Step away from the present world by exploring the crystal clear blue waters, glowing caves and picturesque seaside towns of the Dalmatian Coast
To the east of the gorgeous Adriatic Sea, lies 3600 miles of Croatian coastline. The southernmost region of this coast is the spectacular Dalmatian coast, made up of tiny towns dotted with orange roofs glittering under the bright Mediterranean Sun. Beneath the façade of these roofs lies a glorious history of battles won and lost which are visible today through the scars left behind.
Our first stop in Dalmatia was the charming town of Zadar. Surrounded by city walls, the Old Town of Zadar is a perfect blend of unique modern marvels and historical monuments from the medieval ages. Within a 2 mile radius, you can find Roman ruins dating back to 1st century BC as well as a dazzling colorful light show powered by the sun!
As we entered the Old Town, we could get a glimpse of narrow streets bustling with tourists busy taking in the Croatian glory of Zadar. The main street, Kalelarga, is lined with medieval churches and public squares and runs through the length of the old town. While roaming these very streets, I discovered quite an interesting link between me and Croatia. Apparently my name 'Nishtha’ means ‘nothing’ (literally!) in local Croatian language! This explained the sudden giggles and smiles I received whenever I mentioned my name to the locals. Even I would be amused if I met a person whose name meant nothing ! Here is what it would have sounded like to the locals, "Hello, nice to meet you, I am nothing..."
One of the city's main square - Forum, built by the Romans during 1st century BC, gives an excellent insight to the horrors of war that this town has witnessed. Zadar was heavily bombed by the Allies during World War II which destroyed a great portion of the city center surrounding the Forum and Kalelarga street. As a result, a large part of the Forum is now covered with Roman ruins which can be seen against the backdrop of the 9th century Church of St. Donatus. This simple round structure along with the Bell Tower can often be found on postcards symbolizing Zadar.
Besides the historical importance of this charming town, a walk along the seaside promenade brought us to two unique features of Zadar which would be hard to find anywhere else on the planet: Sea Organ and Greeting to the Sun. The Sea Organ looks like normal steps on a waterfront with just one difference. They are cut like a piano organ such that when the waves crash against the steps, they make sounds which are quite literally - Music of the Sea! It was almost like a concert whenever a big ship crossed the waters ! Now that's a true symphony of the seas !
But the highlight of Zadar, is the Greeting to the Sun. It's a round platform made up of solar powered lights which come to life at sunset and give you a beautiful multicolored light show next to the sea! You can dance on these lights or sit back and enjoy the show to experience one of the 'most beautiful sunsets' as per Alfred Hitchcock. I agree with him! Such is the charm of Zadar, that it was voted the best European Destination of 2016.
After observing the beautiful sunset from land in Zadar, we head out the next day to Hvar, one of the ultimate island destinations in Eastern Europe, to swim in the clear blue waters of the Adriatic. After quickly checking in at our cute AirBnb apartment and receiving certain amused glances ("Hello again...I have a booking in the name of nothing..." ) and smiles at the mention of my name (sigh), we head out to explore the island.
A walk along the seaside promenade of Hvar, lined with bars and restaurants, was the perfect way to de-stress and forget all but the beauty surrounding us. But not to be fooled by the tranquility of the promenade, Hvar is actually best known for its busy and bustling nightlife. About 1 km into our walk we ended up at the famous Hula Hula bar, known for providing a lively atmosphere as you watch the sunset from its wooden benches adjacent to the sea. At night, there are plenty of bar crawls along the promenade that take place into the wee hours of dawn.
Since Croatian beaches are mostly stone beaches, the water out here is clear throughout the year. A speed boat ride to the nearby islands of Vis and Bisevo is a perfect way to get a hint of life in the Adriatic Sea. Our first stop at Milna Cove with its calm waters was a perfect beginning to our day in the sea. The water was quite pleasant due to the beautiful weather of Croatia in September.
Our next stop was the Green cave at Vis island, where a solitary hole in the roof of the cave casts a beam of light inside making the water appear green. You can try your hand at cliff jumping here, which is quite popular in this area. It's quite tempting when you hear squeals of delight as people plunge from a height of about a 4-storey building into the clear waters below. It is definitely worth a go if you know how to swim! But do be careful as it is an extreme sport and can lead to long term bruises.
We thought we had seen the best of Croatia’s beautiful waters so far, but we couldn't have been more wrong. If the water was sparkling in Hvar, the water at Blue Grotto (grotto meaning cave) on Biševo Island was glowing! The Blue caves are beautiful sea caves where the sunlight hitting the seawater from outside the caves casts an illuminating blue glow inside the caves. You can see the bottom of the cave even though the water has a depth of about 10-15 meters. It's a surreal sight not to be missed!
Our last but also one of the most memorable stops was the Pearl of the Adriatic - Dubrovnik. I would recommend making this your last stop if you are going to be visiting seaside towns of Croatia. It was definitely the biggest and the most spectacular! As we entered the Old Town through Pile Gate, it was a different world on the other side of the gate. Our senses were assaulted with gleaming stone walls, narrow alleys bustling with tourists, ancient tunes from a bagpiper’s street performance and enticing aromas from lovely street bakeries.
A walk along the Old Town fort walls offered stunning views of the city. A defining character of this beautiful city are the bright terracotta roofs which adorn the city buildings and shine under the sunlight. It’s hard to say that this captivating city has witnessed two major earthquakes, which destroyed a huge number of public buildings at that time and claimed almost half of the city’s population. In 1991, the city suffered yet again as it was bombed relentlessly during the Croatian War of Independence. Today, the brighter orange roofs - a part of the systematic renovation that followed the earthquakes - serve as a reminder of the horrors it has witnessed.
As we reached the end of our 2 km walk along the city walls, we were rewarded with a breathtaking view of the sunset. After all, it is very rare to get a sunset view with a sea, a fort and a charming seaside town all rolled into one!
And here is the stunning Buza Bar, perched on the cliffs of the Dubrovnik city walls! Too bad we couldn't dine here as it was too crowded.
Dubrovnik is also one of the main filming locations for the popular Game of Thrones series. The famous shaming scene from the series was filmed at the Baroque staircase within the old city walls. Also, Fort Lovrijenac which lies just outside the main entrance to Old Town, served as the filming set for King’s Landing. There are even official GoT souvenir shops from where you can buy a souvenir for all your dear ones who are crazy fans of the GoT series.
The next day, we took a 3 hour kayaking tour around the Dubrovnik city walls in order to better admire the city from water. It offers panoramic views of Dubrovnik but it’s also back-breaking - literally. We were kayaking for almost 8 kms which was quite tiring. As part of the kayaking tour, we also got to visit a beautiful beach on Lokrum island decked with perfectly-round pebble stones.
Back in the city walls, the streets of Old Town house plenty of restaurants, lovely cafes and charming bakeries. And surprise surprise, there was even a restaurant here named after me ! For us, Caffe Soul (with its romantic live guitar music) was the cutest little bar in town located in one of the narrow alleys that break off from Stradun, the main street.
If you are looking to forget high rise buildings and shopping malls of the modern world, Croatia is the place for you. 🙂
Been to Croatia ? How was your experience ? We would love to hear about it. Leave your thoughts in the comments section...
Nishtha Gupta and Mehak Chawla visited Croatia in September 2016.