lamb on a spit, lamb soup of Lika, potato halves, all types of meat with potatoes under the bell, trout, sour milk, Lika’s fritters, cheese or apple strudel as dessert...
Lička kuća. Photo: Danijel Berković/Pixsell
RISNJAK NATIONAL PARK
Two bare mountain massifs – Risnjak i Snježnik rise up from the forested vastness of Gorski Kotar. They are only three kilometres away from each other, their stone faces looking at the other one’s as they are twins.
The Risnjak National Park in Primorsko-Goranska County is full of deep karst sinkholes, rocky slopes and astonishing forests. Do not skip a visit of the Kupa River spring with the miraculous butterfly valley either, and your walk there may be an opportunity for you to see briefly its most popular inhabitant - the lynx. Risnjak is a forest kingdom and it is those thick forest communities that provided it with a ticket for the national park club. For visitors, Risnjak is an accessible area because every attraction is reached simply and without special preparations or equipment. Thus, one can reach the Kupa spring, the karst phenomenon, along footpaths from the village of Razloga, Hrvatsko or Kupari. A few mountain paths lead to the Schlosser mountain hut on Risnjak. Sport fishing is also possible, of course, with a license. Everything that is caught is returned into the river
If you are travelling from to Risnjak from Zagreb, you can get refreshment in Karlovac, at the Bistro Kastel Restaurant. It is located in the Dubovac mediaeval castle, one of the most preserved examples of the feudal architecture in Croatia. Fuller black wines pair well with the specialty of the house, pork ribs roasted for eight hours and served with potatoes, salad and gentle sauce. Each bite reveals a story of the chef’s skills.
Bistro Kastel. Photo: Kristina Štedul Fabac/Pixsell
NORTHERN VELEBIT NATIONAL PARK
Velebit is the backbone that connects the north and the south of Croatia. Hardly passable forests, karst valleys, pits and karst sinkholes, puddles and škrape (limestone pavement) large blocks of rock – all these make Northern Velebit. The astounding mountain has had the national park status since 1999. Its preserved eco system is the habitat of the bear, wolf, lynx, and golden eagle.
Almost any path leads to mountain peaks, and mountain paths and tracks are suitable for trekking and hiking whereas macadam and partly asphalt covered paths are ideal for cycling tours. The Northern Velebit National Park, the youngest one in Croatia, is but one in a series of Velebit pearls.
Konoba Tvrđava Nehaj. Photo: Goran Kovačić/Pixsell
If you go from Rijeka to the Northern Velebit, be sure to stop by in Senj and the Tvrđava Nehaj Tavern there. Here, you have the basic offer of classical dishes you can have across Croatia, with somewhat enriched offer of fish from the Adriatic Sea nearby. If you want culture, archaeology, return to the past century and a good meal for a modest amount of money, you should visit Senj and its pride – Nehaj.
Konoba Tvrđava Nehaj. Photo: Goran Kovačić/Pixsell