By Anita Palada, Croatian Travel Journal – https://croatiantraveljournal.com
Croatian Travel journalist Anita Palada takes us to the enchanted landscape of Lika and the thousand waterfalls of Plitvice lakes. It’s a landscape – and history – defined by its running waters. She discovers the folklore and fairy-tales, that are tied to the region and shares the legends of Lika and its abundant waters.
Water and more water!
Wherever you go, there are lakes, rivers, waterfalls, and rapids. In some places, the water is completely transparent and calm, and then, only a few tens of meters further, it is completely crazy. It is almost impossible to understand nature’s realities, and the limits of the possible and the existing. It is an amazing experience to visit Lika, and to watch how the Slunjcica River flows into the River Korana at Rastoke, as well as the similar natural phenomena occurring at the Plitvice Lakes. Little by little, and then more and more fiercely, the waters strive towards the cliff and then plunge into the abyss of travertine rocks, causing a deafening roar.
Welcome to Plitvice Lakes
“Take care of your land, and the people will come to visit from all over the world,” said the Black Queen before she disappeared forever.
According to legend, the Black Queen fulfilled her promise. She helped and indebted Lika’s people when they needed her most. In return, they faithfully continued to protect their piece of earthly paradise, rich forests, fertile valleys and magical lakes.
“Plitvice Lakes are a rare natural phenomenon, and the most beautiful in Croatia and beyond. They are located in Lika, the mountainous part of Croatia. People from all over the world come to see this natural rarity, and to hear and experience the power of the water,” says Ines Milic, an expert on Croatia’s natural and cultural heritage.
The scenery shows how nature played. It magically connected a large water system into one, creating vast lakes, playful cascades and mighty waterfalls of gorgeous shapes. Plitvice Lakes consists of 12 upper lakes – the so-called Gornja Jezera – and 4 lower lakes – the Donja Jezera – a total of 16, interconnected by cascading rapids and waterfalls.
The lakes were formed by the growth of travertine barriers that are still active and constantly changing the appearance of the lakes and waterfalls, whose ages are estimated to be between 6.000 and 7.000 years old, corresponding to the time after the last Ice Age.
Folklore and Fairy-tales
The people of the area did not lack in imagination. After working hard in the fields, their routine was to sit around an open fire and invent and tell stories about supernatural beings, including the Black Queen, who created Plitvice Lakes with her supernatural powers.
The story goes, that there was a long, painful drought. Even the Crna Rijeka river dried up, and there was no water to feed the whole area as it used to. People and animals cried out for a drop of water, and the plants turned their green leaves towards the ground. From the depths of their souls, the people of Lika prayed for rain daily, but without success. Then, one day, the Black Queen heard their cries. She took pity on them and sent rain followed by strong thunder and stormy winds. Water gushed from every earthen pore until the Black River swelled so much that it overflowed from its bed. The first lake “begged” by the people of Lika was created, and they called it Proscansko Jezero.
“The two largest and deepest lake systems (the Proscansko Jezero and Kozjak) are on the Gornja Jezera – the upper lakes – and measure 47 miles. Ships sail through Kozjak Lake, and, after crossing it, the guests continue their walk towards Gradinsko Jezero. There they experience the opening up of completely new scenes of the cascading waterfalls of Burgeti, Mali, and Veliki Prstavac,” explains Milic.
She continues: “There, at the very end of the Gornje Jezero is the Veliki Slap Falls, which is supplied with water from the Plitvice stream. It is the largest waterfall in Croatia, at 78 meters high. Its water power turns into an endless series of glittering drops so powerful that, despite the seemingly fluttering fall, it creates a thundering roar.”
Plitvice Lakes water is richest in spring and autumn. A few days after the rain, the swollen underground waves expel large amounts of water, and, on the surface, they clog in large waterfalls. However, each season has its own peculiarities. Autumn brings a lot of colour and variety. The surrounding vegetation flourishes in green, yellow, red, and brown colours that break and overlap in each water pour.
During the winter, the water calms down, rests, and takes a break from playing. Frozen waterfalls, covered with snow, turn them into ice sculptures, and make the whole area an ice-white fairy tale. Spring on Plitvice brings new life again full of green-blue luxuries. Reflected on the surface of the crystal clear waters are green trees, surrounding plants, a blue sky and white clouds.
Visitors compare their stay in the beautiful villas on Plitvice Lakes, and tell stories of their experience of the harmony and completeness of life.
Rastoke: Small Plitvice
After Plitvice, the road takes us a little further north to Rastoke, which is about thirty kilometres away. Due to its resemblance to Plitvice Lakes, it is also called Male Plitvice; Small Plitvice. This small place will delight everyone, even the unintentional traveller who passes through the main road, D1 Karlovac- Plitvice Lakes. Two rivers meet in the centre of Rastoke. Here, the Slunjcica river flows over travertine rocks into the river Korana, creating restless rapids, waterfalls, and calm lakes.
“Vilina Kosa, Buk, and Hrvoje are the largest and most impressive waterfalls over which this small, romantic place spreads. Due to the abundance of water, houses with mills were built here some three hundred years ago. Almost every house had a mill, and millers lived nicely with their families. Men spent time working in the mill, and the women looked after the children and worked in and around the house. They got up early at dawn, toured the cattle, milked the cows, made cheese, lit a fire, kneaded homemade bread (proja), and baked the bread under the oven in an open fireplace. Women cooked meals in a huge pot to feed their large families after a hard day’s work in the field. They cooked warm dishes, mostly potatoes, venison, or greens with dried meat,” Milic evokes the former homely atmosphere.Milic also referred to people who travelled long distances bringing sacks of grain on horseback to grind in the nearest mill. “They stood in front of the mill and waited in line for hours, and sometimes for days. While waiting, they talked about the fields, the grain, the harvest, the weddings, and the births, as they rejoiced and wept together.”
Traditionally built wooden houses are still there on travertine rocks, but, they have a different purpose. In beautifully decorated houses, hospitable housewives welcome today’s guests, evoking the past and showing them the present of Rastoke.
This small place is surrounded by the roar of the water. The springtime brings the smell of green meadows, blooming flowers, and apples, pears, and plums. There are no more old millers in those houses, but what remains is a deep trace of the past, which is recalled in stories and legends.
Hrvoje’s waterfall is the biggest of all. It was named after Hrvoje, a beautiful and handsome man who threw himself from that waterfall into the river because of unhappy love. The second beautiful cascading waterfall is Vilina Kosa. It is said to be named after the fairies, who “borrowed” the miller’s horses during the night and playfully rode them through the nearby mountains. In the morning, the millers watched their weary but beautiful horses in amazement: The horse’s emaciated bodies shone in the early sun and their thick manes were neatly woven into long braids. And so, the waterfall was named Vilina Kosa, Fairy Hair, because its silver-shaded waters are reminiscent of the gorgeous colour of fairy hair.
Today, it’s no longer the fairies that walk around Lika, but our numerous guests. They climb the nearby mountains of Velebit, Mala, Velika Kapela and Pljesivica. Our visitors enjoy the green forests, the vast meadows on the Krbavsko Polje, and Kayaking on the rivers Gacka, Korana, and Slunjcica. When swimming in the wells, our guest’s skin is gently caressed by the crystal clear water.
Would you like to feel the magic power of the water? If you do, then you are welcome at Lika!
About Anita Palada
Anita Palada is a journalist from Croatia, specialized in travel and tourism. She writes the most about her country Croatia, especially about different picturesque places along the Adriatic coast, like Terra Madre. But not only from Croatia! She also travels, explores, and talks with people worldwide to convey exciting stories about interesting destinations, heritage hotels, good restaurants, traditional food, and tasty wines, like this article about Croatian Wine. Read more on https://croatiantraveljournal.com
- Lika on Croatia’s official Tourism website
- Plitvice Lakes website
- Plitvice on Croatia’s official Tourism website
- Rastoke Waterfalls website