Fully relaxed, my mind was empty only for the thoughts of the extreme beauty that lay before me. The last three weeks has been just what I needed. A break. Away from the pressures and cares of my work, away from the up and downs of life back home, and ultimately finding myself again. It was because of this one great country, a beautiful and exciting place.
The Adriatic Sea stood calm, the setting sunlight glinting off the deep blue surface hugging the city of Dubrovnik and its ancient city walls in a warm orange haze. Laughter pealed out from houses within and reached the mesmerised tourists appreciating the panoramic view that they might have just reached paradise. For me, everywhere in Croatia was nothing but…
My best friend answered the phone,
‘Look, we’re going to Croatia,’ I told him as a matter of fact. We had just been umming and ahhing where to go for our trip together and all I could hear was a sharp intake of breath.
‘Actually, I was just about to tell you we should go to Croatia.’
It must have been fate and it allowed us to book cheap flight tickets to Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, with Easyjet and back home from Dubrovnik to London Gatwick. My friend and I would be backpacking throughout the length of the country from its mountainous and rural north down the Dalmatian Coast and finally finishing up in the Game of Thrones inspired Dubrovnik. We had just three weeks to do so.
It would be my first foray into Eastern Europe and I was intrigued about life in the Balkans since the disastrous Yugoslav Wars between 1990 and 1999. So as I landed in Croatia in their capital city, I knew I would be in for a great time.
Zagreb (Day 1-3)
I was very pleasantly surprised by Zagreb. Expecting it to be a soulless capital city of grey buildings, it was completely the opposite. The city is delightfully green full of attractive parks, gorgeous buildings full of architectural wonderment and also a hubbub of multicultural friendliness and winning smiles. Exploring on a self-made walking tour discovering history through the popular Jelacic Square and the Dolac Market offering the finest wares is a must do and I urge you to check out the gorgeous St Mark’s Church, which I had the pleasure of jumping in front of! We stayed in the budget hostel, Palmer’s Lodge, which offered simple and colourful rooms in a central location. I was disappointed to leave after a fun-filled two days here but the country of Croatia lay before us.
Pula (Day 4-6)
We weren’t going to Pula originally. But a rather attractive girl we met in Zagreb who hailed from Pula convinced us otherwise. We were glad she did because Pula was just outstanding! Based on the Istria Coast, a stone’s throw from the country of Slovenia, you will feel you have walked on a Roman film set! With a huge amphitheatre as the central landmark of the city, a sparkling blue sea from the busy harbour and marble paved streets, it’s a wonder to be in! It’s also the place where I’ve discovered the best food I’ve ever tasted in Croatia. The family run and local restaurant is called Pecenjara Kod Kadre and literally serves the best Cevapici – a grilled dish of minced meat, like a kebab, that is found to be the national dish of Bosnia and Serbia.
Zadar (Day 7-9)
Hold up everyone, I think I’ve actually found Atlantis! It’s masked as the city of Zadar! After I caught a flight with Croatian Airlines from Pula to here, I was completely gobsmacked by the north Dalmatian Coast region that again is paved with marble amid narrow streets. My favourite places in Zadar definitely has to be the Roman Forum where you can stroll across the ruins and the sea end of the Old Town where you can listen to the Sea Organ – 35 pipes offset by the waves creating a musical soundscape. Zadar is also well placed to visit other parts of the country if you choose to stay in one place. I must recommend that you visit Plitvice Lakes, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, full of serene waterfalls, calm lakes and a beautiful scene for hiking that is just two hours bus ride away.
Split (Day 10-12)
Croatia’s second city, Split, is the gateway to the stunning Croatian islands that has tourists grinning with excitement. However, the city itself is a welcome surprise. Diocletian’s Palace, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, is perfect to get lost in its Roman inspired winding and confusing streets. However, it holds plenty of revelations as you uncover the many secrets within. Also, Split is fantastic for shopping! Head down to Marmontova Street and you will find the best and top brands to dress yourself as the true luxurious visitor who has just sailed in on a yacht! Split also has a great nightlife along the harbour, just make sure you try the special national drink called Rakia.
Hvar (Day 13-15)
Stepping off the quick hour long Jadrolinja Catamaran ferry from Split, I knew I was going to love this island. It seemed like everyone did as well! Known for its rocky beach settings, it also serves as the next biggest party island in the world. Thousands cram into the small picturesque square to listen to the latest tunes alongside the harbour and dance the night away before catching a taxi boat to Carpe Diem Island where it’s a nightclub by itself. If you’re looking just to relax, head away from the town centre to the many beaches dotted around or chill out in a hammock at the Falko Beach Bar. However, if you like to do exercise, climb the hills to the Spanish Fortress to get a grand view of the Adriatic Sea and the town below.
Korcula (Day 16-18)
If you’re visiting Croatia, you surely must island hop. Ferries and boats serve many charters across the Adriatic Sea to a wide range of stunning islands. We chose our next destination to be Korcula, known for its quiet and laid-back lifestyle after the partying in Hvar. Devoid of the tourist masses, we whiled away the days scoffing our faces with delicious Seafood and walking around the quiet streets of the eclectic Old Town. You could even have a cocktail on a tower top but only after you climbed a series of ladders!
Dubrovnik (Day 19-22)
Finally, we reached our last stop after a wondrous three weeks and it’s definitely true that we saved the best till last. The elite city of Dubrovnik, that Croatia is tremendously proud of, is a perfectly walled city on the Adriatic coast in the extreme south of the country. The walls house the Old Town where you will be kept busy for as long as possible as soon as you enter the Pile Gate. I opted to find out Croatia’s history at the War Photo Museum, the city’s culture and entertainment by taking a Game of Thrones tour, which had me squealing with glee as I discovered where the TV film series shoot at various points in the city. I also checked out the delectable food at the many restaurants but my favourite has to be the Taj Mahal Bosnian Cuisine restaurant serving delicious meat dishes. Also, if you would like to visit another country for the day, it is possible to do so by taking a tour to Mostar in Bosnia or Kotor Bay in Montenegro.
Spending two hours on the city walls of Dubrovnik in the evening glow, this is where I smiled. I knew I’ve come to a special place and quite rightly agreed with George Bernard Shaw who uttered this statement when he came to visit in the 19th Century,
‘Those who seek paradise on Earth should come to Dubrovnik and find it.’
Never a truer word said.
This article appeared in the September 2014 Edition of East Yorkshire’s glossy Magazine called The Journal.