Back in the days of the former Yugoslavia, President Tito made one of his better decisions when he decreed that no multi-storey construction could happen with 100 metres of the coastline. The Croatian government subsequently continued the policy and, as a result, the country can now boast what must be the most unspoilt and scenic coastline in Europe.
One of the best ways to explore it is to take a cruise as I did recently on a filming trip with Noble Caledonia. Our ship was the Princess Eleganza, a gem of a small ship, carrying just 36 passengers and nimble enough to slip in to the smallest of ports. What a joy is was to berth overnight in peaceful harbours and spend at least half of every day cruising.
My video – 10 great things to see in Coastal Croatia – reflects that voyage and I hope also reflects the beauty of the scenery, the ports, the National Parks, the culinary scene, the sunsets and everything else that makes Croatia such a popular tourist destination.
Below is just a bit more detail on the rationale for my Top 10:
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, the medieval Old Town of Dubrovnik has long been a magnet for tourists. It’s also tiny, which means it gets packed especially when up to 5 mega ships can be docked at once, spewing out up to 20,000 passengers. When we were there, late afternoon in early June, it wasn’t too bad, we got to see all the main sites with relative ease but, for me, the most enjoyable bit by far was the cable car ride up Srd hill for the view back down on the Old Town. There are a couple of restaurants at the top but head for the Panorama Bar & Restaurant, next to the cable car station for unforgettable drinks with a view.
2. The ‘Lavender Island’ of Hvar
Hvar has gained a reputation as party central in recent years, especially with students and backpackers. I must say they have good taste – it’s an incredibly pretty port with a castle backdrop, cobbled backstreets, expansive squares and clear blue seas. I guess the appeal of a late night ferry out to secluded islands to party till dawn also adds to the appeal. Hvar is more than just the port though – we actually docked in Starigard, another delightful and much quieter harbour and only 30 minutes drive away. Driving back along the country roads we got to see Hvar’s other claim to fame: the beautiful rural landscape, heady with the scent of lavender, pine and rosemary.
3. Captivating Korcula
Neat alliteration but also very true – Korcula is just lovely. It’s a tiny port, reputed to be the birthplace of explorer Marco Polo. They certainly milk the connection but it seems plausible enough as you wander the crooked streets and elegant squares flanked with palaces of old nobility. Another Marco, Marco Andijic, a 15th century stonemason played a part in creating the bell tower of the cathedral which gave us our 360 view of Korcula. It’s a steep old climb but well worth the effort. NB Korcula now restricts cruise ships docking before 5pm.
4. Cocktails and sunset dining
Still in Korcula, it was also memorable for its bars and restaurants. Massimo’s must be one of the more unusual locations for a cocktail bar – atop a medieval tower. Access is via a steep staircase and then a ladder up through a tiny hole – I very nearly got stick on it with my back pack! Fortunately the drinks are delivered more easily, via a winch and pulley system on the side of the tower. The cocktail menu is a little naff but don’t be put off, you can keep it simple with a G&T and enjoy the great views. Along the waterfront there is a great selection of restaurants – by recommendation we plumped for Nonno’s where the antipasti and homemade pasta dishes, even if a little pricey, were as good as anything I’ve eaten in Italy.
5. Churches, castles and palaces
Croatia is awash with historic buildings. Among the most memorable for me was a tour of Diocletian’s Palace in Split – the approach to Split from the sea didn’t look all that promising but then, just steps from the waterfront, you enter the complex that the Roman Emperor Dioclea had built as his retirement Palace in AD 305. Facing the sea on one side, it was built like a Roman military fortress with walls up to 700 feet long and 20 feet high, enclosing an area of 9.5 acres. Split’s enchanting old town is within its walls. Zadar is equally as mesmerising – by the 1st century it too was a Roman Municipality. Over the centuries the city has been the subject of numerous assaults, not least more recently during the Yugoslav wars in the 90s. So it’s all the more remarkable that so many ancient buildings have survived unscathed. Happily these days Zadar’s narrow traffic free streets and vast squares are once again full of life.
6. Culture and tradition
You come across so many examples of this in Croatia, from its citizens who are clearly proud of their musical traditions, crafts and heritage. The Dalmation ‘Klapa’ or ‘a capella’ singers perform daily in Split’s vestibule within the palace walls. The acoustics are unbelievable – needless to say they do a fine trade in CD’s.
7. Zadar Sea Organs
Back to Zadar for more music – slightly less harmonious but nonetheless appealing – this time from the famous Sea Organ running the length of the peninsula. Completed in 2005, wave action pushes air through a series of underwater pipes and up through niches cut into the steps, producing random melodic notes. The stronger the waves, the louder the music. It’s a wonderful spot to watch the sun set. At the end of the promenade there is also another installation ‘Greeting to the sun’, basically a huge round solar panel which radiates a random sequence of coloured lights at night. If the organ is the music, the sun is the disco dance floor!
8. Krka National Park
Declared a National Park in 1985, Krka is an absolute stunner. Covering 109 square kilometres the park follows the River Krka about 2kms down river from Knin to Skradin. The most impressive and most visited waterfall is Skradinski Buk, considered one of the most beautiful cliff waterfalls in Europe. I can’t argue with that. 650m of river create 12 waterfalls with a total height of 27m. The falls themselves are stunning but walking through the shady woodland that surrounds them is also a delight – especially on a hot day. There is plenty to look at – dragonflies, birds and fish in the crystal clear water and endless miniature falls.
9. Zrmanja Gorge
43 miles long, the Zrmanja is one of the most beautiful rivers in Europe and a boat trip is a delightful way to witness the dramatically changing scenery. Starting off in lush green waterways, gradually the river widens and the banks brown, eventually turning into sheer rock cliffs split by the blue sparkling water. And just as you begin to tire of looking at rock, suddenly you round a bend and the river opens up into a stunning lake.
10. Water, water everywhere
The ever changing colour of the water is a constant delight on a tour of coastal Croatia. Beaches may be small and often shingle but to jump from a boat or a platform in to the crystal clear water is always delightful.
Cathy experienced the Croatian coast as a guest of Noble Caledonia on board the Princess Eleganza. For details visit www.noble-caledonia.co.uk.
To general information about holidays in Croatia see www.visit-croatia.co.uk
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Noble Caledonia.