Karlovac, Croatia: An Authentic Experience
The stop in Karlovac, Croatia was the most authentic Croatian experience of our Croatian driving trip. Dubrovnik was beautiful but crowded and touristy. A coastal resort provided a wealth of amusements at our fingertips. But Karlovac was laid back and authentic. I had low expectations for this town, but in the end it was sad to say goodbye.
We stayed at the Hotel Korana which was a hit. The hotel is in an old house perched on the river and could not be any cuter. The rooms were spacious, comfortable and cool, a welcome change from our cramped resort room earlier in the trip. We were placed in a room with two double beds and a pull-out sofa: plenty of room for our crew of 5.
Of course when we went to check in they couldn’t find our reservation. We are diligent planners and Jeff had everything written down, including a staff member’s name, indicating we had a reservation. At the end of the day they could’t find anything but had the rooms (1 for us, 1 for grandma) we would have booked available and honored the rate Jeff had written down.
The kids were overjoyed to see people swimming in the river so we changed into our swimsuits and headed down to the river to check it out. The whole town was out enjoying this beautiful day on the river.
Jeff coaxed the Big Little into the water and on to some of the water obstacles that are free to use. The Middle Little and Grandma watched divers jump from the high dive into the river. There was a playground for the littles to enjoy and our Little Little charmed the locals with his smile.
We wandered into Lana Korana, a restaurant that fronts the river. The attached playground is about the size of the restaurant – it was amazingly well appointed. We ordered drinks, salads and pizza and enjoyed the freedom of eating while the kids played in the enclosed playground.
The next morning we enjoyed breakfast at the hotel. The spread was good, but it was overshadowed by the patio seating overlooking the river.
Jeff went for a run and checked out the Medieval Fortress (Stari Grad) which was just across the river from the hotel, accessible by a fun looking bridge.
On his run he discovered another amazing playground, donated by the Americans after the war. We spent some time playing here.
Our Little Little took some of his first steps on the shore of the river, barefoot as I had not packed any shoes for him on the trip. Oops.
Then we loaded back into the car.
We visited Dubovac castle. There is a small admission fee to visit. There is a self-guided English pamphlet. We were honestly a bit confused about what they have done because it’s sort of a hodgepodge of different items mixed with viewing the castle structure.
Any weirdness is forgiven though when you get to the top and have sweeping views of the city. The wind was cool and the views amazing. We all wanted to just have a seat and enjoy it for a bit. Unfortunately, the kids had other plans.
The castle has a lovely looking cafe in the center courtyard that would be perfect for lunch. We however had our sights set on Restoran Mandic, which I had found on FourSquare earlier in the day. We sat out on the patio where it was cool and enjoyed a lovely meal. The Little Little was obsessed with trying to pull up on everything and the staff happily cooed at him.
We popped into the Museum of Arms from the Homeland War. The museum itself was under renovation but the outdoor area is full of planes on sticks, tanks and other vehicles from the war.
The Big Little became obsessed with taking photos here. We posed in front of each of the vehicles for him so he could take a photo. I’m not a huge fan of war museums in general, but seeing the vehicles was actually quite interesting. There didn’t seem to be any rules as everyone was climbing in and on the vehicles.
We obliged all the picture taking. Sometimes we will take any win for the kids to be engaged in the activity. The Middle Little wanted to take a few as well so the Big Little posed us for the photo.
The town itself is still riddled with bullet holes from the war. Almost everyone we talked to from hotel staff to locals we met on the playground can still remember the fighting that took place.
It’s an incredible reality to be enjoying a pizza and wine in a place that in our lifetime was war torn. I’m still processing the reality of it really. On one hand I’m saddened by the war that took place and the toll it took, but on the other hand the recovery is amazing, although clearly still underway.
Our trip to Karlovac further cemented what we already knew: we love smaller towns. We flock to the sights we want to see but always find the most enjoyment in the authentic experiences. Enjoying the rivers and playgrounds, going on a run through the town, was exactly what we needed to really appreciate the spirit of Croatia.
In planning our trip we found the blog Chasing the Donkey to be extremely helpful on general Croatia information. Chasing the Donkey is a great place to get started with your trip planning. The Secret Dalmatia blog had a ton of great finds, like the Museum of Arms from the Homeland War, in the small cities around Croatia.