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    Croatia | Cruise the coastline

    Want to know where you go when you cruise Croatia’s coastline?

    Monty and I were going to drive from Dubrovnik to Split before heading to the country’s capital, Zagreb, but a wise friend said we should try a cruise. The idea of boarding a ship with hundreds, if not thousands, of holiday makers put my head into a tailspin. I just couldn’t shake the negatives. So many reasons why NOT to go on a cruise but having dipped my toes into the world of cruising I have found my happy place with a small cruise ship option. The Adriatic Sea was the ideal starting point.

    When did we travel?

    October 2019. Perfect weather. Perfect timing. Everything was open but on some islands some businesses were starting to shut down for the winter.

    Where did we go?

    We boarded our boat in Dubrovnik, headed off to Sipan Island, Mljet, Korčula, Vis, Hvar, Bol, Trogir, disembarking in Split. Some sections of the journey we travelled at night. Some places we spent just the morning or afternoon.

    For additional Photographs of our trip visit John Montague Photography

    What were the standouts in each place?

    Dubrovnik was enchanting. We didn’t have time to venture beyond the Old City so our impressions of Dubrovnik centre around this old precinct. Highlights were walking the Old City’s wall (albeit two hours under the searing hot sun), discovering hidden bars secreted into the base of the Old City wall, visiting the Old City’s cathedral and the Old Pharmacy at the Franciscan Monastery, devouring fresh, cooked mussels (the dish is called Mussels Buzara) and crisp golden rings of tender squid washed down with tankards of Karlovacko beer, and stepping beyond the Old City’s walls to catch the cable car to Srd Hill for spectacular panoramic views of Dubrovnik and the Old City.

    Sipan Island is the largest of the Elaphiti (Elafiti) archipelago, 17km northwest of Dubrovnik. There are two main villages on the island, Sudjuradj and Sipanaska Luka; we visited the latter. What we loved:  it was so still and peaceful. You’re overwhelmed with this feeling that you have stepped back in time. Sadly, many of the old buildings are left to decay. I can imagine, in years past, aristocratic families would have used these grand buildings as summer manors. Sipan is renowned for its wine, fish from the clean sea, the centuries-old large fortification towers, and the church-fortress. We docked at Sipan only for the afternoon. As there wasn’t enough time to explore these monuments, but we did partake in local wine and wandered past homes hugging the water’s edge.

    Mljet’s calling card is its lusciously verdant National Park and swimming lakes. The island is 27kms from Dubrovnik making it the perfect destination for nature lovers. The island boasts the 12th century Benedictine Monastery surrounded by high stone walls. The monastery was allegedly abandoned in the mid-1800s. In later years it has been used as an office block and as a hotel.  Some parts of the monastery are open to the public. Must visit: the monastery’s St Mary Church.

    Korčula lies just off the Dalmatian coast. Korčula is a magnet for travellers like Monty and Me. This crenelated-walled medieval town once fought over by the Venetians, Turks, French, Austrians, and Germans, is rich in vineyards and storybook villages. We walked Korčula town, accompanied by a local guide, dishing tales on its colourful history (it seems everyone wanted Dalmatia’s Korčula). I think we could have happily stayed here for at least a week wandering the town’s narrow alleys. A must for newcomers: cocktails at Massimo’s bar, but please note you’ll have to climb a steep ladder to the top of the tower. It’s worth the effort – you’ll imbibe from metal goblets while you take in the view. Such fun. Make sure you have your credit card handy too – lots of jewellery including coral creations. Lots of standout restaurants too. I have fond memories of Korčula – it was the first time I dived into the pristine water from our boat. It was freezing – at first – but it wasn’t long before I acclimatised. Heaven. My dives became daily ‘musts’.

    Vis is a remote, rocky island with secluded beaches and caves. The Blue Cave was on our itinerary, but it was cancelled because the sea was too rough. The water is so pure you can’t resist diving in but watch out for the sea anemones. If you want to walk around the shoreline wear reef shoes. There are two towns on Vis Island: Vis and Komiža. We docked in Vis and spent the day here as well as taking the bus to Komiža located at the foot of Hum hill and ventured further to the hill’s peak to check out Tito’s cave. Vis is super pretty. Its claim-to-fame: Mamma Mia II was filmed here. The town is charming with 17th and 18th century noble palaces with stone balconies and local pastries to-die-for. History buffs will appreciate the small information plaques on many of the building walls. Favourite buildings: Chapel of St Vincent Ferrer and the Church of St Cyprian and Justina. Drink at: Mvsevm Vis. Tucked away in the back street of Vis, this quirky restaurant-bar-naval museum is full of Adriatic maritime memorabilia.

    Hvar is renowned for its summer resort vibe but it’s the island’s 13th century walls and hilltop fortress that grabbed our attention. It’s here you’ll find Dalmatia’s biggest main square, cobble streets, renaissance, and baroque buildings surrounded by fortification walls dating back to the 7th century. “The sunniest spot in all of Europe”, it is said Hvar is the playground of the ‘rich and famous’; this sweet spot boasts an endless choice of bars, nightclubs, and restaurants. The standout is charming Hvar itself.

    Bol is on the island of Brač, off the coast of Split. Bol’s old town hugs the compact marina with its seafront promenade leading to (Golden Horn) Zlatni Rat Beach, regarded as one of the most beautiful beaches in the Mediterranean.  Like Vis, many of the buildings in Bol feature information panels detailing their historic and cultural importance. Highlight is the marina. If you’re feeling energised walk up to the ancient fortress. If you’re the chilled-out type pop into Stina Winery but get your timing right for the wine tasting. We were too early. Must do: head to the Golden Horn, sprint across the sand and jump into the pristine water.

    Trogir is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site dating back to 3rd century BC when the Greeks settled here. Only 27km from Split, Trogir’s main tourist sight is the Cathedral of St Lawrence which you can climb to the top to get incredible views. Although every destination is remarkable, Hvar and Trogir are the two standouts for Monty and Me. And, if I had to choose, Trogir wins the prize. It’s bursting with history, architectural beauties, local dishes that will have you rushing back for more, plus stacks of shops with treasures perfect for gifts (and for yourself). I loved Trogir’s Cȏte d’Azur vibe.

    Split is our final destination! We stayed an extra day or two in Split to ensure we were able to see everything we wanted to see. Split is Croatia’s second largest city and the largest city in the Dalmatian region. The line between old and new blur in this lively city – bars and restaurants nestle beside and inside imposing Roman ruins. What to visit: UNESCO World Heritage site Diocletian’s Palace.  Built in 305AD for the Roman Emperor Diocletian, this massive complex is in the centre of Split’s Old Town. You can easily spend a couple of days wandering the palace complex. Split’s Riva Promenade is a pleasant strolling area, but you’ll pay top dollar if you dine here. If you’re staying in Split and haven’t been to Trogir, it’s an easy 35-minute car or bus drive away. Or take the ferry instead – its only one hour.

    Vicki Montague is a freelance writer with a predilection for travel, European fashion, architecture that oozes history and charm, and objects that tell a story. She and her partner John are empty nesters - their three adult children have left the comforts of home to carve out their own paths in life. Vicki’s professional background is in marketing and public relations.

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