Rastoke, the village of watermills and fairies

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Many people visit Plitvice National Park when they go to Croatia. The park should definitely be on your list due to its nature, the impressive waterfalls and the clear water. Are you arriving from the north? Combine your visit with the magical village of Rastoke.

I feel the warmth of the sun on my face and with my eyes closed, I listen to water that rumbles down and welcoming me. I open my eyes and a few metres below, I see roofs of little houses, hidden among tall trees, surrounded by water. Walking down, I get closer and closer to the waterfalls. In a normal village, foothpaths would find their way through houses in a zigzagging fashion, but here, little rivers seek a way through. Wooden bridges are no unnecessary luxury and I encounter waterfalls in several places. From one waterfall emerge multiple small, separate streams that branch off again. The two rivers Slunjčica and Korana meet here. At its source, the Slunjčica disappears underground and makes its way through limestone rocks. As a result, limestone dissolves, becomes tuff and so the river constantly builds new waterfalls. A spot on analogy for the fact that beautiful things do not happen overnight, but take time. Change takes place slowly and unnoticed, but it is constantly ongoing and in motion. Just like nature itself.

Living with the water

The village and nature are in harmony, but for me the water plays the main role in this beautiful performance of nature: it embraces Rastoke. Without the water, the village would probably not have been there. Since the 17th century the lives, customs and crafts of the inhabitants have been influenced and inspired by the flow of the river. The inhabitants of Rastoke lived, among other things, from the water mills, which were driven by the power of the water. Today, these mills are still there, but tourism and hotels have taken over. They are not mega all-inclusive hotels, so I don’t notice this. In fact, I hardly see other people. But it’s still a pity that the old way of life has been replaced by the modern.

Slavic myths

Fortunately, a glimmer of the old can still be found, next to the water mills. I look through the light green, sunlit leaves of trees, see a wooden cottage, a wooden bridge and a waterfall. An information board tells me that it is believed that many years ago, fairies – mythical creatures from Slavic mythology – lived here along these river banks. These were women with supernatural powers who wore white clothes and had a crown or wreath on their heads. They braided their hair and that is what the waterfall named Vilina Kosa refers to, since this means fairy hair. The women cured the sick with herbs and allowed restless children to sleep. And if a traveller was lost in the fog, they would guide this person back to the right path.

I can tell you: I didn’t get lost, but I could have gotten lost in this special, magical place. And then I wouldn’t want them to show me the way back to the right path. I could sit here for hours by a waterfall, with the sun on my back and a fairy braiding my hair and telling me all her secrets.

Curious about Plitvice National Park? Read the column here.