Travelling along the Dalmatian Coast past its many neighbouring islands, you can’t help but be entranced by the mountains — their size and scale, their rugged beauty — and by the way they drop so swiftly into the Mediterranean Sea, which stretches away, as far as the eye can see, like a never-ending magical blue carpet.
Travellers come to this part of the world to swim or sail, to wander its ancient cities and towns and eat and drink from the bounty of its rural landscape.
Play. Overlooking the sparkling waters of the Adriatic stands the old walled city of Dubrovnik. With its white limestone cobbled streets, its convents and churches, palaces, fountains and museums, the old town of Stari Grad (“Old Town” — its official name) is filled with cultural heritage and beauty. Walking the 1.2 miles atop the city’s ancient walls is a beautiful way to see everything. You’ll come across new vistas at every bend in the ramparts — crumbling stone stairways that lead to brightly painted old wooden doors, arched tunnels leading to hidden restaurants. You can also while away time eating and drinking here — the food is outstanding — or you can hop down to one of the many little rocky beaches that surround the old city and spend your days basking in sunshine and swimming with the locals in crystal clear azure waters. Dubrovnik and Split (another charming coastal city further north) are both departure points for the ferries that shuttle passengers to and from the islands dotted along the Dalmatian coast. A short boat ride from Split (and one of the more popular islands to visit) is Hvar. Here, you can soak up the history merely by wandering the streets — the marina is set at the foot of a medieval castle and, as you mean- der about the town’s picturesque streets, you’ll no doubt stumble upon its ancient Benedictine convent and cathedral. To see more of the island, hire a scooter or car and race off through Hvar’s craggy hilled interior. You’ll soon find yourself coasting through rolling meadows of lavender and down to secluded pebble beaches with islets and coves that are easy enough to explore and dive straight into. Along the way, you’ll pass by ancient stone walls and ruins, vineyards, olive groves and at the right time of day, maybe even a farmer or two herding their flock of little white bell-wearing goats.
Eat. You will not go hungry in Croatia. The food is so fresh, simple and delicious, with vegetables, seafood and fruit readily abundant everywhere. A morning visit to one of the produce markets that pop up in virtually every town will provide you with a bountiful picnic lunch to take off to the beach — seasonal fruit, handmade cheeses and bread, and local wine and olive oil are all sold. Pomegranates, with their jewel-like pink seeds, are irresistible but it is the taste and smell of soft ripe figs that are the most emblematic of Dalmatia. They are everywhere, in roadside stalls, at the local markets, and more often than not can be found hanging over old stone walls in the narrow alleyways, begging to be plucked and eaten straight from the tree.
One night, there were fresh anchovies in olive oil and parsley, tiny sparkling black-shelled mussels, octopus salad, homemade pasta with raw tomato sauce and oregano adorning the small table of a rooftop terrace. Another night on one of the islands, there was roast lamb with rosemary, garlic and orange rind, soft golden potatoes and stewed peppers, eaten by candlelight underneath a canopy of grapevines. Food dreams met. We have to mention Zori, on the islet of Palmizana, a generations-old family-run seafood restaurant that has evolved from a simple seaside tavern into an incredible dining experience – don’t miss the octopus salad!
Stay. Do stay a couple of nights in Dubrovnik to take in the history and culture of the area, then we recommend Cavtat, just down the coast. It’s still an easy boat ride to the old walled city, but here you’ll feel more like a local, with fewer tourists around. Known for its beaches with water polo and kayaking available, in the evenings, when the outdoor food stalls start up, the yachts come in from their day spent cruising around the islands and the town comes alive.
A little further beyond Hvar, the mountainous island of Vis has the allure of total tranquillity. Quieter than the other islands, it is made up of just a few small picturesque fishing towns. In the peak season, cars are often not allowed (scooters are your best bet) so the pace and energy of the island is laid back and restful. Despite Vis’s slower, simpler way of life, there is no shortage of delicious seaside restaurants or cosy places to stay and the island has the most untouched beaches of anywhere along the coast, some might say in the whole Adriatic.