For most, cruising the Adriatic Sea is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Join our global traveler Rose Betty Williams as she canvasses the sea and shore in Croatia, the latest European hotspot
Photography by Rose Betty Williams, Archival
We walked up and around steep streets and piazzas, admiring the most fantastic views.
What do men’s neckties, Dalmatians and the white stones used for the White House have in common? They all come from Croatia.
The cravat, a precursor of the modern necktie, was first worn by 17th century Croat soldiers who were mercenaries in France. It is speculated that the term cravat derives from the French cravat, a corrupt French pronunciation of Croate. Every year Cravat Day is celebrated on October 16. (Wikipedia)
The Dalmatian dog breed traces its roots back to Croatia and the historical region of Dalmatia. The Dalmatian was initially used as a “dog of war” to guard the borders of Dalmatia. It is often known as a firehouse mascot because it was easily trained to run in front of horse-drawn carriages to clear a path and guide the horses and firefighters to fires. It also protected firehouses and equipment from theft.
The White House in Washington, D.C. gleams with white limestone, which was harvested from the quarries on Brac Island in central Dalmatia. Roman Emperor Diocletian used the same white stone to build his palace in Split, Croatia, in the fourth century. Today, Diocletian’s Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is considered by many historians to be one of the best preserved Roman structures in the world. Diocletian’s Palace was used as a location for filming the fourth season of the HBO series Game of Thrones.
When I was a little girl, I remember my mother talking about Dubrovnik often. She described it as absolutely magical and her most favorite city in the world. I did not give Dubrovnik too much thought then and was clueless where to find it on a map or how to spell it, but years later, I knew I wanted to visit the city that Lord Byron called The Pearl of the Adriatic. Bucket list or not, my plans to visit were delayed over the decades by the fall of Yugoslavia, the War for Croatia and the troubles in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Now that travel to Croatia and Montenegro is deemed safe and my interest enhanced by the prospect of sailing in the Adriatic and exploring the area’s rich cultural heritage, my husband Allan, a history buff, and I signed on with Windstar for a Dalmatian Coast cruise. We bookended the trip with a few days in Rome at the start and a few days in Venice at the end. We chose Windstar because its yachts carry fewer than 300 passengers and can sail into ports that cannot accommodate the big cruise ships.
A 360 degree-view of the entire city and we were enchanted by the scenery – the shimmering, clear blue Adriatic.
EMBARK UPON ENCHANTMENT
We began our voyage from Civitavecchia (near Rome), sailed to Capri, then Sicily, followed by a day at sea, and then woke up to the splendors of Kotor. Soaring Montenegrin mountains (almost black in appearance – hence the name Montenegro), breathtaking fjord-like views with sparkling blue and green water and medieval stone structures with red roof tops greeted us. We visited Old Kotor, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which was developed within a small triangular area enclosed by walls and structures built by the Venetians from the 15th to mid-18th centuries. No cars are allowed on the streets. We admired Baroque palaces and Romanesque churches before we joined a motor coach tour that took us on a 25-switchback serpentine frighteningly steep road to Loveen Mountain. That we didn’t fall off the cliff when another motor coach passed us is a miracle, and a real credit to the driver.
We stopped in the picturesque village of Njegusi where we dined on Dalmatian pršut (Croatian prosciutto), cheese and “black wine” (actually a regional red), and noticed central to the bar and surrounded by a variety of vodka in different bottle shapes and sizes, a large picture of Vladimir Putin, a reminder that Russia had and has a stake in Montenegro. Our tour then took us to the town of Cetinje to visit the Museum of King Nikola. En route, our proud Montenegrin guide pointed to many vacant buildings in disrepair, noting that prior to Serbian rule, they were prosperous factories. We then drove to the popular summer resort of the Bud’va Riviera with its alluring beaches and then back to Kotor where we went to the 12th century Cathedral of St. Triphon to light candles for loved ones, something we did in every city we visited.
My mother was right: Dubrovnik is stunning, magical and awesome with marble and cobblestone streets, orange-tiled rooftops, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque buildings, art and artifacts from a rich cultural history and impressive medieval stone walls and forts that encompass the Old City — also designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We took the four-minute cable car ride to Mt. Srđ for a 360-degree view of the city and we were enchanted by the scenery – the shimmering, clear blue Adriatic, Lokrum Island and the Elafiti Islands on the horizon. Although we didn’t visit Lokrum Island, it is reputed to be a wonderful place to swim and kayak. Lokrum Island also has a monastery built in the 12th century by Benedictine monks who lived there for the next six hundred years. In1859, Maximillian, Emperor of Mexico, made it his holiday home. We wore comfortable shoes for a walk around Dubrovnik’s famous walls and brought water with us. The walk is a must but it is strenuous with a lot of steps. We paid attention to the rooftops because we were told that the bright orange terracotta tiles are replacements for tiles that were damaged or destroyed by shells during the 1990s war. Dubrovnik suffered considerable damage during the war. Shells struck 68 percent of the buildings in Old Town, and left holes in two out of every three tiled roofs. Fortunately, most buildings are now repaired and restored. We visited the Franciscan Monastery & Museum and saw the artillery that penetrated the monastery walls. We also visited the pharmacy in the monastery, which started doing business in 1391 and is the third oldest pharmacy in Europe. Dubrovnik was also a filming location for Game of Thrones, and stores in Old Town carry many souvenirs from the television series.
Split is called the Flower of the Mediterranean, is Croatia’s second largest city, is both modern and with ancient roots, and is a very busy port. It is a ferry and transportation hub to nearby islands, including Brac Island, Hvar and Trogir. It is also the residence of the 2014 US Open Tennis Champion Marin Cilic and the birthplace of 2001 Wimbledon Champion Goran Ivanišević, and several current University of Texas women players who told me in Austin that the most beautiful women and very tall people live in Split. According to Lonely Planet, Andy Roddick once commented “I don’t know what’s in the water in Croatia, but it seems like every player is over seven feet tall.” It does seem that way. Croatian Ivo Karlović is the tallest player ever on the ATP Tour at 6’11”. A tennis player myself, I hope to return to Croatia in the future for the Konzum Croatia Open Umag, an ATP World Tour tennis tournament, which takes place every July.
Split’s main claim to fame is Diocletian’s Palace. It is a military fortress, an imperial residence and a fortified town that covers nearly eight acres and was built with white stone from Brac Island, marble from Italy and Greece, and columns and sphinxes from Egypt. It is considered to be the world’s most complete remains of a Roman Palace. However, it is not a palace in the conventional sense — it has narrow maze-like streets, passageways and courtyards lined with souvenir and jewelry shops, restaurants and bars, markets, tourists, and approximately 3000 residents who live in the apartments within the palace walls. Our guide told us that the apartments are popular with renters, particularly with fans of Game of Thrones, since many scenes were filmed there. We were astonished to see laundry drying on lines from windows and children playing soccer in the streets. Immediately outside the palace is the statue of Gregorius of Nin. It’s said that rubbing the statue’s big left toe will bring good luck and guarantee a return visit to Split, so of course we took part in the tradition.
We took a bus to nearby Trogir, situated on a small island connected to the mainland by a bridge. Trogir’s culture was created under the influence of the ancient Greeks, then the Romans, followed by the Venetians who influenced the Renaissance and Baroque architecture within the city’s medieval walls and for which it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Trogir’s colorful history includes rule by the Hapsburgs, Slovenes, Croats, Serbs and occupation by Napoleon Bonaparte. During World War II, it was conquered by Italy. Tito occupied it in 1944. Later it became part of Yugoslavia, and beginning in 1991, became part of Croatia.
We visited the Church of St. Lovro (also known as St. Lawrence), whose main west portal is a masterpiece by Radovan and considered to be the most significant work of the Romanesque-Gothic style in Croatia. Neither time nor weather permitted us to visit Zlatni Rat beach in Bol, which is one of the most popular beaches in all of Croatia. Beaches in Croatia, incidentally, are typically rocky or pebbly, not sandy, and many are FKK (German for freikorperkultur, meaning free body culture or clothing-optional).
Rovinj was our final stop and perhaps, my favorite, in Croatia. I love Rovinj! It is located in the Northwest corner of the Istrian Peninsula. We walked up and around steep streets and piazzas, admiring the most fantastic views of the Adriatic and sailboats en route to any of the fourteen green islands of the Rovinj archipelago. We visited the Church of St. Euphemia, the largest Baroque building in Istria. Euphemia is Rovinj’s patron saint. She was tortured for her Christian faith by Emperor Diocletian, and her marble tomb is found behind the church altar. The belfry is modeled after St. Mark’s in Venice, and a copper statue of St. Euphemia tops the bell tower and shows the direction of the wind by turning on a spindle. We strolled through the Old Town, sipped on coffee – a Croatian pastime, enjoyed a lunch of fresh fish and Italian gelato and were re-energized for more walking. We discovered Grisia, a street lined with galleries and shops featuring Croatian lace, lavender, olive oil, white truffles, jewelry and fashion.
We saw local artists at work and with their work on display. We stopped at several galleries, and I found a painting by Croatian artist Walter Dadich I had to have. The gallery only accepted Kuna, and since we were nearing the end of our Croatian adventure, we didn’t have enough of the local currency. We went to one of the banks that required us to change dollars to Euros to Kuna, a loss for us no matter how we calculated, but I did get my painting. It depicts Rovinj harbor and features the iconic Church of St. Euphemia. I am so glad to have it!
Croatia, a true jewel of the Mediterranean, is a must-see destination for all globetrotters. The sparkling clear blue and green water, the gorgeous coastline, the mountains, lakes and forests, the mixture of ancient and new contribute to Croatia’s allure. The Greeks, Romans and Venetians went there for rest and relaxation. Emperor Diocletian went there to retire. Agatha Christie spent her second honeymoon there. Alfred Hitchcock said the most beautiful sunsets anywhere in the world are there. Whether you travel to experience international style, delectable dining, captivating culture or outdoor sports, Croatia has it all. Whether you sail up the coast by boat, or travel overland, Croatia’s stunning sapphire coast and rich cultural history will make an unforgettable impression.
Special thanks to these resources: LonelyPlanet.com/Croatia-Guide, WikiTravel.org/en/Craotia, En.Wikipedia.org/wiki/Croatia, ChasingTheDonkey.com, RickSteves.com, InYourPocket.com/Split, InYourPocket.com/Croatia, Partner.City.Discovery.com and Irena Klaic, Croatian and former University of Texas tennis player.