This unique butterfly holiday focuses on the beautiful mountains, forests and coastal maquis of Croatia. Nearly 200 species of butterfly have been recorded in this small, but varied, country and we have every chance of finding half of these during this week-long tour! Species familiar to those who have explored southern Europe, including Cleopatra, Camberwell Beauty, Large Tortoiseshell and Southern Festoon, flutter alongside butterflies with a distinctly eastern flavour such as Little Tiger Blue, Southern Comma, Hungarian Skipper, Balkan Marbled White and Great Sooty Satyr. A few surprises are also assured, for this is a region rarely visited by butterfly enthusiasts and we will be exploring areas where, even today, few lepidopterists have trodden! With a leisurely pace, warm Adriatic sunshine, beautiful upland scenery and mountain panoramas at every turn, this exciting tour has become a popular addition to our programme of butterfly tours.
Our holiday begins with a flight to Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, from where we drive to our first base in the enchanting Plitvice Lakes National Park. Founded in 1949, Plitvice is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a picturesque forested karst landscape, fed by the clear waters of the River Korana and dotted with lush meadows and lakes. The centre-piece of the park is a series of stunning turquoise coloured lakes which are set amidst woodland and stepped one above the other, over which roaring waterfalls tumble. We will explore the park via its network of marked trails from which we can expect to see a range of exciting butterflies, amongst them Southern Festoon, Scarce and Common Swallowtail, Eastern Dappled White, Ilex Hairstreak, Large Copper, Osiris, Short-tailed and Chapman’s Blue, Nettle-tree Butterfly, Purple Emperor, Camberwell Beauty, Cardinal and Great Banded Grayling.
Next we will explore the limestone gorges of the Paklenica National Park, just a stone’s throw from the blue waters of the Adriatic Sea. Paklenica is drier and more rugged than Plitvice, less wooded, but with some fine karst scenery. We will spend our time here enjoying leisurely walks through limestone habitats that often teem with butterflies. Paklenica is blessed with a selection of typical ‘Mediterranean’ species, such as Southern Swallowtail, Balkan Green-veined White, Cleopatra, Duke of Burgundy, Eastern Baton Blue, Silver-washed and Dark Green Fritillary and Eastern Rock Grayling. With a little luck we may also find a few rarities, perhaps Bright-eyed Ringlet or the endemic Dalmatian Ringlet. As we have learned from our spring visits, Paklenica is also superb for birds and we will keep an eye open for Rock Partridge, Rock Nuthatch and Subalpine Warbler. Reptiles such as Dalmatian Algyroides, European Glass Lizard and Dalmatian Wall Lizard also occur.
For our final two nights we will move from the Dalmatian coast into the Velebit Mountains, in particular into the Velebit Nature Park, a UNESCO biosphere reserve. The Velebits will provide yet another contrast to the areas already explored, being more montane in nature than both Plitvice and Paklenica. En route we can also enjoy the impressive views over the many islands, of every shape and size, that dot the waters of the turquoise Adriatic Sea. The Velebit Mountains are part of the Dinaric Alps, a mountain chain that forms the rugged backbone of Croatia from the north-west to the south-east.
The highest areas (Vaganski Vrh at 1,757 metres being the highest peak) are alpine in nature with bare limestone and dolomite peaks, rocky screes and forested basins. The fauna and flora here are influenced by both Mediterranean and Alpine forces along with the ‘Bura’, a chilly wind that occasionally blows in from the northern Adriatic. Over 130 species of butterfly have been recorded here, amongst them Silver-spotted Skipper, Clouded Apollo, Mountain Small White, a range of blues (including Large, Mountain Alcon, Amanda’s and Meleager’s), both Twin-spot and Nickerl’s Fritillary and, possibly, the rare Balkan Copper. Herds of Chamois balance on precipitous slopes and even Wolf still live here, though the latter are shy and rarely seen. The herpetologists among us will also hope to see the attractively marked Leopard Snake or perhaps the endemic Horvath’s Rock Lizard.
Finally, we must leave the mountains and head for Zagreb and our flight home, having been spoiled by the impressive montane and coastal scenery, stunning landscapes, curious folklore, warm hospitality and diverse habitats that all combine to make Croatia such a special butterfly and wildlife destination.