If I learned one thing in Croatia, it’s don’t let the ‘off-season’ deter you from exploring this beautiful country.
The off-season is colder, yes, but also significantly cheaper and quieter. At the end of October through to mid-November, the hostels I stayed in Croatia were half the price as during the summer, I didn’t have to book accommodation or transportation in advance, food was half the normal price, and historical cities and sites are open to enjoy with only a few other tourists around. The weather all the way down the Croatian coastline was a breezy 17 degrees during the day with it getting to about 5 degrees at night. Further inland is much colder (around 5 degrees during the day), but nothing that isn’t manageable.
After Pula on October 31st, I headed down the coastline to a fully fortified city called Zadar. Completely surrounded by walls or sea, there are no cars and cobblestone alleyways to go wander around in, catching a coffee or a glass of wine on the many patios available.
The hostel I stayed at for 4 nights, Mr. Charles, was about a 10 minute walk outside the city walls and was by far the most comfortable hostel bed and room I had had since beginning my trip. I was often the only person, making it a very affordable $20CAD a night for my own room (no one was in my 8 person dorm), living room, and bathroom. The staff helped set up my trip to Plitvice and made sure that I was comfortable even though I was alone. I’ve met a lot of people along the way, especially older couples, who thought hostels were junky bunkbeds with a bunch of 20-something’s partying together. Much to their surprise, I explain that there are often private rooms with ensuite bathrooms available for half the cost of a hotel or a full apartment AirBnB. One of the most popular sites for booking hostels, and one that I’ve had a lot of luck with, is Hostelworld. Highly recommend checking it out for your next trip!
In Zadar, all of the main attractions are all within walking distance. 16th century wells, Roman ruins, churches, a sun salutation art installation, gardens, and plenty of great places to stop and take a break along the waterfront.
By far the coolest thing to enjoy in Zadar is the Sea Organ (Morske Orgulje).
The Sea Organ is placed inside steps right beside the water, so as the waves come in and out, the air pushed by the water plays the organ. It’s basically the sound the sea would play if you gave it an instrument it could use. Completely memorizing, I spent quite a bit of time sitting at the water listening.
One of my main reasons for visiting Zadar was to use it as a jumping point to visit the Plitvice Lakes. You can get there from Zagreb, or stay in a town near the lakes, but I thought doing a tour would be the best way to see the most possible. There are dozens of lakes and trails that really need about 3-4 days to explore everything, but I opted for about 15km of it in a group instead. The lakes are part of a large nature reserve that currently the government is doing a good job of screwing up keeping the UNESCO World Heritage site status. There are a lot of outside interests looking to build massive hotels, which would be such a shame. During the Balkan Wars, even the soldiers respected the beauty of the place and didn’t fight or lay landmines in the pristine area.
All of the pathways are wooden bridges that have been built so you don’t step on the plants and are able to get over the waterfalls. The water is crystal clear and a stunning blue because of the limestone that forms all of the rocks. Limestone also means that the formations are quite fragile. I learned that one person taking a selfie stepped over the edge of a railing, the limestone cliff edge broke, and she fell to her death. Don’t be that person that steps over the railing.
During the summer season, you are walking shoulder to shoulder on these pathways, squished with other tour groups taking photos. During the off-season, we saw 2 other large groups and that’s it.
I think the pictures will explain just how incredible and peaceful this place is, and even though it’s not a lush, overgrown area in the winter months, it is still absolutely breathtaking.