Croatia revisited

Stephen Bellingham on 06 September 2011
Croatia – a place very close to our hearts! My wife and I met in Croatia five years ago on a hosted eight night trip. Treated like royalty we dined in some of the best restaurants Croatia has to offer. We explored the mainland from Dubrovnik in the south, drove up to Split and finally flew to Zagreb in the north, touring much of the Istrian Peninsula. We ended in Zagreb in a hotel where the English Football Team was expected the next day! We returned for an island holiday in September with a direct two and a half hour flight from Bristol into Split. An hour’s catamaran journey took us to the island of Brac, the third largest of Croatia’s Adriatic islands. Croatia in fact, has 1,244 islands of which fifty are inhabited. It was great to be back in Croatia. We loved Brac on first sight - a place for the discerning traveller without being a luxury destination with the related cost. The small boats bobbed around in the harbour, bars and cafés were at the water’s edge and the Adriatic Sea looked so inviting. Many were swimming during the late afternoon - we were tempted to join them then and there. Ideally situated our villa hotel was peaceful whilst being very close to a supermarket, bakery and the bustling harbour-front. It was tastefully decorated with lovely antiques and lush green plants. Our room was spacious, extremely clean and well furbished with air-conditioning, flat screen TV and en-suite bathroom. Outside was a terrace ideal for picnic lunches before relaxing in the tranquil garden with loungers under the willow and walnut trees. A perfect haven when it was too hot on the beach! The famous, V shaped Zlatri Rat beach (meaning Golden Cape) was either a twenty minute walk along the scenic, pine-clad walkway or a short boat or local train ride. We made the most of our one week’s stay. We hired a knowledgeable, local guide to take us to the Dragon’s Cave, a natural, cultural and spiritual monument inhabited in the 15th Century. Our four hour trip included a steep climb from Murvica – no mean feat in 30°C, but well worth the effort. We drove around the island starting with Pucisca, a town which grew in the 15th century when pirate attacks on the coast ceased. Waterfront stone houses contrast with the local peasant cottages above on the hillside. Home to the only European school specialising in stonemasonry, the influence of the local stone quarries can be seen throughout the island. There was so much to discover: local restaurants, small bays to swim in and ancient hillside villages to meander around. Our day trip to Hvar by local boat was another plus. Everyone can enjoy the ‘jet-set’ island - not just the rich and famous. Mediaeval stone houses flank the narrow cobbled hill-side streets, water-taxis take you to the islands, one with a sandy beach. A path zigzags up the hill to the Citadel, built by the Venetians in the 1550s. The view was stunning and walking back we found our favourite restaurant in a traditional, rustic house. Greeted by the chef in a traditional outfit, food is prepared as in small Dalmatian households and includes ‘grandma’s secret recipe and drunk figs! Our trip culminated wandering around the vibrant city of Split for a few hours. The Roman Emperor Diocletian’s Palace is a UNESCO listed monument. It’s four walls encompass a world apart, full of surprises - modern fashion shops, wonderful artwork, cafés and restaurants around every corner all blending with the ancient buildings. It’s a photographer’s delight! Our weather was unusually hot for the beginning of September at 30°C. Usually it’s around 23-25°C as is June. July and August tend to be the hottest with temperatures of 28-30°C. April, May and October usually are 17 - 20°C with the season starting mid-May and finishing at the end of September, beginning of October. Croatia is an amazing diverse, tourist destination with plenty of evidence of influences from a bygone era - important to the Romans, Venetians, Hungarians and Ottomans. They’ve all left their mark to add to the country’s heritage and culture. Not to forget the National Parks and opportunity to explore hideaway coves and small islands by motor-sailor cruises, yachts and ferries.