On bright Saturdays, or on a lazy Sunday, I like to leave Zagreb behind and explore the countryside beyond the city limits. The surroundings offer a varied selection from natural getaways, small towns and villages, – to castles and historic sites. Depending on my mood, I pick a destination and hit the road.
More often than not, and especially after a tough week, I find myself at the little mill village of Rastoke. An hour-thirty minute drive from the city, Rastoke is a small village near the city of Slunj, located at a busy intersection between Zagreb and the Plitvice Lakes National Park. It offers a peaceful environment for a day of sitting by the water and sipping on coffee, fishing, or just hiking in the forest.
Rastoke is nicknamed ‘Small Plitvice’ as it shares some of the very features that make the Plitvice Lakes, situated close by, so popular. Like the Lakes, Rastoke too sits on a limestone barrier, and is blessed with a dramatically beautiful setting. This little village has grown along the edge of a respectable and robust waterfall where the Korana and Slunjcica rivers meet. These waters flow around and into the village, creating numerous streams and pools.
Rastoke is known for its 18th century flour mills and homes built in traditional architectural styles. The lower halves of these structures are constructed in stone to prevent damage from water while the upper decks are crafted out of wood, with elegant dark wood panels and intricate woodwork. The old mills continue to emanate the aroma of freshly ground flour that has seeped into the wooden panels. In the gushing water underneath, fish flap about without a care in the world while overhead, the day’s laundry catches the sun; it is a picture of the idyllic country life.
The serenity of the village masks a difficult, violent past. This region was one of the hardest hit during the war in the early 1990s. The entire village was horribly damaged. Homes were burnt down and the surrounding area was loaded with landmines and explosives. Since then, the region has undergone a successful restoration program carried out by the government. It has been de-mined and restored, maintaining the village’s architectural integrity.
The scars of war have now healed and have been replaced by pleasant walks around the village which is rich in flora and fauna and the soothing rhythms of incessantly flowing water. It is the perfect place to bring a bike to explore this lush region, or to hike the pine forests and investigate the nearby caves. If you are drawn to the water, your options range from a quiet day of fishing to rafting along the waters edge.
But for those in a mood to simply unwind and relax, Rastoke is also about finding an out-door, shady seat at one of the waterside cafes and enjoying a plate of traditional corn bread and pork chops, and then signing off with a cup of kava.