Shades of Blue: Krka National Park, Skradin & Primošten, Croatia
During a journey along Croatia’s twinkling Adriatic Coast one winter afternoon, I concurred with astronauts who’ve professed Croatia to be the bluest place on earth. Along with our friend, Damir, we’d left our home away from home within Diocletian’s Palace in seaside Split, and headed northwest on a day trip. We had plans to stop at Krka National Park, the risotto and yachting town of Skradin, and finally the island village, Primošten. And, by day’s end, I’d add a postscript to the astronauts’ claim. Croatia’s coastline and rivers aren’t simply brilliantly blue, rather they’re a magnificent blend of teal, turquoise, and aquamarine hues.
As the best excursions often do, our trip along the coast had developed spontaneously. Thinking that we’d been bored and looking for things to do in Split, Damir contacted us and said we must visit Krka before we left Croatia. Since the weather hadn’t cooperated for Damir to prepare his boat for the summer season, we accepted his offer, knowing he was also eager to get out of town.
During the warmer months, Damir is a spearfisher who leads daring excursions out to the Croatian islands near Split. We haven’t yet been on Damir’s boat, but we’ve watched the footage of him plunging deep under the sea, speargun in hand, catching octopus, squid and fish, which he and his guests then grill for a summer feast.
Waterfalls, Fantastic Flora, Fauna & Hydropower at Krka National Park
Our first stop was Krka National Park, one of Croatia’s eight national parks. It’s endowed not only with fantastic waterfalls and scenic pathways, but also with the Roman ruins at Burnum, and Visovac Island, which is crowned by a Franciscan Monastery. We’d only get to see the latter two sites in images. However, we did get a chance to explore the Skradinski Buk waterfall and the neighboring forested area for several hours. Along the way, we spied lizards, ducks, cranes, and butterflies. We learned that Krka was the site of the first hydroelectric power station using alternate current in Croatia. Krka opened in 1895, just two days after Niagara Falls’ hydroelectic plant began operations. There is also speculation that along with Diocletian’s Palace and the Klis Fortress, Krka served as a filming location for season 4 of the Game of Thrones.
As we strolled, we marveled at spiders who’d chosen to spin their webs over the gusty spots around the raging waters. Since Damir usually visits the national park during the summer months, he kept expressing astonishment at the volume of water rushing through the park. This dramatic winter melt-off, coupled with the fact that we virtually had the 27,000 acre (109 km2) park all to ourselves, further convinced us that off-season travel is the way to go.
Strolling Skradin & Soaking up the Sunshine in Primošten
Bidding farewell to Krka National Park while simultaneously promising to return, we stopped in to the town of Skradin. To locals it’s perhaps best known for its Skradinski Rižot, or 12-hour Risotto, which was prominently featured on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations travel show. Since the veal and ham culinary masterpiece really takes 12 hours for the town’s men to whip up and we hadn’t made advance reservations, we didn’t get to sample it. I’m also a ‘selectarian’ meat eater, and even though Damir and his friend told me it was worth abandoning my selectarian ways for this dish, I thought I’d defer until a future visit. Perhaps they can make a vegetarian or poultry-packed version then? :)
Skradin’s almost eeringly-quiet cobbled lanes wound past perfectly-manicured storefronts as well as some awaiting polishing. Since Skradin and the nearby city of Šibenik saw fighting during the Homeland War in the 1990s, we also spotted some structures pockmarked by artillery rounds. Damir mentioned that Skradin has recently gained fame on the celebrity front by attracting Microsoft founder Bill Gates during his summer vacations. A stroll along the marina where fishermen patiently untangled their nets, and an ascent to the town’s fortress capped off our visit to the sleepy but picturesque town.
On the way back to Split via a coastal highway, we paused in Primošten, the kind of town that would feel at ease modeling for a travel guide cover. Once a true island town connected only to the mainland via a drawbridge, Primošten’s tiny skyline features a bell-tower, and Old Town buildings that are crammed into a gently-sloping hill. With Damir’s mother’s freshly-baked golden donuts in his backpack and one of his favorite cafés just moments away on foot, we sauntered to the shore and soaked up the late afternoon sunlight before winding past the city’s famed vineyards and returning to Split. By then, I was thoroughly relaxed, meditating about what was prettier – driving along the glorious coastline or seeing it from space. I think it could easily be a toss-up.
Have you visited Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast, or any of the country’s national parks? If so, what are your favorite spots? If you haven’t been to Croatia, what coastal areas or national parks around the world are your favorites?
Our friend / guide, Damir, normally visits Krka’s falls during the summer months, so he was astounded by the massive volume of water rushing through the park during our February visit. Skradinski Buk, pictured here, is the longest and most popular waterfall at Krka National Park.
Refreshing mist from the Skradinski Buk waterfalls kissed our cheeks and camera lenses as we crossed this bridge.
Water rushes past 19th Century stone mills. During peak travel seasons, demonstrations are held in these buildings to show visitors what life was like in rural Dalmatia in past centuries. Re-enactors show everything from wheat being milled to clothes being washed.
Given its lake sections, river, rocky terrain and protected status as a national park, Krka plays host to an impressive range of flora and fauna. At least 860 plant species have been identified, and one can also spy amphibians, reptiles, fish and birds.
Krka’s wooden paths traverse its waterfall, streams, and wooded areas making it easy to get close to nature while having reflective moments.
A green lizard – perhaps an Italian Wall Lizard – acts surprisingly friendly as we stroll the wooden path over Krka’s waterfalls.
Damir demonstrated such courage in taking this shot by balancing on a wooden beam, that the post detailing the afternoon would otherwise be incomplete without it. Thank goodness I didn’t need to use my first aid instructor skills so that he could get his desired shot. :)
A multi-lingual sign hints at the park’s international appeal and the boat excursions that are popular during Croatia’s peak tourist season.
A lone traveler and her canine companion soak up the sunshine and capture a moment on film on the bridge near the Skradinski Buk waterfalls. Traveling during the off-season, we practically had the national park to ourselves, only spotting a few other visitors.
Millstones previously used to grind flour line a path near the park’s old watermills.
Leaving Krka National Park, we journeyed back to Split, via roads cutting through pastoral scenes like this. We would have two planned stops – one in the neighboring town of Skradin, and another in Primošten.
Olive trees dot the emerald-green landscape.
Terracotta rooftops and the white masts of sailboats rise from the riverside town of Skradin. With its famous 12-hour risotto (which was featured on Anthony Bourdain’s, No Reservations), to its beautiful harbor, Skradin is a paradise for those interested in gastronomy or sailing. It is also a gateway to Krka National Park.
Two kayakers on the Krka River, just minutes from Skradin’s harbor.
A regal swan glides along the Krka River. On the right, a patch of humble dandelions.
Perhaps inspired by the antique plows they spotted at Krka, Shawn and Damir playfully attempt to spirit away this wooden cart on display at a rest stop with a stunning view of Skradin.
The Krka Bridge spans the Krka River and carries the A1 Motorway.
During Roman times, Skradin was known as Scardona. It’s been known as Skradin since the 10th Century and was previously ruled by the Ottoman Turks and the Republic of Venice. Later it was part of the French and Austro-Hungarian Empires.
Two fishermen untangle their nets in Skradin.
The Church of Mala Gospa (Church of Our Lady) is located on Skradin’s main square. It dates back to the 18th Century. With its green grass and embedded river rocks, I loved the stonework of the square just in front of the church.
Peka bread fresh out of a wood-burning fire tempts passersby.
Getting lost in the details of Skradin’s Old Town: A winemaker’s wooden sign entices German visitors, and a freshly-painted prayer shrine.
An easel tempts visitors with the region’s popular dishes. Our friend Damir explained that authentic 12-hour Skradin Risotto must be ordered a few days in advance of your visit.
Pock marks resulting from the Homeland War of the 1990s are visible just to the right of the green window.
Peeking into an open door of a classic old apartment building, we spotted this beautiful old stencil work in the hallway by the front door.
A tree showcases its early-spring silhouette on a wall painted in a cheery lemon-chiffon hue. On the right, a diamond-in-the-rough façade of a building in Skradin’s Old Town center.
Shawn and Damir pause in front of Skradin’s Ban Pavao Šubić of Bribir Fortress. According to the town’s tourist board website, it dates back to the 13th or 14th Centuries.
View of the Skradin Old Town from the fortress.
Dalmatia’s characteristic rocky landscape and the red rooftops of Skradin.
A brief stop on the Dalmatian Coast; this flowering tree and pristine water are just moments from the island town of Primošten. Scenes like this convinced me that astronauts’ claims that Croatia’s coastline is the bluest place on earth are correct.
The inviting town of Primošten. Originally, a drawbridge connected the town to the mainland. When the Ottoman Turks retreated from the area, a causeway was built to replace the drawbridge. The town’s name is related to the Croatian verb primostiti, which means ‘to span.’
Primošten’s skyline graces a café’s coffee cup.
Enjoying coffee with our friend, Damir, as we watch the silhouettes of other beach-goers. As a knowledgeable Split native, Damir knows all the coastal area cafés and panoramic look-out points with the best views and ambience. Primošten’s distinctive island-town silhouette is in the background.
Shawn strolls the beach near Primošten during the golden hour.
Damir’s mother packed these donuts for us. Alas, they had gluten, but Shawn said they were decidedly delicious.
A fluffy cat sits in the St. George Church Cemetery. The cemetery and 15th-century church have stunning views of neighboring islands.
Our Video of This Experience:
Where in the World?
- If you’ll be in the Split area and also want to do a day-trip similar to this one (or go island hopping and spearfishing with Damir) you can reach him through Gourmet Croatia. Shawn and I have also traveled to neighboring Dalmatian towns via bus, and found the mass transit network to be very good, but we wouldn’t have been able to make it to all three of these spots in one day, had we not had our friend to drive us there. (Thanks again, Damir!)
- Krka National Park is open year-round, but exhibitions and boat schedules vary, based upon the season. Between April and October, the park offers a free bus service which takes visitors from the entrance to the Skradinski Buk Waterfalls. From April to November, the park also transports visitors via boats. See the Krka National Park website for more details.
- Visit the Skradin Tourist Board or Primošten Tourist Board websites for more information.
- Shawn and I have spent two winters in Split, finding accommodation in apartments that would be packed during the summer months, but are practically empty during winter. During our first 2.5 months there, we stayed at the lovely Kaleta Apartments (affiliate link), which are located within Diocletian’s Palace. Our studio apartment (called the ‘Diocletian’s Suite’) featured much character, including Roman brickwork embedded into our wall, and overhead views of Split’s Old Town streets. Owners Novica and Negri were thoughtful citizen ambassadors too. Two years later, we returned to Split, staying in the charming Varoš neighborhood, which is known for its quirky stone homes sporting hunter-green shutters and flower boxes. For those 2 months, we stayed in quaint studio apartments at the Guesthouse F (affiliate link). We especially enjoyed our tiny terrace and the kindness of our hosts, Anja and Miro. One of Guesthouse F’s apartments was originally a horseshoe maker’s workshop, which previously belonged to Anja’s grandfather. Shawn and I dubbed it the ‘horseshoe cottage’.
- Do you need more planning inspiration for your trip to Croatia? This link contains an index of all my posts from Croatia.
Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved. My husband, Shawn, created the video.