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Exploring Croatia’s Adriatic Coast

Exploring Croatia’s Adriatic Coast

August 06, 2019



  Anthony Ham is one of Melbourne's most sought after travel & nature writers. Having been published in The AgeSydney Morning HeraldTravel AfricaWild TravelWanderlust and Lonely Planet Traveller, we are excited to have him as a regular contributor on the sassind blog.



 
With its back to the Balkans and its seafaring ports facing Western Europe, Croatia’s Adriatic coastline is an East-meets-West kind of place. It’s also one of the more beautiful coastlines on the planet.

When I first visited here way back in 1989, driving with my parents from Venice, up and over the Gulf of Trieste in Italy, then all the way down to Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia still existed, the Bosnian War still hadn’t happened, and tourism was more about uncomplicated bed-and-breakfasts than coastal resorts. In the years after the war, Croatian beaches became a cause celebre, known to the world by a clever ad campaign that marketed Croatia as ‘the Mediterranean as it once was’. So much has changed in the years since that one wonders what the old men and women, those who sit beside cobblestone laneways and ancient fishing ports to watch the world go by, think of it all.

And yet, for all the hype, Croatia retains its charm, with echoes of the past written upon those same cobblestones.

 

Zadar, Croatia
 
Partly the survival of Old Croatia is pre-determined by geography. For much of its length, Croatia’s coast rises steeply from a turquoise sea. Villages cling to narrow promontories, tiny clusters of terracotta roofs almost entirely encircled by water. Behind them, the stark mountains of limestone and karst rise like ramparts that protect the Croatian interior from seaborne invasion. In front of them – for almost all of them face west – offshore islands of the same austere cast rise from the ocean, dramatic ribbons of rock that often appear uninhabited but which guard some of the Adriatic’s best-kept secrets.

Another reason why Croatia’s charm has survived wars and tourist invasions is that this is a coastline that has seen it all before. Coastal cities steeped in antiquity, cities such as Zadar, Sibenik and Dubrovnik, have changed hands down through the centuries. Glorious ruins from the days when Ancient Rome ruled this corner of Europe, the pencil-thin minarets above domed mosques that speak to historical incursions from Ottoman Turkey, gilded churches from all sides of the great schisms that have ebbed and flowed through Orthodox Christianity – Croatia’s towns and villages are filled with these storied landmarks of the past. Born in geographical proximity to the great civilizational crossroads of Europe, informed by some of the most sophisticated empires of the continent’s past, Croatia is filled also with a curious mix of the exotic and the reassuringly familiar.

 
Lignje
 
And the food, too, is a culinary journey through a past that owes much to geography and history. Not surprisingly, seafood is a mainstay, from octopus cooked in a small ceramic dish to lignje (squid stuffed with cheese and/or prosciutto). Steaks and mixed grills from the interior are another gastronomic highlights – the lamb from the island of Pag is said to be the best in all of Croatia. Also from Pag, the păski sir is a hard sheep’s cheese that wins awards all over Europe. And, of course, it all just tastes better when the view from your table is an uninterrupted panorama of quiet seas, offshore islands, or cobblestone squares.

 

 

Here is our list of everything you need to know to enjoy Croatia’s Adriatic Coast: Where to base yourself?

  • Opatija This elegant seaside resort west of Rijeka has the genteel feel of a northern European seaside resort. Expect hotels with sea views and first-rate restaurants.
  • Krk The northern island of Krk may draw the crowds, but head to clifftop, medieval Vrbnik, with its tangle of laneways, what they claim to be one of the narrowest streets on earth, and a local winery.
  • Zadar One of the most beautiful cities anywhere in the Mediterranean, Zadar inhabits a long promontory and has stylish hotels, excellent restaurants and a slew of ancient monuments and churches.
  • Šibenik Built around an ancient core, Sibenik combines the grandeur of towering monuments with the intimacy of narrow laneways that twist across the hillside. The city is also an important gateway for excursions to numerous offshore islands.
  • Split Dominated by the Unesco World Heritage-listed Roman-era Diocletian’s Palace, Split is where ancient history happily coexists with a thriving, dynamic and thoroughly modern cultural scene. The selection of hotels and restaurants is among the most extensive along the coast.
  • Korcula One of the loveliest towns along the coast, Korcula is a living museum of Renaissance and Gothic architecture, with a citadel and so many views that take full advantage of the peninsula location. It’s busy enough to have good hotels and restaurants, but small enough to not feel like a scene.
  • Dubrovnik Perhaps the best-known of Croatia’s coastal towns, glorious Dubrovnik well deserves its fame. With museums, architecture, and plenty of reasons to get out on the water, its old town is, quite simply, magnificent. Designer hotels are increasingly a feature of the accommodation landscape.
 
Diocletian's Palace, Split
 

The best beaches to lounge on

Croatia’s beaches are very much cut from a Mediterranean cloth – expect small coves, impossibly blue waters, a pebble or two, and the occasional Roman ruin.

 

  • Lubenice This gorgeous beach on Cres Island is only accessible by boat or a steep hike.
  • Beli Also on Cres, this quiet little gem sits beneath a beautiful village.
  • Lopar Peninsula Near the peninsula’s northern tip are some of Croatia’s best.
  • Baška On Krk Island, Baška has white sand and a sense of blissful isolation.
  • Colentum A Roman villa watches you while you swim on the island of Murter.
  • Kornati Islands Stunning, deserted beaches on a day trip from Zadar or Split.
  • Zlatni Rat Pine-fringed perfection on a narrow spit out into the sea.
 
Cres Island, Lubenice
 

Croatia's best kept secrets

 
  • Cres Island Quiet northern island accessible only by ferry, this beauty has isolated villages and even more isolated beaches.
  • Pag Island Barren, windswept island that produces splendid sheep’s cheeses with many opportunities to try and/or buy.
  • Vis Island Far enough away from the mainland to avoid the crowds, Vis has postcard-perfect beaches and tiny hamlets.
  • Kornati Islands Largely uninhabited islands ringed by reefs – perfect for a snorkelling-and-picnic day trip from Zadar or elsewhere.
  • Plitvice Lakes National Park Beautiful lakes, Croatia’s highest waterfall and pretty hiking trails make this a fine excursion into the coastal hinterland.
  • Trogir Medieval walled village, connected to the mainland by bridges, is the essence of the Dalmatian Coast.
  • Primošten Tight cluster of stone-and-terracotta houses once protected by a drawbridge – the view from above on the approach is classic Croatia.
 
Kornati Island, Croatia
 

Designer Hotels for the Traveller

 
  • Villa Dubrovnik One of a new breed of Dubrovnik hotels where contemporary style and a great location matched to a boutique sensibility.
  • Art Hotel Kalelarga Soothing stonework and muted colours in the heart of Zadar’s old town.
  • Design Hotel Navis Clifftop location, stunning design features and attention to detail and a spa and wellness centre, in Volosko.
  • Heritage Hotel Antique Split Boutique hotel that’s typical of Split’s cool design revolution.
  • Boutique Hotel Alhambra Lovely boutique offering in Mali Lošinj, down the southern end of Lošinj Island.
 
Villa Dubrovnik, Croatia
 



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