Croatia: The Dalmatian Coast

After Greece, we made our way north to the sunny seas of the Adriatic. Looking at a map, we figured it would be easy to make our way quickly and easily up to Croatia. But we were wrong. Little did we realise but there is no direct route from Athens to Dubrovnik, despite their close proximity! (And the admission that this was a well-worn travel path). We were looking at hours and days of bus rides, first to get us from Athens up to northern Greece, then to cross Albania, up through Montenegro, and skirt through Bosnia & Hercegovina before finally reaching Dubrovnik. Five countries, over three days, multiple border crossings, stress, hassle, lack of sleep, inability to book the whole journey in advance…. Well, we decided to throw in that idea and booked ourselves a relatively expensive, but simple, one hour flight to Dubrovnik. In the end, completely worth the outlay!

Croatia was an interesting country, with lots of Medieval history. We struggled to find delicious food; all restaurant menus seemed to follow the same, formulaic list of fried calamari, squid risotto, octopus salad and pizza. What I hasn’t realised before going there, was how Italian-influenced it was. I knew the two countries were close by, separated only by the Adriatic, but I didn’t realise the extent of Italian occupation and influence on Croatia’s food and culture.

What Croatia lacked in food, however, it more than made up for in nature and landscape. It was amazing. Verdant greenery, olive groves, wine making regions, crisp white beaches, and the most transparent, royal-blue seawater I have ever seen. I would advise anyone to go! Especially in summer. We arrived just outside summer and to our dismay, missed (by one day) a planned boat-journey that was heading up the coast. We didn’t have enough time to wait a week for the next one. Then the weather turned, and it began to rain. On Hvar, “The Sunniest Island in the Adriatic”, it poured. Non-stop. We were pitied on arrival at our hostel, as the owner told us “There really is nothing to do in Hvar when it’s raining.” So, our idyllic sail-Croatia-in-glorious-sunkissed-weather-while-eating-fresh-seafood-and-relishing-all-that-is-good-in-life didn’t really turn out as expected.
But that’s travel!
We left with a vow to return, hire a car and drive along the coast, camping at the many  established campsites we witnessed along the way.

Our 12 day journey covered Dubrovnik-Korcula-Hvar-Split-Zadar-Zagreb.
These are some pictures from the coastal, island section of the itinerary:

Dubrovnik streetscape
A typical Dubrovnik streetscape. The centre of the main walled city was a flat grid of streets, all other alleys led away like this; vertically. Buns of steel!
Dubrovnik rooftops
View of the Dubrovnik rooftops, as witnessed from atop the city walls, which you can circumnavigate around. Dubrovnik was beautiful, and while exciting to come across something new and different, it was also completely overrun with tourists, which was testing at times. We only stayed for two days, and I think that was enough.

It’s funny, but after travelling through Europe, I have distinct memories of countries in regards to their colour palettes. The colours that will forever remind me of Croatia are this ochre-orange of the tiled roofs, the creamy white of the stone buildings, and the dark green of the forests and window shutters.

Sunset over Korcula
Sunset over the tiny island of Korcula, otherwise referred to as ‘Mini Dubrovnik’. As such, it was less populated, easier to navigate, and FAR more charming. The locals were extremely friendly too. Marco Polo was born here.

On a tour, we heard a beautiful story about a soldier in World War II. On one of the last operations over the area, pilots were instructed to drop all of their bombs over Korcula, and completely destroy it (Dubrovnik had already been basically flattened). This pilot, upon flying over Korcula, found the island and it’s ancient town to be so beautiful that he abandoned his mission, and instructed the other pilots to NOT drop their bombs. With this one moment of human appreciation for beauty, he saved the little island from death and destruction. They know this story because he returned to the island decades later, and left a letter of confession in the hotel he had been staying in, before disappearing. The town has since been trying to find out the identity of this man, to whom they owe a great debt of gratitude. However, they have been unsuccessful; he remains a mystery.

All I can say is go there if you’re in the area!

Korcula
An exterior view of Korcula’s town. If the Greeks love a column, the Croatians love a defensive tower. There’s been a LOT of defending going down throughout their history!
Korcula
Another view of Korcula’s old town, as seen from the window of our guesthouse. I love how eery this shot is, with the clouds cascading down over the mountains behind. This was when the weather started to turn. Luckily, the island provides many options for exploration, and we rented a bicycle and cycled through olives groves and vineyards, as Korcula produces some of the region’s best wine and olive oil products. All of this, combined with access to pretty beaches nearby, combined to make Korcula our favourite island in Croatia.
Sunbaking Hvar
I know I mentioned it raining in Hvar, but this was the one afternoon it cleared, and we managed to get a couple of hours in by the water. This was when we discovered two things: First, Croatians, well, Europeans in general, love a nude beach. And second, rocks are really uncomfortable for lie-down sunbaking. Give me a sandy beach any day.

We got a little boat to this nearby island, where you can just walk around until you find a secluded little spot to set up and enjoy. It was very serene. This was in stark contrast to the rest of Hvar, which is known for being a massive party island; the kind where clubs don’t start until 4am. The jetty filled up every day with luxury yachts, filled with well-to-do Spaniards and Russians and their model girlfriends, all set to get coked-up and party the night away.
Don’t know if I’d rush back there.

Split Harbour
The view of Split harbour. Yep, you know it – more orange tiled roofs and defensive towers! But we really liked Split, it had this gorgeous white marble promenade, where you could sit and drink coffee by day (or beer, another Croatian staple, regardless of the time of day). Then at night, it transformed into this carnival-type atmosphere, with food stalls, gypsies selling annoying little glow-toys, people eating icecream and just a general celebration of warm weather, holidays, and good vibes. Which brings me to another thing: Croatians love icecream. LOVE IT. It’s practically a national obligation, to eat icecream everyday. Icecreameries and gelaterias are as commonplace as cathedrals in Italy. As in, every second building.
Purple Bougainvillea
I loved that the bougainvillea was purple in Croatia. It provided a point of difference to the classic Mediterranean colours we had witnessed in Greece, where the flowers were typically pink.
Zadar harbour
Zadar harbour.

We hadn’t planned to come here, until speaking with some friends we made on our boat cruise in Turkey. They urged us to check it out, and we are so glad we did.
Recently dubbed Croatia’s ‘city of cool’, it had a definite youthful, exuberant vibe about it, probably owing to the fact that it is a University town. (The only downside to this – a lot of shit food; fast, greasy, sloppy, burger kind of offerings; great for a 3am feed but not for a civilized dinner date!)
So the main attractions here are the Sea Organ and Sun Salutation. Both are designed by a local architect, and are incredible to behold. In this picture, people are sitting on the Sea Organ. There are a series of steps leading down to the water; each step has perforations cut out of the stone. When the water laps against these cut-outs, it creates a series of musical notes, sounding almost like sighs or whale calls. It sounds weird and cheesy but it was a beautiful, meditative spot, where people would just sit, watching over the water, taking it all in and contemplating life.

Sea Organ Sunset
Sunset, as witnessed with some cold beers while sitting at the Sea Organ.
Meditating
I told you the sound was mesmerising and meditative! These women sat in a trance-like state, meditating to the sounds of the Organ.
Sun Salutation
This is the other attraction, the Sun Salutation. It is a huge circle of glass solar panels, which absorb sunlight all day. Then at night, together with the energy produced by the waves of the sea, it turns into this incredible light show. You can see that it’s big enough to walk over; there were children playing, dogs running about, and many photo opportunities. Another very cool concept, all utilising the strength and power of nature, harnessed into energy. Snaps for sustainability!

Sun Salutation

Sun Salutation
The colours changed while patterns danced and moved about.

Sun Salutation

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