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The Great Lakes of Europe: Plitvice Lakes National Park

25 September 2015

A collection of 16 turquoise lakes, interconnected through a series of plunging waterfalls, surrounded by 116 square miles of verdant forest - by all accounts, the Plitvice Lakes are Croatia's answer to paradise. A national treasure, and the country's most popular tourist attraction, The Plitvice Lakes National Park is home to a wide and beautiful array of flora and fauna, ranging from protected wildflowers in the undergrowth to indigenous bears, deer, wolves and wild boar. Situated close to the Bosnian border, visitors can easily stroll around the park, thanks to a series of manmade wooden boardwalks around the lakes, which offer stable footing without intruding on the area's serenity.

Granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 1979 for its outstanding natural beauty, as well as its spectacular representation of a karst structure, the delightful lakes are rich with minerals gleaned as they rush over and under the surrounding dolomitic rock and limestone, gathering with them enough calcium carbonate to appear blue-green in colour. The highest waterfall here is an astonishing 255ft (78m), and is best appreciated at the top of the purpose-built staircase which runs alongside it. Whilst summer months tend to be more popular (owing in part to the fact some of the park is off-limits during winter), the waterfalls often freeze when temperatures drop below 0°c, and are truly breathtaking to witness in this static state.

Flora and Fauna

One of the most celebrated features of the park, the plant and wildlife surrounding the cascades delightfully compliments the allure of the lakes themselves. Boasting 1,267 different plants from 109 total species, including 55 varieties of orchid and rare plants such as spurge-laurel, leopard plant and heartleaf oxeye, horticultural enthusiasts will have plenty to explore and admire in this wonderful park. The northwestern section of the park is of particular interest, containing fir and beech trees thought to be up 700 years old.

In addition to this impressive array of plant life, The Plitvice Lakes National Park is also home to a wide variety of animals, including many rare species. Over 150 species of birds live here, as well as the European brown bear, owls, wild cats and lynx, and 321 varieties of butterfly.

Cinematic History

As well as being known for their beauty, the Plitvice Lakes also have some more unusual claims to fame. Despite photography and filming of this unique area being heavily restricted since the park was listed by UNESCO, it was previously used as an incredible backdrop for several films. In 1962, Harald Reinl's German-language spaghetti western, The Treasure of Silver Lake, was filmed here, and whilst much of Reinl's direction has been criticized, this dramatic setting elevates the quality of the movie spectacularly. Over the next six years, Reinl used the Plitvice Lakes as the location for several other films in the same genre, many of them also based on Karl May's well-known book series set in the Wild West.

Many German tourists still see Reinl's films as a great legacy of the Lakes, and visit not only for the fantastic wildlife and waterfalls, but also to tour of the set of so many beloved western films. If you're fascinated by the filming history of the park or enchanted by its outstanding beauty, why not explore the delights of the charming Plitvice Lakes on an escorted rail tour of Lake Bled and the Croatian Coast? This wonderful Rail Discoveries adventure takes you to some of the most scenic spots in Europe, including a tour of the park with a local guide.