By Judy Bereza, Guest Blogger
Croatia has exploded on the tourist destination map in the last 20 years.
But first, a bit of history. After World War II, Croatia was part of Communist Yugoslavia. In 1991 Croatia declared itself to be an independent state, but was immediately plunged into war with Serbia, who wanted to gain control over this coastal piece of real estate. Croatia prevailed, and after four years and 20,000 deaths, the matter was settled. Although the country suffered significant artillery and bombing damage, an ambitious and far reaching renovation program was begun, and Croatia was poised to become the hottest destination in Europe.
So its not surprising that Croatia was on our bucket list. There are many ways to experience the country. Land tours are intriguing, but with an enchanting and beautiful coastline and over 1000 islands, cruising and sailing are the most popular way to see the country.
We chose a private yacht, newly built with 19 staterooms. The cruise covered 200 miles of exquisite coastline, dotted with ancient towns and UNESCO World Heritage sites. Croatia has eight of them, and on our cruise we visited five.
Let me take you on a tour of these diverse and stunning sites:
Dubrovnik has been labeled “The Jewel of the Adriatic”. During summer,
this no longer secret destination is host to mega cruise ships, and is home to the “teeming masses”. Go in the fall, like we did.
Then the exquisite jewels of this ancient city can actually be seen. Old city walls, baroque buildings and narrow streets rising steeply from the marbled square invite you to explore and admire its ancient and authentic architecture. An, oh yes,
the shops and restaurants tucked away in narrow cobblestone alleys.
The centerpiece of this thriving and ancient city is the Diocletian Palace constructed by the Emperor Diocletian in the 4th Century. Immense walls surround an area of over 400,000 square feet which hold some of the most impressive remaining monuments of the Roman Empire in the world.
Inside one of these perfect acoustical structures we listened to a men’s a cappellachorus – a flawless setting for a visual and auditory memory.
This exquisite island town nestled inside of ancient city walls contains a profuse collection of 13th to 15th century buildings, among them the Cathedral of St.Lawrence. After negotiating treacherous medieval steps we were rewarded with a stunning view back into the 15th century.
Although the Cathedral of St. James with its wide open staircase leading to a imposing square is the official UNESCO site, the city itself is stunning. We tackled the daunting climb through narrow polished cobblestone alleys to reach the summit, dominated by St. Michael’s Fortress, dating from the 13th century.
An open air auditorium inside the fortress was opened in 2014. We witnessed preparations for an opera to be performed that evening. Wish we could have stayed for that!
Plitvice Lakes National Park
We traveled by bus on the last day of our cruise to this remarkable site. The park is comprised of 16 cascading crystal clear lakes, ranging in color from azure to emerald. The interconnecting waterfalls flow from a few feet to a height of over 230 feet, creating deep, precipitous canyons.
We enjoyed every enchanting and historic destination, but the land excursions were just part of this memorable cruise. The yacht came with a lovely young Croatian tour guide who was with us for the entire cruise.
She was assisted by local tour guides in every town. No shouting or umbrellas pointed into the air. We all had our individual audio systems, ours for the duration of the cruise. Another advantage to small yacht cruising –private anchorages for swimming and sunbathing. And, if you have a talented chef on board, eating becomes an eagerly anticipated activity!
Croatia has only one major obstacle – too much to offer to accommodate the ever increasing tourist invasion. When one small length of gleaming coastline offers craggy cliffs, hidden swimming coves, beaches, vineyards, , olive groves, endless islands, ancient towns and UNESCO sites, the rush to discover and explore this newly independent country is understandable.
My recommendation? Go with a small group on a small boat in the Fall.
Oh, and be prepared to fall in love!
For more blogs about Croatia on DesignDestinations.org go to: Sailing the Dalmatian Coast
Judy Bereza is a retired interior designer/kitchen expert, constant walker and “Nana” to four adorable grand children. She and her friends have hiked in Wales, Cornwall, Switzerland, Smokey Mountain National Park, Ireland and California.
Occasionally she veers off the trail to explore a different kind of travel adventure that includes her husband..