In Rastoke: a loop east toward Herzegovina - Balkan Dreams - CycleBlaze

September 10, 2020

In Rastoke: a loop east toward Herzegovina

Rastoke  is an exceptional village, not like one we’ve seen before.  It sits at the point where the Slunjčica River fractures across a travertine formation and cascades down into the Korana River a hundred feet below.  Seemingly everywhere you look, there’s another waterfall streaming through the middle of the village.  Rastoke grew here precisely because of these waterfalls and their potential as a power source.  At its peak, there were 22 water powered mills in this tiny community.  Slunj, the larger town that sits above and wraps around Rastoke, came along later.  The significant falls are all named, many of them after the owners of the mills powered by them.

It is very quiet here now.  There are only a few clients in the restaurants, and a few scattered tourists wandering around.  I’m sure it’s not normally like this in season though, because there are many signs out for rooms to let.

In Rastoke, a village with a unique character.
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It took us about fifteen minutes to make it a few hundred yards from our apartment, because we kept stopping to look at another waterfall. In addition to numerous falls dropping through the upper town, there are 23 waterfalls in the lower part of town, cascading into the Korana River.
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In Rastoke.
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In Rastoke. Falls like these rim the entire perimeter of the lower town. Many flow beside or beneath buildings such as the inn/bar were staying at that likely were originally corn or cloth mills. At its peak, there were 22 water mills in Rastoke.
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It’s a bit remote, but Rastoke makes a good base for a few days of cycling.  Originally we had planned to be here three nights, but this was one of the days we dropped to make room for our stay at Plitvice Lakes, which we’ll leave for tomorrow.

For today, we have mapped out a thirty mile loop to the northeast, through the hilly green rural country near the border with Herzegovina.  Not a long loop, but one with a fair amount of climbing - about 3,000’ of it.  Contourwise, it feels a bit like one of our rides back home, climbing up to Skyline Boulevard, dropping down the other side of the ridge into Washington County, and then crossing back over the ridge again.  Not so different than the Helvetia Ride really, one of our favorites when we’re in the mood for a good workout.

But, of course, it’s nothing like that at all.  Far fewer cars, narrower roads, hand built wooden houses, corn cribs, horses in the road, and one property after another that looks like it was destroyed in the wars.  And far fewer people, too.  There are farmhouses all along and one very small town, but mostly it’s a lush expanse of green.  

At the last minute this morning, we look at the map and decide that 30 miles isn’t enough.  We find a paved spur road that radiates off our loop and decide to pencil it in as an out and back to add in another ten miles.

It’s coolish and windless when we start out, but by the time we’re working our way back home it’s warming up considerably.  The back half is where most of the climbing comes in as we climb a ridge to the high point of the day, drop to the Korana River, and then climb out the other side again.  Before each ridge there are of course three or four steepish little rollers just to get us in the spirit.  

Too much to take in one bite, and especially without a bite, so we’re pleased to reach the top of the first ridge and find a crude covered bus stop shelter with a teetering wooden plank bench.  Balanced on it and taking care not to topple over backwards into the glass from broken beer bottles, we break out the bread, meat and cheese Rachael picked up at the store, and enjoy eating in the shade while we look across the green expanse in front of us.  Rested up, it’s back on the bikes for the final hilly miles back to town.

Finally on the road, we climb above the limestone cliffs lining the Korana and then work our way northeast toward the border with Herzegovina.
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Today’s ride is almost relentlessly green. We only pass through one community of any size at all, and for the most part we bike through forest or past open fields like these.
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Typical landscape east of Rastoke. We’re biking on a marked cycle route, one of several that start from town.
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East of Rastoke. Besides being very green, the terrain is quite contoured. Not so different really than the look west of Karlovac. Even staying on the primary roads, cycling is a challenge.
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Farmhouses and agricultural buildings are typically wood or brick, and some are whitewashed like the one we showed you yesterday.
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Near the border with Herzegovina. We’ve seen more livestock here than anywhere else in Croatia so far.
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Our ride today consists of a thirty mile loop, which we extended with a ten mile out and back spur along this minor road. Rachael takes her opportunity here to set her own pace and quickly pulls ahead and out of sight.
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This quiet spur road is very appealing, with many attractive sights and encounters. Fine, well maintained houses like this, war ravaged wrecks, a few loose but unmenacing dogs, one surprise after another.
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The cribs here have a different style than we’ve seen elsewhere so far. It must be typical of the region, because we saw about a dozen like this today.
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Rounding the bend, I was startled to find a herd of eight horses, in the road or lining either side. I slowed down.
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Framed.
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I wish I’d gotten a better photo of this young horse, or better yet a video. I’m on the phone with Rachael, who called to confirm directions. While we’re speaking, I’m startled to look up and see this horse walking straight toward me, finally stopping when she’s close enough that I could reach out and pat her nose.
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Near the border.
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She’s come to the end of the road and is on the return.
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Cetingrad, on the ridge, is the only town we’ll see today.
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We’ve been passing destroyed structures all along the way today. I’d say perhaps 10% or more of the structures we pass are vacant, hollowed out, and slowly crumbling or rotting away. This large structure in Cetingrad looks like it must have been a factory. It’s amazing to me that there’s still so much visible damage almost thirty years later.
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The bookmobile comes to Cetingrad.
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Looking east into Herzegovina from one of the high points of the ride. The last fifteen miles include a pair of consequential climbs, but nothing is particularly steep. Still, it’s nice to have a complete set of usable gears again.
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We’re in the trough between the two final climbs, dropping down to the Korana River before climbing away from it again. We’re at our closest point to the border here - Herzegovina is only a few hundred yards to the right.
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Video sound track: Every Day is a Winding Road, by Sheryl Crow

Dzemat Bogovolja, a mosque just a few hundred yards from the border crossing. It’s the only mosque we’ve seen in Croatia so far.
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Saint Jurja Lađevac Catholic Church, just east of Rastoke
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Ride stats today: 40 miles, 3,100’; for the tour: 830 miles, 28,400

Today's ride: 40 miles (64 km)
Total: 830 miles (1,336 km)

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