Visovac Monastery in Brištane, Croatia

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Visovac Monastery.

Guarded by a ring of trees, this picturesque monastery sits atop an idyllic patch of land within Croatia's Krka National Park.

Augustinian monks first began building atop a rock in the middle of the lake in the 14th century. But in 1445, Franciscan monks took over after leaving Bosnia. They expanded the little monastery the Augustinians had started and built the Franciscan Monastery of Our Lady of Mercy and the Church of Our Lady of Visovac.

For centuries, the small island was a place of solitude, a destination for young men to prepare themselves for a life of priesthood. Today, the monastery houses three monks and five novices from the Franciscan order.

The monastery also has a small but extremely impressive museum. It’s packed with historic church clothes, manuscripts, and rare books including a medieval copy of Aesop's fables printed by Lastovo printer Dobrić Dobričević. The museum even contains a saber that belonged to Vuk Mandušić, a 17th-century rebel leader and hero within Croatian epic poetry.

Although within a popular National Park, the monastery is off the beaten tourist tracks and placed halfway between two large waterfalls. The boat ride to the island itself is special, as it gives people a chance to cruise over the vivid blue water of the lake and enjoy the verdant scenery.