Croatia – 10 great things to do from the coast
Its hard to pick just 10 things to see and do along the Croatian coastline but we've given it a go...
Some 500 miles long and dotted with over a thousand islands, not to mention stunning National Parks, medieval towns and tempting restaurants there are hundreds of things to keep visitors entertained. My selection is based on a cruise on board the Princess Eleganza, one of many small ships operating along this coastline offering a variety of cruise styles to suit everyone from budget travellers to cycling enthusiasts to nature and history lovers.
Click below to read the detail on my Top 10:
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, the medieval Old Town of Dubrovnik has long been a magnet for tourists. It’s also tiny, which means it gets packed, especially when up to 5 mega ships can be at anchor at once spewing out up to 20,000 passengers. When we were there, late afternoon in early June, it wasn’t too bad, we got to see all the main sites with relative ease. For me though, the most enjoyable bit by far was the cable car ride up Srd hill for the view back down on the Old Town. There are a couple of restaurants at the top but head for the Panorama Bar & Restaurant, next to the cable car station for unforgettable drinks with a view.
2. The ‘Lavender Island’ of Hvar
Hvar has gained a reputation as party central in recent years, especially with students and backpackers. I must say they have good taste – it’s an incredibly pretty port with a castle backdrop, cobbled backstreets, expansive squares and clear blue seas. I guess the appeal of a late night ferries out to secluded islands to party til dawn also adds to the appeal. During the day, the port has a more peaceful vibe. Hvar is more than just the port though – we actually docked in Starigard, another delightful and much quieter harbour, only 30 minutes drive away. Driving back along the country roads we got to see Hvar’s other claim to fame, the beautiful rural landscape, heady with the scent of lavender, pine and rosemary.
3. Captivating Korcula
Neat alliteration but also very true – Korcula is just lovely. A tiny port, reputed to be the birthplace of explorer Marco Polo. They certainly milk the connection but it seems plausible enough as you wander the crooked streets and elegant squares flanked with palaces of old nobility. Another Marco, Marco Andijic, a 15th century stonemason played a part in creating the bell tower of the cathedral which gave us our 360 degree view. Its a steep, narrow climb but well worth the effort. NB Korcula now restricts cruise ships docking before 5pm.
4. Cocktails and sunset dining
Still in Korcula, it was also memorable for its bars and restaurants. Massimo’s must be one of the more unusual locations for a cocktail bar – on top of a medieval tower. Access is via a steep staircase and then a ladder up through a tiny hole – I very nearly got stuck in it with my back pack! Fortunately the drinks are delivered more easily, via a winch and pulley system on the side of the tower. The cocktail menu is a little naff but don’t be put off, you can keep it simple with a G&T and enjoy the great sunset views. Along the waterfront there is a great selection of restaurants – by recommendation we plumped for Nonno’s where the antipasti and homemade pasta dishes, even if a little pricey, were delicious.
5. Churches, castles and palaces
Croatia is awash with historic buildings. Among the most memorable for me was a tour of Diocletian’s Palace in Split> The approach to Split from the sea didn’t look all that promising but then, just steps from the waterfront, you enter the complex that the Roman Emperor Dioclea had built as his retirement palace in AD 305. Facing the sea on one side, it was built like a Roman military fortress with walls up to 700 feet long and 20 feet high, enclosing an area of 9.5 acres. Split’s enchanting old town is within its walls. Zadar is equally as mesmerising – by the 1st century it too was a Roman Municipality. Over the centuries the city has been the subject of numerous assaults, not least most recently during the Yugoslav wars in the 90’s. Happily these days Zadar’s narrow, traffic free streets and vast squares are once again full of life.
6. Culture and tradition
You come across so many examples of this in Croatia, from citizens who are clearly proud of their musical traditions, crafts and heritage. The Dalamation “Klapa’ or A Capella singers perform delicate harmonies daily in the perfect acoustic setting of Split’s vestibule within the palace walls. I genuinely got goosebumps.
7. Zadar Sea Organs
Back to Zadar for more music – slightly less harmonious but nonetheless appealing – this time from the famous Sea Organ running the length of the peninsula. Completed in 2005, wave action pushes air through a series of underwater pipes and up through niches cut in to the steps, producing random melodic notes. The stronger the waves the louder the music. Its a wonderful spot to watch the sun set. At the end of the promenade there is another installation called ‘Greeting to the Sun’, basically a huge round solar panel which radiate a random sequence of coloured lights at night. If the organ is the music the sun is the disco dance floor!
8. Krka National Park
Declared a National Park in 1985, Krka is an absolute stunner. Covering 109 square kilometres the park follows the River Krka about 2kms down river from Knin to Skradin. The most impressive and most visited part is Skradinski Buk, considered the most beautiful cliff waterfalls in Europe. I can’t argue with that. 650m of river create 12 waterfalls with a total height of 27m. The falls themselves are stunning but walking through the shady woodland that surrounds them is also a delight – especially on a hot day. There is plenty to look at – dragonflies, birds, fish in the crystal clear water and endless miniature falls.
9. Zrmanja Gorge
43 miles long, the Zrmanja is one of the most beautiful rivers in Europe and a boat trip is a delightful way to witness the dramatic changing scenery. Starting off cruising through a lush green riverbanks, gradually the river widens and the banks brown, eventually turning into huge sheer rock faces split by the ribbon of sparkling water. And just as you begin to tire of rock suddenly, you round a bend and the river opens into a stunning lake.
10. Water, water everywhere
The ever changing colour of the water is a constant delight on a tour of coastal Croatia. Beaches may be small and often pebble or shingle but, to jump from a boat or a platform in to the crystal clear water is always wonderful.
Cathy experienced the Croatian coast as a guest of Noble Caledonia on board the Princess Eleganza. For details visit www.noble-caledonia.co.uk
To general information about holidays in Croatia see www.visit-croatia.co.uk
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