A year ago I took a short road trip through Istria, Croatia to explore the medieval hilltop towns, Venitian cities, sacred churches, and the famous wine, olive oil and truffles. It is an amazing area of Croatia just across the sea from Venice. It has an incredible mix of Italian and Austrian/Hungarian influence in terms of language, architecture, and food. And it is easy to drive. Everything is within an hour or two of another place or site. We stayed in "Sobe"s which are similar to B&B's. You just look for a sign that says "sobe", knock on the door, and check it out. They are typically separated from the main house and many have a kitchen. So much cheaper than staying in a hotel and you contribute to a local persons income.
I highly encourage anyone planning a trip to Croatia to research Istria. You will not be disappointed.
Make sure to eat the truffles, try the white wine, and...
Back to the Balkans!
A visit to Croatia, Bosnia, and Slovenia was one of my favorite trips ever. Montenegro and Albania, I'm looking at you. Until I go back, I'll be keeping track of the beautiful views and delicious food that other AFAR travelers are posting about.
The medieval stone wall surrounding the charming seaside city of Dubrovnik is well worth the walk, but head north a bit to sleepy Ston for a more intense wall walk that is not for the faint of heart...
Breathtaking views come with a price tag, in this case, heights, and while this ancient wall is completely safe & sturdy, complete with a guard rail on both sides, if you have any fear of heights you might consider sitting this one out and meeting your crew at the end of the walk, in Mali Ston, where you can get a head start on fresh oysters & crisp Croatian white wine- two things that the region is knows for.
I am actually afraid of heights, but found this walk to be not only physically exhilarating (the walk up is quite steep and really gets the blood pumping) but also beautiful and a lot of fun! It doesn't take long- 1.5 hours and provides beautiful views of the area. Plus, the towns...
Zlatni Rat beach, our Croatian friend told us, is one of the most photographed beaches in Croatia. It took no more time than our arrival there to convince me.
"Zlatni Rat" means "the Golden Cape," and the beach is made up of shining white pebbles that warm quickly in the sun and give the beach its name. There are plenty of roped-off areas for swimming, and speedboats charging tourists for tube rides fly in and around the beach, which reaches out into the clear blue water like a curving tentacle — I guess "promontory" is the real word for it — from the island.
The beach is just a 20-minute walk away from Bol, one of the more happening towns on Brac island, where there are plenty of restaurants and shops to while away an afternoon if sunning isn't your thing.
But if you do want to stay on the beach, it's absolutely lovely, with mountains and water all around you. There is a wooded area...
we arrived on a day with a dusting of snow but the ferry man was still willing to row us over to the island in the middle of Lake Bled. Happy to have the fare, he broke a sweat as we huddled together for warmth. Slovenia is an undiscovered gem- Ljubljana is stunningly beautiful and virtually the entire old city has been made into pedestrian only streets. Visit the market, eat in a river side cafe, but be sure to get outside the city as well - the countryside offers much and can easily be done in day trips from LJU. The Slovenians joke that if you play the accordian in their country you invade a neighbor because Slovenia is so small. "Good things come in small packages" has never been more true!
The late-morning call of the muezzin beckons throughout the sun-baked hillside, but no-one other than the wife, daughter, and son of the imam answer the call to prayer. While some might attribute the low turnout at the mosque in this tiny, quaint town, which sits perched strategically on the left bank of the Neretva river, to the demands of modern society or to a general moving away from religion, there is perhaps a more sinister reason: much of the Muslim population from Počitelj was killed, expelled, or forced into concentration camps during the 1992-1996 war. Refugees of the war have been encouraged to return but apart from a handful of women who peddle their homemade wares and delicious garden grown fruit along the cobblestone path leading up the hill, there is no evidence that the village is more than sparsely populated. There is an unshakeable feeling of desertion. This feeling...
On the pretty island of Hvar, beneath the Bastijana Winery of Andro Tomic, lies a jewel of a wine tasting hall. The dramatic cellar is called Triclinium and has been strikingly constructed out of various types of limestone in a similar manner to Diocletian's palace in Split. A more romantic spot to sample the award-winning wines of Tomic, along with local cheeses, meats and olive oils, would be difficult to imagine.
Split is not known as a shopping destination, but if you have a hankering to go shopping, then head underground to the Podrum.
The Podrum is a labyrinth of vaulted underground chambers that is located under what was Diocletian’s Palace. Back in Diocletian’s day, the Podrum was used as a storehouse and a prison. Today, the chambers are open only during special events but the main passageway, which is lined with stalls selling souvenirs and artwork, is open during day time hours. I picked up a very nice lithograph, from a local artist, here.
The main promenade in Split is the Riva. From here, the Mjedna Vrata (Bronze Gate) leads into the Podrum. You can also enter from an entrance near the Peristyle. The main passageway will take you from Riva to Peristyle so you can walk above ground in direction and below ground in the other.
Skradinski Buk is the name given to the series of tiers of cascades and waterfalls located in Krka National Park. The water flows from the Krka River and the volume is so great that it literally thunders as it rages, full force, over the karst landscape and lush vegetation. Ponds occupy the flat parts of the tiers.
We were there on a hot summer’s day so being in the park was a great way to cool off though I wished I had brought a swimsuit as swimming is allowed in certain areas. The water was crystal clear. We also happened upon a picnic area where there were many happy folks sitting under the shade of trees, eating, laughing and just having a good time. Note to self. On next trip, bring food!
Size wise, Krka National Park compares to a US state park so a few hours is enough. In addition to Skradinksi Buk, there are paths that wind up through the woodland and you can catch glimpses of...
My mom kept urging me to go to Croatia because she had seen images of the beautiful Dalmatian coast. I resisted because Croatia was not on my travel agenda at the time. I finally caved in and I’m so glad I did because it’s a gem of a country! Most tourists flock to either Dubrovnik or Split but I wanted something a bit quieter so I chose the quaint town of Trogir as my base.
Trogir is a UNESCO World Heritage site; chock full of Renaissance and Baroque buildings from the Venetian period. The old part of the town is filled with narrow cobblestone streets lined with private and commercial establishments. It’s a great place for a stroll.
From Split Airport, you can take City Bus #37 for the half hour ride to Trogir. If you book a front side room at the Villa Sikaa, this is the view you get! The view is even more stunning at night when all the buildings are lit up.
There’s no denying that Dubrovnik is a gem of a city – lots of things to do and see but, if you go any time starting in May, it can also be sweltering hot. The cool blue waters of the Adriatic Sea will look ever so inviting but there are the old city walls separating you from it.
So, here’s a tidbit if you want to go for a dip in the Adriatic while you’re in Dubrovnik. Be sure to bring a towel to lay on and lots of sunscreen.
From the Stradun, find your way to Café Bar Buža (www.cafebuza.com). It’s tucked away on a quiet side street and not easy to spot so ask for directions. This tiny, assuming eatery has a stone terrace that fronts the sea. There are steps that lead down to the water or if you prefer, you can just jump off the lower rocks. There are a few areas that you can lay down your towel and catch some rays. Plenty of shady areas to sit under if you prefer.
The café serves...
From the moment our bleary eyes adjusted to the bright lights of Zagreb's bus terminal from our overnight journey from Split, my friend and I fell in love with what a line in our guidebook claimed as the city's "cafe culture".
From the steaming cappuccinos in the morning to glasses of wine at street side tables in the afternoon, we moved around this wonderful city by following the trend set by its friendly citizens under a beautiful April sky.
The picture above is of one of many delicious stops we made in Zagreb to eat pastry delights (and what we dubbed "cheesy-bread") during our day of cafe hopping in Croatia's charming capital.
Mirogoj has been called an outdoor museum. With an eclectic mix that includes a neo-Renaissance arcade, towering cupolas, decorative gravestones of varying sizes, shapes and colors, it is definitely a place not to be missed.
While I was planning my second trip to Croatia, I researched other sites to visit besides Dubrovnik’s Old City and islands along the coast. One of my Croatian friends told me to look into the Plitvice waterfalls. As soon as I saw some photos online, it was set—I had to go. I’ve been to Niagara Falls, Iceland, and Norway; I thought I had seen enough waterfalls to last me a lifetime. That is, until I saw those photos.
I took a bus from Zagreb to Plitvice National Park, a two-hour bus ride. The park is situated in between Zagreb and Zadar. For 110 Kunas (approximately 20 USD for adults and 15 USD for students), visitors have access to the entire park, including boat rides and tram rides. The weather was cloudy and it rained on and off. Although I had my umbrella on me, there was no need to pull it out because the canopy of trees sheltered me from the rain. I...
We laid down our beach towels on the rocks, where the edge of the island met the soft lapping waves. Several peacocks watched us from a close distance, their eyes gleaming with hunger and curiosity. We kept them in our peripheral sight as we enjoyed a picnic lunch of bread, cheese, pate, and wine. So this was the wonder to found on Lokrum Island: mischievous peacocks, a soothing melody from the waves, and tranquil isolation.
Mirogaj is the central cemetery of Zagreb. The mortuary, and the impressive arcades with the church of Christ the King made it one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world. This is where Dr Franco Tudman, Croatia's first President was laid to rest.
Bana Jelacica Square is the main square in the Old Town of Zagreb. An equestrian statue of General Jelacica stands tall in the middle of the square, seen here in the background.
You don't have to stay on the famous island! Avoid "the season" and stay in one of the numerous charming hotels on the shore. Warning - you cannot visit the island, it's for guests only. But the view is free.
If I retire abroad, it might be in Perast, Montenegro, on the beautiful bay of Kotor. Sparkling water, beautiful architecture, and the freshest seafood I've had anywhere....for cheap! Grilled squid with black ink risotto that needs nothing beyond a gentle squeeze of lemon to be the most brilliant, delicious meal you've ever eaten.
Ukljeve is a small bleak found only in Lake Skadar, Montenegro – one of 7 endemic fish species in the lake. This tasty little fish is just one of the many treats you will find at Virpazar’s annual Ukljeve i Vina festival, held in February this year. I’d heard Virpazar was a sleepy little lakeside town – pretty, but not much to do. So I was surprised when we arrived to find an endless line of cars, ear blasting folk music, and more people in one place than I’d seen since arriving in this country so far.
Of course you must try the ukljeve here at the festival, as well as the wine - Vranac is Montenegro’s best and most plentiful variety. Carp is another local specialty, smoked or marinated. The ukljeve will be served up mostly fried during the festivities, although if you want a break from the crowded town square and something to settle your stomach before heading out for more rakija...
The view from the Kotor fortress is stunning – or so I’m told. I had ambitious plans to hike the 1500 steps leading to this lofty outpost on my second morning in Kotor but when I woke to the serenity of the motionless bay outside my window a less rigorous agenda seemed more appropriate. I opted to walk along water’s edge to the Kotor piazza, Montenegro’s most pleasant outdoor market.
On my way into the walled old town I passed a sign marked “fortress this way” and something nagged at me. I wasn’t in the mood for a challenge but fear of regret for an opportunity missed got the best of me so I headed up – quite vertically along an ancient stone path.
Twenty minutes later I was wishing I’d eaten breakfast and hoping there was a café around the next switchback where I could procure some strong Turkish coffee. But looking up there was only stone and shrubbery so I paused for a break. Far...
I took the 20 minute bus ride from Kotor, Montenegro to Perast with the intent of seeing this little town I’d heard was such a gem, exploring its maritime museum, and having a short excursion to the island church “Our Lady of the Rock” just offshore. But being a windy day in the offseason I was out of luck. The museum was closed, the wind too strong to enjoy the waterfront walkway, and there was no one around save a few tourists dining on seafood risotto in a fancy fish restaurant. I was also stranded, as the bus that dropped me off wouldn’t be returning until 5:00. This left me four hours to fill in a slumbering town.
I tried vainly to catch a lift to the island but eventually resigned to the restaurant where I lingered over a bowl of fish soup, stalling. Finally I headed up the cobblestone stairway to catch the bus, tired, frustrated, and a bit defeated.
My mood changed when I...
Our wonderful host, Luka at the Garni Hotel Berc, told us we shouldn't miss out on the beautiful bridge and boardwalk hike at the nearby Vintgar Gorge- he was right! What a gem. The water was so deep and the most surreal aquamarine I've ever seen.
This is a lovely coastal town which is very Italian in charm and food. A must destination while in Slovenia if for nothing more than the excellent seafood and vistas.
Bled (and the lake by the same moniker) is the most Fairytale-esque town I've ever experienced. The people are almost jarringly friendly by American standards, the island church is as beautiful as it is quaint, and the castle perched on the cliffs underlines the old worldyness of it all. The lake is so pristine because they don't allow motorboats. We swam to the island and back and enjoyed the calmness of the deep, cool, fresh water.
Kobarid is also known as Caporetto, because the town—on the border with Italy—was annexed by the Italians for part of World War I.
The brutality of that war has been erased—and scenery like this has survived (you can revisit the war at the museum dedicated to the Battle of Caporetto in the center of town).
I think I had never seen water this color before, though it was shockingly cold. You can hike out of Kobarid and along the Isonzo River, stopping to swim or picnic.
For our few days in Vis, a two-hour ferry ride from Split, we would drive our Vespa until we got to a beach—they are not hard to come by on this small island.
This beach, right about in the middle of the south coast of the island, is mostly only accessible to boats. But we, boatless, scrambled down a steep cliff because it looked so perfect, and spent a few dreamy hours.
We arrived on the ferry at Vis Town, walked into the tourist office and booked an apartment for a few days. Those days were spent going from beach to languid, four-hour meal, to beach again.