Kunjal Kothari takes you with her on a journey down the coast of Croatia.
With its magnificent sunsets, beautiful beaches, charming towns and breathtaking national parks, Croatia has always been the summer destination of choice for Europeans. But HBO’s hit show, Game of Thrones (GoT), has put this Balkan country on the map for the rest of the world, and the Dalmatian coast does not disappoint.
Dubrovnik – The Pearl of the Adriatic
As you drive down towards Dubrovnik Old Town, you know you’re in for a treat. Massive stone walls jut out into the shimmering water and the sea of red tile roofs within provide a beautiful contrast to the azure blue of the Adriatic Sea. Go through the many doors of the long and winding Pile Gate, and on your right will be the entrance to the high walls surrounding the town. Begin your visit with a walk on these walls to enjoy the spectacular views overlooking the town.
Meander over to the Stradun, the beautiful white limestone road running down the middle of Dubrovnik. While the Pile Gate is on one end, on the other is Orlando’s Column, a 15th century stone column, which serves as a meeting point for most tours. On either side of the Stradun are small, sloping alleys that will tempt you. Go ahead. Give in, and get lost in the unique character of each charming lane. In the warm summer months, restaurants set up tables and chairs and you can people watch to your heart’s content, or indulge in authentic Bosnian food the very popular Taj Mahal. As evening approaches, make your way to the southern wall, and find the tiny little path that takes you beyond it. Here, trendy bars give fantastic sunset views over the Adriatic. For a little added excitement, jump off a cliff and straight into the sea at Buza Bar.
Feeling overwhelmed by the crowds, but still not ready to leave Dubrovnik? Get on a ferry to Lokrum Island and sit on the Iron Throne, visit a Benedictine Monastery that served as the location for Qarth on GoT, or swim at a beach without fighting for towel space. Finish theday with a cable car ride up to Mount Srd andwatch the sun set over Dubrovnik. Wine lovers can sip on Plavac Mali at wineries on Peljesac Peninsula, an hour north of Dubrovnik. From Milos Winery, the oldest family-owned winery, to Vina Grigic, established by an award-winning Napa winemaker of Croatian descent, this is the best way to sample the local wines.
Zadar – Coolest City in the Country
Less popular than its coastal cousins, but still worth the visit is Zadar. Heavy bombing during WW2 has given Zadar an eclectic look. Roman ruins sit besides Communist era utilitarian blocks and modern art installations. Get historical with a War Tour with Spirit Tours. Eat at Pet Bunara, an award winning Croatian fusion restaurant, and get drinks and snacks surrounded by flowers at Art of Raw, a hip vegan rooftop café-bar. As the sun begins to set, walk along the sea front and enjoy Nikola Basic’s permanent installations, the Sea Organ and Monument to the Sun. The former is an instrument played by the waves and the wind, hidden underneath marble steps. The latter is a giant solar-powered light up dance floor.
Split – The Mediterranean Flower
In 304 AD, the Roman Emperor Diocletian built his retirement palace in what is present day Split. Remnants of the palace have endured, and the town has grown around it. Visit the cellars of the palace to appreciate the skill of the ancient Roman builders. Order a drink at Café Luxor at the Peristyle, bag a cushioned seat on the stone steps, and enjoy the free concerts held in the square on summer evenings. Grab a meal at trendy vegan restaurant Pandora Green Box, where the dishes are named after strong women. Walk along the lively Riva promenade in the evenings.
Not far from Split is the Kliss Fortress, dramatic ruins perched atop a mountain. Visitors can wander freely over the remnants of the 2000 year old structure, famous for providing the setting for Mereen on GoT. Aim to get there by sunset to get a stunning view of Split and the Adriatic.
Savour Local Flavour!
Croatian food is similar to other Mediterranean cuisines. Pasta, risotto and pizza dominate the menus accompanied by grilled peppers and aubergines, fat juicy capers, and deliciously salty goat’s milk cheese. Not surprisingly, Croatians eat a lot of seafood, but vegetarian options are available in most restaurants. Reservations are recommended during the peak summer months.
Which island you visit depends on your interests, because each island has its own distinct characteristics. But if you can only choose one island, then stay in Korcula, also known as the Emerald Island. The old town is quaint, and according to local legend, it was the home of Marco Polo. Browse for locally-sourced unique souvenirs at the tiny shops. Dine al fresco at Pizzeria Tedeschi and get an endless view sea. Quench your thirst with the local lemon beer, Radler Limun, or indulge in a wine tasting at Bar Bokar.
If you’re pressed for time, but still want to island hop, take an all-day sea tour with Split Sea Tours. You could go to Togrir, a UNESCO heritage town, visit the magical Blue Cave on Vis Island, build sandcastles at a rare sandy beach, snorkel in secluded caves, or mingle with jetsetters on charming Hvar Island.
Dramatic waterfalls, unforgettable scenery and the varying colors of the 16 interconnected lakes of Plitvice Lakes National Park has made it the most popular national park in Croatia. Get there early to beat the crowds. The easiest walk takes about two hours (or three, if you stop for a photo at every turn like I did), followed by a boat ride. Make sure to reserve your ticket in advance, as starting 2019, Plitvice limits the number of visitors per day and the entry is timed. Plitvice is a two-hour drive north of Zadar.
Less popular, but equally beautiful, is Krka National Park, located an hour’s drive away from Split. An hour-long walk will bring you to Skradinski Buk, the largest waterfall in Croatia. Remember to bring your swimsuit to take a dip at the base of these falls. If your feet are weary from all the sightseeing you’ve been doing, then you may choose to take a boat up to the waterfalls.
- The city centres are all pedestrian-only zones. Outside these areas, taxis and Uber are readily available.
- The islands are well-connected with ferries. The two largest carriers are Jadrolinija and Krilo. Do make reservations well in advance during the peak season, especially if you plan to take a car.
- If you choose to travel overland, keep in mind that the rail network in Croatia is not well connected. Take a bus or consider a car with a driver. Octopus Transfers has comfortable vehicles that give you door-to-door service, and can also arrange customised guided tours.
- Beaches in Croatia are mostly rocky, so do wear beach shoes.
- While credit cards are accepted at hotels and restaurants in tourist hotspots, be aware that many places still only accept cash. Croatia has its own currency, the Kuna, but most places will accept Euros.
- Between 10am and 4pm, hordes of cruise passengers fill Dubrovnik. Beat the heat and the crowds, by spending this time by the pool or at a quiet beach. Days are long and late closing times will still give you ample time to see the sights.