Fortress of Sonkovic

Winter is always the best time to explore. The weather, when sunny, is ideal for hikes and walks.

And there is always something cool and new to see.
Recently I found out about a fortress in Sonković village near Skradin. It is only a short drive away and just about 10 minutes off the highway. The fortress looked interesting in Google Earth but checking it for real is what it is all about.

Sonkovic Fortress from air

The fortress is located on a sharp rock overlooking a stream that never goes dry. This stream was one of the reasons why this area was settled long ago in the antiquity. The area was inhabited long ago but the very village of Sonkovic originates probably from the Middle ages when the fortress was also built. Sonkovic was the last name of the noble Croatian family Sonković who owned these lands and, eventually, gave the name to the village.

Olive trees

Sonković is now typical village of Northern Dalmatia located on the foothills overlooking the fertile land. I am still upset when I see people building houses right in the fertile fields as that was never our custom. There are numerous olive groves along the roads and, while most trees are old, there are quite a few younger groves. The life continues… Despite the occupation in the Homeland war. Sonković was liberated again only in 1995.

Overlooking the fields

Not too many people returned now so the census of 2004 notes less than 300 inhabitants (both Croats and Serbs). The most common last names of this part of Skradin hinterland are: Matić,  Palinić (Čulin), Kartelo, Roško, Lovrić, Sladić, Guberina, Babić, Jurić, Keran, Vranić  and Vuković.

We entered Guberine hamlet looking for the fortress.


Only barking of few dogs were heard…

And soon we reached the fortress.

Sonković Fortress

It is a typical medieval fortress of the region: round tower with construction of the larger building surrounding. Till today, just half of the tower still stands and some remains of the main buildings are visible.

Part of the wall

The tower was probably in service well into the times of Turkish occupation (started in 1528) and abandoned after the region was liberated in the late 1600s.

The tower

The location was perfect for defense and the fortress is even now a bit hard to reach let alone in the time of guards, crossbows and swords. The rocks are sharp and some parts are inaccessible but, in general, it can be reached and seen easily. The stones from the main building were probably “recycled” by the locals when the fortress was abandoned but what is left of the tower gives an insight in the structure.

Interior of the tower

The stream below is especially active in the winter months while, in the summer, the spring always gives fresh water but not enough to keep the stream alive all the way to Guduča river nearby.

Sonković stream

The canyon where the stream flows is quite pretty and we wanted to explore some more but then we saw the mine field danger signs… And we did not go any further. We also could not see any locals to give us more details as some of these signs are put at generous distances from real threat. We did not want to risk anything so we returned to the car.

It is a pity that such a gorgeous location is out of reach but I hope the region will be truly liberated soon.

In the sunset…

The winter night was falling quickly and the air got cooler. We did a bit of off roading through vineyards and fields and left the tower and the village to dream of some better and more lively times…


Offroading in Croatia – Vransko jezero

As the season ended, I got back to the list of places I still had to visit. Despite being small, Dalmatia hides many riches and amazing places, unexpected views, historic and natural heritage. One of the places I had in mind for a while was the canyon on the northern shore of Vransko jezero.

Vransko jezero is is the largest natural lake in Croatia ( 30.7 sq km / 11.9 sq mi ) and it is one of the most unique places in all of the country both for its nature and history. It is one of the last marshes in the region and home to numerous bird species. In the winter, over 100 000 birds come here from all over Europe. Fortunately, this winter is mild. So far. Nothing like this although there is plenty of time for snow:

So, it is good time to enjoy the great outdoors!
We jumped in our Hilux and went exploring. I knew that my regular SUV is not the best choice for the narrow dirt roads so never attempted to drive this road before. Neither should you.

On the road

The offroad part starts just half a mile after the turn to Kamenjak view point. It is clearly marked as Mednjača canyon and the folks from the park did a great job fixing it and clearing it. It is also the main communication for people from nearby Banjevci to their fields and olive orchards by the lake. They either walked this or used their tractors. Or they drove old cars that they did not care much about.

First part is easy

The road is filled with dramatic turns and great views once you get deep inside the canyon!

Inside the canyon
The rocks and cliffs
Wonderful forms
Almost out of canyon

This particular canyon is also known for owls nesting in these high cliffs. But, as we will soon see, there are other birds nearby.

The smaller hill is a hilltop fortress and Venetian observation point from 1400s. Right at the end of the canyon.

The drive is about 10 – 15 minutes long and the we got almost to the shores of the lake but, since it is a marsh, there is reed and easy to get in the water. By the lake, few of the locals built small huts where they keep the tools for their fields and olive groves. The views of the fields and groves, with reeds and lake in the distance are gorgeous!

Olive grove and reed in the distance
A small harbor

Reed is also important as that is where majority of the birds hide and nest. And there is always someone watching…

Watcher on the tree

The area was very quiet apart from the reeds moving and making that characteristic, light and pleasant sound. And then there were the shrieks of a common buzzard. This is our most common bird of pray and it can be seen perched on a tree or post. It feeds mainly on small mammals but it adapts well to a varied diet of birds, rabbit or other small mammals to medium mammals, snakes and lizards. It can also be seen walking over recently ploughed fields looking for worms and insects.
But this time we had a pleasure to see a couple flying not so high above us.

Beautiful couple
Showing off

There are two ways to get to the main road and we decided to visit small harbor of Prosika instead of driving back to Vrana village. Prosika is where, back in 1770., a canal was dug out by the owners of Vrana feud, the Borelli family  in order to start commercially exploiting the region.

The lake was covering a 10 times larger area before that event and afterwards, most of the former marsh became a fertile soil. This also helped eradicate malaria which was quite common in this area (and all over the coast)

The southern shores of the lake
Prosika harbor restored

We thought that we were alone but a large gray heron was hunting in the very canal. I managed to got only a nice photo of it sitting on a pine tree.

Gray heron

The entire area of Prosika is a lovely place to stop at any time of the year. It has been nicely restored and one can get information on the history of the place and the entire endavour from the signs along the trail.

A recently built bridge connecting biking and walking trails
Very good info board (in Croatian and English). One of several.
Venetian watch tower from the 1500s
Winter sunsets come early…

The last section of the dirt road is a bit narrow (just before reaching Prosika)

The narrow section of the dirt road

In few hours we enjoyed  a great off road experience, gorgeous birds, lots of history, beautiful nature, fresh air… A very special part of the world.

Winter is beautiful part of the year


Winter is time for exploring and enjoying this amazing December weather we keep having year after year.

Travel in Croatia

Adriatic dreaming

The 2012 is slowly passing by… Few more hours and it will be gone. But it definitely does not look like late December in Dalmatia! With extraordinary warm (well…15 Celsius…) and sunny weather, it is perfect to spend time outdoors. So, took my son for a boat ride to nearby Ricul Island.

Lighthouse on Ricul
Lighthouse on Ricul

Ricul is easily reached from our home town and it is quite close to the mainland. In the past, evidence exists, the island was a peninsula  connected to mainland by a narrow strip of land but, with sea level rising, it became an island. The name is still a mystery and it is assumed it is Liburnian in origin but the meaning is unknown. The island was once connected to the village of Tukljača that was destroyed and sunk after the water level rose back in the Middle Ages. Now, part of the former village is a graveyard for the village of Turanj. The island – when looked at from the main road, clearly had terraces so it was used for some sort of agriculture or as a pasture…

Definitely not December weather!
Definitely not December weather!

The island offers great views and is one of my favorite relaxing spots – not too far from home but still seems like it is in the middle of nowhere…

View of Pašman Island in the distance
View of Pašman Island in the distance

Once we got to the top of the island, we had a great view of heart-shaped Galesnjak island that recently started making all the headlines being the only natural heart shaped island on the planet.

Heart-shaped island of Galesnjak
Heart-shaped island of Galesnjak

The owners – some distant relatives of mine – decided it would be nice to plant olive trees so there are big “scars” going from one shore to another… It will recover but, with all the publicity the island got, there were much smarter investments to be made. Not in Croatia.

On the top, we disturbed a nice flock of wild pigeons. Once hunted, no one disturbs them any longer so there were over 60 birds flying above us in circles at one point.

Part of the flock of wild pigeons
Part of the flock of wild pigeons

The pigeons are hiding in a big hole/cave on the island. It is believed that the cave served for ritual purposes in the ancient times. Now, it is just an impressive hole! As a teenager, I went to the bottom and we actually found a small opening to another cave but the opening was too small for us to go through so we did not try it. The hole is about 8 meters deep.


The pigeon hole
The pigeon hole

The views from the top are beautiful: Muntan and Duzac Islands to your right, Komornink and Babac right in front, Biograd, Sv Filip Jakov, Turanj… Home.

Pasman chanel
Pasman channel

Yes, there are other beautiful parts of the Adriatic, but this is a very special one: sailing route to Venice for millenia, calm hideout from most of the storms and strong winds, archeological and historical paradise with remains from all epochs of human activity in Croatia.

As the sun set behind Pašman island, the weather turned cooler and it was time to go…


Ricul can also be visited on our Heart Shaped Island picnic.

Travel in Croatia
Tours in Croatia