Motorways are excellent for getting from A to B rapidly BUT invariably the roads neither present varied views of the countryside they pass through nor frequent exits to allow tourists to make unplanned visits to interesting looking places.

All these routes (1-4) were compiled and followed using a SatNav.

Distances and estimated time needed are courtesy of ViaMichelin. 

These scenic routes avoid the motorways and use predominantly 'D' roads (marked on Google maps as white numbers in a blue rectangle) and the occasional 'Z' road (unmarked on Google maps). ViaMichelin does indicate the road numbers BUT crucially not the designated letter.

In June 2015 these scenes routes were far less busy than the 4-lane highways.


ROUTE 1: KARLOVAC to PLITVICE LAKES NATIONAL PARK

ROUTE 2: SELIŠTE DREŽNICKO to BRINJE CASTLE to SENJ CASTLE

ROUTE 3: PUNAT to STARA BRAŠKA to PUNAT

ROUTE 4: KASTAV to GROBNIK to DELNICE to KARLOVAC

ROUTE 1

 

Road D1

KARLOVAC >> RASTOKE (51km) >> SELIŠTE-DREŽNICKO (25km) >> PLITVICE LAKES NATIONAL PARK (8km)

Distance 84 km.

Estimated time: 1hr 40min

The most used of these scenic routes as it forms the second part of the route from Zagreb to Plitvice Lakes National Park. Drive patiently. There are very few passing points. Locals sell jars of honey, jams and freshly picked forest berries at the roadside.

RASTOKE is a miniature taste  Rastoke large cascade of the cascades of the Upper Lakes at Plitvice. There are two parking areas either side of the bridge that sweeps in an arc across both the valley and the river Korana. Allow at least 1 hour to explore.

 

SELIŠTE-DREŽNICKO is the last community before the Plitvice Lakes National Park. There is a cluster of roadside mini supermarkets, numerous accommodations and several eateries of which Caffe & Bistro Plum is rated by TripAdvisor as #1 in the community.

MAP WARNING - Caffe Plum is NOT as the TripAdvisor map shows up a branch-road from the road D1 but as this photograph shows is located beside and clearly visible from D1.

Caffe Plum road sign by D1 

PLITVICE LAKES NATIONAL PARK - Over 3,600 reviews and an average Excellent rating say it all.


ROUTE 2

Roads D1 >> D52 >> D50 >> D23(North) >> D23(South)

SELIŠTE DREŽNICKO >> Vrelo Korenicko  >> BRINJE (99km; 2hrs) >> SENJ (33 km; 40 min)

Distance 132 km.

Estimated time: 2hr 40min

The D52 from Vrelo Korenicko towards Otocac passes initially up though 2km of hairpin bends. Once at the top of the ridge do stop for a breathtaking view back over the valley in which Vrelo Korenicko nestles.

Vrelo Korenicko valley from the Pass 

The D23 continues on through broad largely uninhabited valleys to Otocac. Just before Otocac is a junction with D50 which goes through Otocac to Žuta Lokva (where the D50 ends). Turn right on the D23 >> Brinje.   

The ruins of the C13th hill-top castle at Brinje

 Brinje castle ruins and Chapel

 are free to explore and provide wonderful views over the surrounding countryside. Brinje has a handful of rustic caffes.

The top of the Pass where the D23 crosses the ridge of the Dinaric Alps, park on the left. The view over the Adriatic, Krk and Rab islands and Senj is amazing, particularly if the weather is kind and the islands are in sunlight but the mainland in shadow. The contrast is stunning. The Uskok's castle at Senj is visible from the Pass.

Nehaz Castle seen from the Pass 

The D23 now descends in a series of hairpin bends (sign-posted Serpentini) from the Pass towards Senj. 22 km from Brinje is the village of Senjska Draga and the only restaurant of note before Senj - Gostionica Jablan. The bright yellow awning over the terrace is unmissable (on the left as the road descends) and is visible in Google maps satellite view.

Gostionica Jablan 

Reasonable priced Croatian fare. Memorable homemade bread, unexpectedly good seafood and fresh sauerkraut salad.

The Nehaj Castle in Senj seems to be the highpoint of the town and well worth visiting. 

This Route, in June, had very little traffic. 

 

ROUTE 3

Road: Z5125  

PUNAT >> STARA BRAŠKA  >> PUNAT 

Distance 18 km.

Estimated time: 30min

Allow 60+ minutes to drive there and back and to stop and enjoy the views. Allow several hours if you want to swim at Oprna Bay.

The only way to reach the 'harbour' of Stara Baška in 14 minutes from Punat is IF there are no other cars, bicyclists or pedestrians on the road. 30 minutes is reasonable and probably longer is needed in the high season July 1- August 31. 

This road from Punat's ring road initially follows a straight path upwards. Thereafter the road begins to enter a series of dips and sweeping turns and one or two quite sharp (but not hairpin) bends. The first view of the sea is sufficiently stunning to ensure drivers slow down and passengers reach for their cameras.

 Stara Braška

A long straight downwards incline soon follows with cars parked on the left. The secluded (no road access) beaches and clear aquamarine waters of Oprna Bay and the adjoining cove are out-of-sight beyond the curve of the hill-side to the right. Bathers need to negotiate the crash-barrier and with the nimbleness mountain goats descend the hillside to the sea. 

Oprna Bay 

At this point the road is sufficiently wide to allow cars to park on one side.

But the road, soon after the caravan and camp site at Kamo Škrila, narrows to no more than a car width. From here onwards speed by necessity is a crawl as the road passes through an increasingly residential area. There are no designated passing places, no safety barriers. Drivers are strongly advised NOT to attempt 3-point turns. Drivers should avoid turning until they reach the harbour.

Stara Braška harbour 

 

ROUTE 4

(A): D5055 >> D5056 >> D5055

 PART 1: KASTAV >> SARŠONI >> JELENJE >> ZASTENICE >> GROBNIK (20km) >> CAVLE (22km 33min) 

(B): D3

PART 2: CAVLE >> SLEME >> KARLOVAC (122km 150min)

Distance 144 km.

Estimated time: 3hr

This scenic route is quite variable in both visuality of scenery and the driving experience.

D5055 - KASTAV >> ŠARSONI - fairly mundane 2-lane suburban road.

D5055 - ŠARSONI >> JELENJE. The first bend of the D5055 as it leaves ŠARSONI is a testing almost-vertical right and hairpin that forces drivers to change down to 2nd or even 1st gear. A kilometre later the road descends through approximately 4 kilometres of narrow hairpin bends on densely forested slopes. Car should be taken as oncoming traffic maybe found in the centre of the road.

D5055 >> D5056 - JELENJE >> DRAŽNICE >> CAVLE >> GROBNIK are mundane 2-lane country roads. From close to DRAŽNICE, Grobnik castle is first visible.

Grobnik Church and Castle 

BUT if a hill-climb is sought, turn right in the middle of ZASTENICE and climb the hill up narrow frequently seemingly vertical hairpins to the top of Grobnik hill.

The partially renovated castle at GROBNIK, which houses the tiny but crammed full (4000+ exhibits) Ethnographic museum and the Contemporary Art Gallery are worth visiting, particularly as there are no entrance charges. 

The D3 running sort of parallel to the A6 motorway - starting from just north of CAVLE >> KARLOVAC - is road of three sections. 

The first section climbs from the valley floor around the airfield and car racing circuit near Soboli into the western fringes of the Dinaric Alps. The landscape of these uplands is treeless bare limestone dotted with shrubs. At the highpoint, opposite a bare peak called ‘Kamenjak’

Kamenjak on D3 

is a solitary building with the simple address D3 55, Soboli. This is a caffe with a verandah and dining room. The name ‘Tri Skoja’ suggested it may also be a small inn.

Tri Skoja near Kamenjak 

It’s good to sit drinking in the view sipping a macchiato coffee and not hearing the growl of trucks or the revving of motor car engines.

After ‘Tri Skoja’ the D3 starts to descend and the landscape changes to dense forestry, which effectively removes distant vistas. This is the second section. The scenery changes for the better with the appearance on the left of Omladinsko lake and down in the valley the towns Homer, and as the D3 passes through SLEME, the town of Love is visible almost as an extension of Homer. A couple of kilometres later, the D3 changes to the D203 (at the intersection with the A6). The D203 passes through DELNICE. This small town claims to have the highest altitude of any Town in Croatia at 693 metres. The town also claims to be the hiking / walking centre for The Risnjak National Park. This is Croatia’s most visited National Park. The three towns that delineate the extremities of the Park’s boundaries are JELENJE (in the west), CABAR (in the north and close to the border with Slovenia) and DELNICE 8in the south). On leaving DELNICE, the D203 branches sending the D3 off to the right towards KARLOVAC. The vistas of nature - mostly forests - continues till the D3 passes under the motorway. At this point the D3 is amongst the foothills of the Dinaric Alps and the landscape changes to lowland agriculture. This is the third section.  This is also the shortest section.