I had been looking forward to this trip for a while, as I always do when visiting a new country for the first time.
From the minute I landed in Croatia I was greeted with an eclectic mix of friendliness and an eagerness to please which could be taken as people being rude. Croatian culture is focused on helping people as much as physically possible, no matter how much it impacts your life, a very endearing trait once you get used to it.
Shortly after landing I decided to rent a car and head for Krka National Park, to visit the famous waterfalls and pools that are a popular destination for a trip in this area. Arriving shortly after 11 am I had a great 3 hours looking around and taking many pictures.
90% of the walks are on raised wooden platforms and all were surfaced well for walking. It was already busy when I arrived and didn’t quieten down before I left, so I imagine in the height of summer with swimming available that arriving early is best.
There are a few boat trips also available as an alternative, taking between 3 and 5 hours with visits to various sites and cursing up the river system.
Even with the weather a mix of overcast and light rain showers it didn’t detract from the beauty of Krka.
After a late lunch, I headed down the coast from Šubićevac to Split. This drive was punctuated by multiple stops to take pictures and explore all the quaint little towns along the way. It felt as if I spent far more time taking pictures and walking than I did driving!
Looking at the pictures or eventually when you visit and see it for yourself, you will understand why, breath-taking! I then headed back as planned to return the car to the airport, and again in true Croatian hospitality, I was dropped off at my hotel in the port town of Trogir.
I was about to find out another thing about Croatia upon venturing out to find somewhere for an evening meal.
The Euro is not used in Croatia, so I had another currency to get to grips with, the Kuna. Currently, 1 Kuna is around £0.12 / $0.15. It is not this that made it strange, it was the absolutely astonishing value for money, especially for food.
Expect to pay anywhere between 90 and 150 Kuna for an evening main course and drink.
There are some western drinks and foods that carry quite a high import tax as they tend to be a bit more expensive, but the local produce is very good indeed!
After a long first day, I retired quite early to make sure I was well rested for the busy days ahead.
Waking in the morning I was greeted with the beautiful bright Croatian sun on the promenade of the port of Trogir. Moored on the port were the boats that I would spend the next 4 days getting to know and would be my home whilst we travelled the islands of Dalmatia. I couldn’t check into my cabin until 4 pm so I had plenty of time to drop off my baggage and explore what Trogir had to offer.
I spent the morning wandering around the marina and north side of Čiovo, the island that is connected to the mainland by Trogir.
Soon time for lunch I was adamant that I was going to try a traditional Croatian dish and I wasn’t to be disappointed! Pašticada with Gnocchi was my choice which is a slow cooked beef stew with a sweet and sour red sauce. It melted in the mouth and again very reasonably priced.
After lunch, I needed a walk and I had heard that Trogir market was on and only just around the corner. There were about 50 or 60 stalls selling anything from local honey, fruit and vegetables and lavender to clothes and other locally produced wares. It was very busy but a no pressure atmosphere with the stall owners only too happy for you to try before you buy.
Prices at the market were certainly favourable to shopping in the local stores and you had a little bit of barter and chat with the people who made what you were discussing. I am absolutely all for supporting local independent producers, rather than lining the pockets of some big conglomerate multinational company! I think it is great to see that still in the age of the internet and online shopping, that markets still thrive in places like Trogir.
After a short stroll around the maze of streets that make up the old town of Trogir, it was time to head back to the boats and check in to my cabin.
Aboard the Harmonia, I unpacked and sorted my cabin before heading out to explore the rest of the ship and familiarise myself with the layout and crew on board.
I have to say here from the moment I stepped on the Harmonia I was made to feel absolutely at home by the whole crew including the guides, which is very comforting when you are not sure of your surroundings and do not know your fellow travellers.
Dinner with wine is always a great way to get to know people and it proved no different in this situation. Dinner tonight for me was served aboard Harmonia and it was amazing what can be produced from such a small kitchen by a team of 2 chefs!
Using local produce the whipped us up a 3-course meal of Soup, Tuna and Panna Cotta!
This was enjoyed by all and the conversation quickly turned to look forward to the next couple of days exploring the Dalmatian Islands.
Now it was time for a guided city tour of the port town of Trogir.
Although it isn’t that big, and I had already felt like I had seen most of the sites, a guided tour always brings the buildings to life and sheds light on parts that are easily missed.
This was a really informative tour that highlighted the impact that the Romans and Greeks had throughout its history from the 3rd Century.
Back on board, it was straight to bed for me and looking forward to setting sail in the morning.
I awoke to the sound of the engines being started ahead of our scheduled 7:30 am departure for the island of Šolta. The Bora wind meant that the crossing was a little rougher than the normal flat calm. This was however expertly navigated by our ship’s crew and we were still comfortable throughout breakfast. After breakfast, we had a short and informative briefing from our guides about today’s bike ride and what to expect.
We docked in the picturesque port of Maslinica in the north of the island.
Once the bikes were unloaded, we set off in groups to visit two fantastic producers of Šolta. First up was the so-called “King of the Island” the local beekeeper and second was the olive oil producer.
The ride our was a little bumpy but with my E-Bike, this was a breeze. I don’t normally ride an E-Bike but on this trip, I had a lot of camera equipment with me, so I decided it was best and I am glad I did.
Once we reached the bee keeper’s house we were treated to an enthusiastic presentation of why the humble bee is so important to our lives, and what we would lose if the bee was wiped out. It was very interesting to hear about all the ways in which we can help bees do their vital role, from someone that is clearly so passionate.
After the presentation, we were allowed into his honey museum, where his collection of over 150 kinds of honey from all over the world are kept. He also had a beehive behind a pane of glass that afforded a safe, uninstructive display of a working hive. I could have watched this for hours and it added to the appreciation of how vital a job bee’s do.
After a short while, we were back on 2 wheels and heading for the olive oil producer’s property. I had seen this process explained on a previous trip whilst in Italy, but non the less it was still interesting as some points that he made were slightly different.
Also, the new trend for flavoured oils is a lot more prevalent now, so it was interesting to hear how they go about infusing the oil, so the taste remains even after cooking. We had a short tasting before we left, with the opportunity to purchase some oils to take home with you.
As we gathered at the bikes to make our way back to the boats we were given the opportunity by the guides to make our own way back to the ship at whatever speed we wanted and there would be a guide at the back to make sure everyone returned safely as always.
I decided that I wanted to push myself and get some exercise, so it was off with the battery support and head down all the way back.
I had taken some pictures on the ride out and, as there is only 1 main road on the island, the view was similar on the way back.
16km and 25 mins later I was back on board for a well-earned shower and rest on the sun deck.
Once everyone had arrived back, all the boats departed for the next scheduled stop on the island of Hvar, and the port town of Stari Grad. This was about a 3-hour crossing which allowed a nice time to relax and get some picture editing done for me and take in the beautiful views, I could certainly have an office with those views!
Arriving in Stari Grad we docked up and it was straight off the boat with the camera for me to go and explore this town and as it was nearing sunset, a chance to get some good images. I was surprised by the size of this town and its maze-like streets with many hidden stores and alleyways. Think of Venice without the water and you wouldn’t be far away. Upon returning to the ship it was nearing dinner time and my next culinary experience aboard the vessel Melody.
This was a delight and I have to say one of the best meals I have had in a very long time. The ship’s crew were very attentive, and the galley looked stunning set with full tablecloths and linen napkins.
We had a 3-course meal of Risotto, Hake and Chocolate Cheesecake.
After our meal, we had a short briefing from the guides about what was to come tomorrow on our ride on the island of Hvar and the plans for the evening.
We had quite a relaxing evening with 2 boats open for drinks. It was good again to meet some new people and the conversations went on into the night. Soon it was time to retire to my cabin ahead of the 50km ride to the city of Hvar in the morning.
It was up and about relatively early this morning for breakfast at 7:30 to be ready for a 9 am departure on our ride to Hvar. This ride was to include about an 8km climb away from the port at Stari Grad up to the summit and then the 10km descent to the fortress at the city of Hvar. There were 2 options today. The first was the whole ride with the 2 ascents on the climb and then on to Jelsa where the boats would await us. The second was to climb to the restaurant at the top, where you would have lunch and then descend again and ride to Jelsa.
As mentioned before I elected for the long ride to make full use of my e-bike!
We set off and climbed to the summit in a small group of 6, we awaited the arrival of most of the others before making our way down the descent to Hvar.
We were given a brief history of the city and fortress before being allowed the opportunity to look around the inside of the fortress.
We then headed back up the climb to the restaurant for lunch, which we could smell for the last few km, a real incentive to push on haha!!
By the time I reached the restaurant, the short ride group had only just sat down for lunch and there were a few extra tables, I joined them for lunch and the rest of the ride back to the ships.
This seemed the logical rather than hanging around for lunch.
Our hosts at Restaurant Vidikovac Levanda had prepared a feast of slow roasted lamb which went down a treat with a cold beer!
I am glad I took the earlier lunch option, as it meant that the ride back to the ships was more relaxed, and there was plenty of time to admire the stunning countryside and the all-important pictures!
Once in Jelsa, we had to sample the local ice-cream, (a task I know!), as it is said to be the best of the Dalmatian islands, I can see why it was awesome. Possibly made better with the view and the 25-degree heat though!
It was soon time to board the ships again and make our way to the island of Brač and the port of Pučišća. This was to be a special port for the trip as it is the home island of the crew of 3 of our ships, Melody, Harmonia and San Snova.
We would spend the night here ahead of an early morning departure to the mainland.
Again, the crossing was about 3 hours which with the setting sun was amazing to behold from the water, the colours this created on the hills and over the water was stunning. During this crossing, I took the opportunity to visit the bridge of the ship and had a great conversation with the captain about the area. These guys are delighted to be asked about their homeland and are evidently proud of what they do.
We had some free time to explore Pučišća before dinner and again were greeted with a quaint little town that has blossomed due to its proximity to the main limestone mine on the island. The guides told us that the limestone to build the White House came from Brač, and the quality is said to be the highest available.
It wasn’t as big as some of the other towns we had visited and was mainly based around the harbour and the surrounding hillside. This wasn’t a drawback at all really as we had arrived quite late and dinner was soon after.
San Snova was my host for dinner this evening, although lower in “class” of the ship, this was not evident with the attention to detail still very high, and the food quality was excellent.
We were treated to Mussels, Sesame Tuna and Fruit Salad from the wizards in the kitchen.
After a little socialising it was time to head to bed and rest up for the final day’s activities as it was going to be a long day!
It was an early 7:30 am departure from Pučišća in the morning, however, I was up at 6 am in the harbour taking pictures as it was just beautiful as the moon was dropping in the sky around the hills.
We had a magnificent view over breakfast as we crossed to the mainland as the sun rose over the Dinaric Alps. This was the start of what was to be a wonderful day to end the trip.
We were shortly docked in the town of Omiš on the coast of the mainland. We had the choice to either go for a bike ride, a hike or river rafting……..naturally there was only 1 choice for me, off in the transfer bus I went to go river rafting!
This was a faultless experience from the helpfulness of the centre staff and equipment provided, to the knowledge and humour of the guides with us in the rafts.
We were taken on a 10km stretch of the Cetina River back towards Omiš. At one point the raft was completely submerged in water as we negotiated one of the rapids on the river. Being from Scotland the water wasn’t that cold but still a shock to the system, but others in the raft from warmer climates had a different view!
Again, all of this was done with care and attention to our safety from the guides, who were ever vigilant, but not impeding on the fun aspect of the rafting.
After we completed our rafting experience it was back to the boats for lunch and out departure to Split for our evening’s entertainment.
Docking in Split was quite a cool experience as this was by far the busiest port of the trip, and it was cool to see such a majestic city from the water.
Once we had docked we were offered the chance of a city tour of the old town of Split. I jumped at the chance as not only did the city look interesting, I had heard about some of the sights on offer and the camera would certainly be along for the ride!
I wasn’t wrong, this tour was one of the best I have been on, and it was so good to be shown this wonderful city by a native to Split. One of our guides Toni was from the city, and his local knowledge was amazing and only added to the experience.
This evenings entertainment was like something out of a movie. Picture the scene, we walk into the Prokurative (or as known Republic Square) there is an 8 piece acapella group signing all the native songs from the 4 main regions of Croatia. Hairs on the back of my neck were up and it was absolutely amazing to behold!
We then moved inside to a wonderful buffet and drinks reception, I don’t need to describe this to you but safe to say a good night was had by one and all.
We all awoke on our departure day a little fuzzy headed and not wanting this fairy-tale trip to end!
But as everything good has to come to an end it was back to the airport, a short bus ride away, to catch my flight back to the U.K.
I hope you have enjoyed reading about my experience in Croatia and if you have any questions or would like a recommendation for a trip for yourself, please just get in touch and myself and the team would be happy to assist you.