Dive into Croatia and Slovenia’s diverse nature

Between them, Croatia and Slovenia have some of the most varied landscapes anywhere in Europe. Nature takes many forms in these countries, from emerald forests to its crystalline lakes and sparkling sea…

Team Wanderlust
02 June 2023
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Discover Croatia And Slovenia

Main image: Horse-riding around Lake Bohinj (Ciril Jazbec)

Croatia and Slovenia together are not just Europe in miniature, but the continent’s greatest natural hits writ large. From voluminous mountains alive with eclectic wildlife, down through thick, virginal forests and rivers teeming with life, you reach a coast with yet more remarkable scenery and myriad islands. These are two raw natural beauties where is it is easy to connect with nature in the glorious great outdoors.

1. Forests

Kočevje Forest (Ciril Jazbec, Slovenian Tourist Board)

Prašnik forest in Croatia’s Slavonia region (Nina Đurđević)

Clean, green Slovenia’s forests cover 60% of the country in a lush emerald blanket, making it Europe’s third-most forested nation. We’re talking a real, raw wilderness with over 20,000 animal and plant species, including three large carnivores: the lynx, wolf and the bear, with over 500 of the latter. Key forests to escape to include around Bohinj in the Julian Alps, the treetop walk at Rogla, and the fascinating UNESCO natural World Heritage-listed primeval forest reserve at Krokar primeval forest, itself part of Kočevje forest, Slovenia’s largest tract of forest. Croatia’s biodiverse forests are expansive, too, in a country whose protected natural attractions cover an area of 7,528 sq km. Key forests include the national park oasis on the island of Mljet, the tree-shrouded national parks of Paklenica, Northern Velebit and Risnjak. Croatia is part of UNESCO’s Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe list, with 63 beech forests enshrined in the Northern Velebit and Paklenica national parks. The Slavonia region is also home to some of Europe’s oldest oak forest.

2. Mountains

Risnjak National Park (Zoran Jelača)

Triglav National Park (Tomo Jeseničnik)

Slovenia is blessed with mountain scenery that looks like a movie; a movie you can step into. Triglav National Park is the largest protected area, the epicentre of the vaulting Julian Alps. Eponymous peak Triglav soars higher than any other Slovenian mountain at 2,864m and the surrounding UNESCO Biosphere boasts over 7,000 animal and 1,600 plant species. The Kamnik and Savinje Alps, plus the Karavanke Alps, both tear your heart to the mountains, too, with the Logar Valley one of Europe’s most beguiling glacial mountain valleys. Croatia is home to deeply impressive, raw mountain scenery of its own, not least the Velebit mountain range (the tallest in Croatia) and the rugged Dinaric Alps, which roar right down the entire Adriatic-facing spine of the country. Of Croatia’s eight national parks, three protect mountainous oases – Risnjak in the heavily wooded Gorski Kotar (Risnjak itself climbs to 1,528m), the wildlife-kissed Northern Velebit National Park and the startling limestone peaks of the Paklenica National Park in the Zadar region. In the region of Split, Biokovo Nature Park is a craggy limestone massif laced with walking trails.

3. Lakes

Lake Bled (Jošt Gantar, Slovenian Tourist Board)

Plitvice Lakes National Park (Luka Esenko)

In Bled and Bohinj, Slovenia harbours two of the most spectacular glacial lakes in Europe. Lake Bled is picture-postcard perfect, hulking beneath snow-capped peaks, with a castle peering over the water and a church-topped isle adrift in its midst. Lake Bohinj is larger and wilder – a perfect nearby complement. Other lakes beckon, including a flurry of intermittent lakes in the Karst limestone landscape. Lake Cerknica is one of the continent’s largest intermittent lakes, home to over 250 different bird species. Croatia sports many lakes, the most famous the spectacular string of 16 jewels protected in the UNESCO-listed Plitvice Lakes National Park – a must visit. Also inland, the hinterland of the Split region is home to the Red and Blue Lakes, both enshrouded with local folk tales; legend has it if you throw a stone into the Red Lake, you’ll be married soon. It’s one of Europe’s deepest lakes; while you can swim at the Blue Lake. The twin lakes on the green isle of Mljet meanwhile are a life-affirming joy just a ferry ride from Dubrovnik.

4. Coast

Kornati National Park (Zoran Jelača)

The coastal town of Piran (Slovenian Tourist Board)

Slovenia’s deeply dramatic, handily compact coastline is alive with the ghosts of the Romans and the Venetians, with swathes of Italian influences, too. It is a littoral alive with bays and peninsulas that house its grand towns and cities like the terracotta-topped pair of Koper and Piran, but Mother Nature still holds sway in waters where dolphins play. There are beaches and hiking trails to explore, while the Piran Salt Pans, established in 804, have been the source of many wellness retreats, their rejuvenating waters and mud the ingredients of many thalassotherapy treatments in the area. Croatia’s coast is simply divine with more than 6,000km of coastline, including over 1,000 islands and islets. The Brijuni National Park in the Istria region is a northern archipelago star. There are busy isles too, like Hvar and Brač, but also hideaways like Lastovo. You will feel like Robinson Crusoe in the otherworldly Kornati islands. George Bernard Shaw could have been talking of all of Croatia’s islands when he gushed, “On the last day of Creation God desired to crown His work, and thus created the Kornati islands out of tears, stars and breath”. Croatia’s coast is blessed with world-class beaches, too, such as Zlatni Rat on Brač, Stiniva on Vis, and Pasjača near Dubrovnik.

5. Rivers

The Soča River in Slovenia (Jošt Gantar, Slovenian Tourist Board)

Ozalj fortress overlooking the Kupa River (Zoran Jelača)

Slovenia abounds with crystal-clear rivers carrying life through its mountains and forests. The emerald, mountain-shrouded Soča is a mesmerising river, home to its famous trout and the scene of brutal battles in World War One – Ernest Hemingway was wounded serving here as an ambulance driver. Today, the Soča Valley has earned the European Destination of Excellence (EDEN) due to its sustainable tourism development. Other remarkable rivers include the Sava (with its branches and tributaries), Drava, Mura and Kolpa – the latter runs its wild way through the Kočevje forests. In Croatia, Krka National Park wraps the eponymous river and its fragile ecosystem in a protected embrace. Other alluring rivers include the Cetina and Zrmanja, which are both ideal for water-based adventures, as well as the Sava, Drava, Kupa and the mighty, multi-country Danube. Croatia’s riverbanks are alive with rich birdlife, too.

Feeling inspired?

For more inspiration, head over to the official Croatian and Slovenia tourist board websites.

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