The first two things people said to me when I told them I was off to Croatia were that I would be hot, and that it would be expensive. Having little experience of that area of Europe, my expectations were limited. There’s nothing better than picking up a book or going to a film that you’ve read or heard absolutely nothing about, and then being swept away by it when you get going. For me, this was Croatia.
Winding our way on the coach down to Dubrovnik from Mostar, the coast was beautiful. Searing blue sea speckled with dark green islands and little clusters of terracotta-topped houses on the cliffs. Getting into the old town could have been easily achieved by a taxi, but I’m always one for a challenge, so for a fraction of the price we got on the local bus (very frequent, easy to find) and headed out.
While I’d seen a picture of it on the front of my ‘Rough Guide,’ nothing quite prepared me for the splendour of the old town. Imagine you’ve gone back in time, your horse and cart clattering through the fields. You approach a magnificent city, circled with imposing walls and turrets. Through the gates, the whole place is awash with churches, monasteries, a huge avenue with a dome-topped fountain, all hewn from the same pale stone and topped with terracotta. Like that, only without the dirt and inconvenience of the Middle Ages.
And yes, it’s also King’s Landing. Tours and themed shops abound if you want to indulge.
If you visit, you must walk around the walls. It’s not cheap (about £20 each), but you get a whole hour (more, if you stroll) of seeing the city from above. You can peer into narrow streets, gaze out at the bay, or simply enjoy the collection of hats and sunglasses that have fallen below as people leant out a little too far.
Do bring your most stylish summer clothes. The city oozed charm, from the women leaning against the stone in their best dresses while readjusting their hair to the nighttime elegance of people looking for a good place to eat. Also bring resilient legs. Our accommodation (beautiful Air Bnb – around £90 per night inside the walls) was at the top of the city, up a host of very pretty but very long sets of stairs. The thighs under those stylish shorts were strong!
Food is great, with lots of local seafood, I had a fantastic seafood stew with mussels, monkfish, huge prawns and tasty sauce. The black risotto with cuttlefish is a local specialty – looks gross, tastes great. Expect to pay fancy UK restaurant prices.
Looking around the town can be daunting, there is just so much to see. I would go to the cathedral, at least two of the churches, and the monastery that houses the museum. Small collection but some great old artefacts and what claims to be the oldest apothecary in Europe. A book chronicling the siege of Dubrovnik also gives you a sense of the terrible situation here during the war in the early 90s.
Before you go, stop off at the balancing stone (I couldn’t stand on it) where being able to stand, take your shirt off and put it back on again, is apparently a certain for wooing the ladies. I know of one occasion where this actually worked, so don’t knock it!
Worth a two-night stay at least, Dubrovnik is one of those places that will stay with you.
For a completely different Croatian experience, we went to Mljet (pronounced MILL-YET – a distinct lack of vowels to be found!). One of the many islands off the South coast, it can be reached by ferry from Dubrovnik, but we decided to get a car and drive up to Prapratno on the Peliacas peninsula and get a boat from there.
On the way, we stopped off at Trsteno, which has a wonderful arboretum, where a local nobleman built a personal aqueduct to supply his villa, as well as planting hundreds of different plants and trees, some of which are 150 years old. And yes, it was used in GOT. There are tours and everything.
A very pleasant drive later (empty roads, meandering along the coast) and a 45-minute ferry we arrived on the island. We were staying in the National Park, which was about 30mins drive away. It’s a little corner of paradise, but a European paradise. Don’t expect sandy beaches and palm trees, but it is very green with pines and figs, the sea is impossibly blue and the food is delicious.
Polace is a little town on the North. Personally I much preferred it to Pomena, which was closer to the centre of the park but had big hotels and very large boats in the bay, whereas we just had apartments and smaller boats, it had much more of a local village feel to it than a tourist resort.
It took us a while to slow our pace down, but once we did the island was great. Unfortunately the heat meant it was a little difficult to do as much trekking around the park as we would have liked, but the lakes gave us something we weren’t expecting – great snorkelling. The big lake has a coral reef, so you can see a huge range of fish, sponges, crabs and algae, all hiding under the sparkling water.
Odysseus’ Cave was a definite highlight – the water is impossibly clear and blue, along with the thrilling feeling of being in the wild open sea next to the rocks, and swimming into the cave. We took the snorkel and saw parrot fish, an added bonus!
You can also go sub diving from Pomena. I opted for more snorkelling, and saw my first ever octopus. Following the wriggle of a tentacle, I dived down to see a sandy face retreating into a hole.
The food and accommodation feels a little overpriced considering how rustic and standard things are, although it was during high season, so perhaps to be expected. We did have the ‘brodet’ – a stew you order in advance (with goat, lamb or fish) and it was spectacular, so sometimes it felt worth it.
On a final note, don’t miss out on eating a King – a local version of a Magnum that is frankly, far superior. There are nine different varieties. We only managed to get through five, but the clear winners were Kokos (coconut ice cream with coconut chocolate) and Peanut Perfection (just the name is enough).
Gentle evenings and cicada-buzzing days, the sun flushing your salt-crackled skin. What more could you ask for?
Thanks to Mohamad for inviting me to post here, a pleasure to be a part of your wonderful site. For fiction, articles and reviews, please go to https://sarahtinsley.com