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:
https://secretdalmatia.wordpress.com/2012/02/06/snow-in-dalmatia-vransko-jezero-lake/

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.

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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.

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First part is easy

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

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Inside the canyon
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The rocks and cliffs
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Wonderful forms
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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.

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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!

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Olive grove and reed in the distance
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A small harbor

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

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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.

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Beautiful couple
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Shrieking
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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)

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The southern shores of the lake
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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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Winter is beautiful part of the year

 

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

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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…

Ričul
Ričul

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

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Dalmatinski kolač – a taste of yesterday

With all the invasion of small bakeries in Croatia, some old tastes are getting lost. Pushed away from the shelves, they will soon just be part of our memories.

One of those is a round dry, pastry called Dalmatinski kolač or, as we all simply call it, kolač (cake in English)

Kolač

Not sure when it was invented but it was definitely around for a while as I remember my grandparents dipping it in their white coffee in the morning. Also, it was part of bread section back in old grocery stores. About 10 pieces would be tied by rope going through the holes and it was usually seen hanging on the side of a bread shelf. Back in those days we did not have dozens of bread types and all sorts of cakes and pastry, kolač was one of the sweetest things you could get. It was not something to eat of the shelf: it was quite dry, sturdy and  prepared to be dipped in one’s morning coffee, milk. Some folks were even dipping it in red wine… It was baked to last as people did not have too many options for buying bread just everywhere like today and storing food was a problem.

It is produced by bread factory in Zadar and not sure if it is known anywhere else but in this region.

So, few weeks back, when my cousin bought it in a small store in Pašman, I was thrilled and gave it to my kids just to have a taste of it before it is gone.  I nearly forgot about as I was not seeing it in the stores but now, when I know it is still there, I will be getting it occasionally. Just to be my own, personal “Madeleine cookie” bringing back memories.