Located directly in the path of anyone travelling from central Europe to the Dalmatian coast, Lika is a Croatian treasure that is often forgotten. A rugged land nestled in the Dinaric Alps, Lika’s geographic seclusion and small population manifests as both a blessing and a curse, leaving the region relatively untouched by the annual tourism booms that flood neighbouring areas. While this trend has preserved the local authenticity of the towns and villages that dot the valleys, coasts, and mountainsides of Croatia’s largest county, the region has also been denied many of the economic benefits that come with a thriving tourism industry.
So, as the grandchild of a Likan myself, and an avid advocate of Likan culture and natural beauty, I strongly encourage visitors to venture beyond the holy holiday trinity of Zagreb, Istria, and Dalmatia, and consider adding my ancestral lands to at least one leg of your summer adventure. I promise you wont regret it. To make planning a little easier, I have put together a list of destinations you should be sure to check out on your next Croatian getaway, even if only as a pitstop along the way from Split to Zagreb, Vienna, or Venice.
Kuterevo Bear Sanctuary
As Lika is one of Croatia’s most wild regions, it comes as no surprise that a home for orphaned brown bears would find itself at the top of this list. According to the Lika Tourism Board, approximately 800-1000 brown bears live in Croatia. Unfortunately, due to hunting and other human activities, some cubs lose their mothers before they can survive on their own. This is where Kuterevo comes in. Founded in 2002, the volunteer-run rescue center has made it their mission to protect Croatia’s brown bears. As a result of their good deeds, the sanctuary has attracted curious onlookers to the local village, a fortunate side effect for a settlement that was once unknown to the rest of the world. The sanctuary currently hosts 8 bears, 2 of which came from a zoo, while the rest were taken in as cubs from the wild. If you are interested and want to learn more, check out the website of the Lika Tourism Board here.
Memorial Center “Nikola Tesla” Smiljan
As you might be aware, Lika was the birthplace of physicist and engineer Nikola Tesla. Born in Smiljan, Tesla went on to invent the first AC motor and developed AC transmission technology, an achievement that some say changed the course of human history. Come to Smiljan to learn more about the childhood and career of this iconic world figure. The exhibit includes two parts that outline his early upbringing and science-oriented life. Both science nerds and history buffs should be sure to include this pitstop or even spend a few nights in the nearby town of Gospić. Find out more here.
Memorial Center “Nikola Tesla” Smiljan – Pixcell
Probably the most well-renowned destination that Lika has to offer, Plitviče Lakes National Park is a 295 km2 forest reserve in the northeastern corner of the region. Known for its chain of 16 terraced lakes and waterfalls, this stop will bring out the inner naturalist in even the most well-established city dwellers. The park gained significant international attention in 2014 when a video of Croatian duo 2CELLOS went viral, garnering millions of views on YouTube. Even without the splendour of chordophone melodies, the natural beauty of the lakes speaks for itself, with over a million people visiting the park every year. If you want to avoid crowds, visit outside of the July-August rush. If you find yourself there during in high season, arrive early. The park opens at 7 am, and tour busses generally show up at 9 am. Most importantly, don’t make this the only stop on the Likan leg of your journey. For travellers looking to get off the beaten path, spending some time in at least one of the other options on this list will provide a more authentic and well-rounded experience.
The Croatian Littoral
If you thought Croatian maritime beauty was restricted to Dalmatia and Istria, think again. The equally magnificent Croatian Littoral lies just over the mountain from Lika’s vast woodlands. Travellers who crave the sea but shy away from crowded beaches will find Eden along this exquisite, rugged stretch of coastline. Mainly comprising the areas between Rijeka and Dalmatia, the Littoral hosts several charming seaside towns and villages with mild Mediterranean ambiance, a contrast to the more continental interior. My grandfather would recount tales of the difference in climate between his village and the coastal towns he would visit during his youth. “In my village, cold winters, but over the mountain, hot and… palm trees!” He would exclaim, testifying to the incredible variety his homeland provides.
You, too, can share in witnessing this marvel of geography. Quick day trips to the Littoral are a summer must for anyone staying in Lika. Journey to Zavratnica Bay, where you will find crystal blue waters between the steep cliffs that compose this tranquil inlet. A sunken German WWII ship can also be found here for those just as excited about diving into history as they do the ocean.
The town of Senj may also be of interest to anyone keen to embrace European history while staying dry. Stopover at Nehaj Fortress to marvel at the majesty of the stone walls that have defended the settlement as far back as 1558.
Boats in the Senj harbor – Pixabay
The administrative center of Lika, located at the heart of the region, Gospić is an attractive destination for anyone trying to escape big crowds. Despite its modest size, the town is full of the same Southeastern European charm that invites tourists to neighbouring constituencies each year. Existing at the crossroads of empires, Gospić was initially built between two Ottoman forts, later experiencing rule under various other regimes, leaving a unique mark on the town. The proximal location of Gospic to many of Lika’s best tourist attractions makes it an ideal base from which to explore the surrounding area.
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