If you’re wistful for a holiday that takes you back to how the Mediterranean once was, there’s no better time to check out Croatia…
Once upon a time there was an area of southern Europe where rocky and sandy beaches and hidden coves made their way from a Medieval citadel in the south, to Roman and Venetian settlements in the north. In-between, romantic churches and fairy tale castles dusted the landscape, while a clutch of islands offered an off-grid escape.
The place now goes by the name of Croatia. It’s moved on with each passing generation – the towns brim with designer boutiques and jazz cafés, and modern hotels frame the shorefronts. But Croatia still holds dear to its centuries-old legacy. There’s still a lost-in-time air about this country.
Visit in May or June to see for yourself – the days are sunny and the sea is warm enough for swimming. Hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions are open, too, but without the summer crowds.
Dubrovnik is most peoples’ first, and best, introduction to Croatia. Giant walls – almost 2 kilometres long – have wrapped their protective arms around the old city for 5 centuries, and you can walk their entire length as if you’re king of the castle. From up here you get sky-wide views of terracotta rooftops, domes and elegant church spires, with the sheen of the Adriatic Sea and the Elaphite islands beyond.
Down in the marble streets, it’s a whirl of antique shops and pavement cafés sandwiched between aristocratic palazzi and ornate churches. Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture – Dubrovnik has got the lot.
The towns of Porec and Pula are set on the Istrian Peninsula next to rocky and pebbly beaches towards the top end of Croatia. They’ve got modern outlooks and plenty of bars and clubs that come out to play once the boutiques and pavement cafés shut up shop.
While they’re not places for a quiet getaway – unless you come out of season – they’ve got a storybook’s worth of history to their names. In Pula there’s a 1st-century amphitheatre that now hosts open-air concerts. The Temple of Augustus is another top sight amid the Roman relics. Likewise, Porec pulls out all the stops when it comes to ancient leftovers with a 6th-century basilica in the old town and a heap of Gothic, Romanesque and Baroque buildings.
Rovinj sits pretty between the 2 towns. Originally an island, its Venetian-style old town is grooved with steep, cobbled streets and artists’ workshops. And tiny shingle coves and a group of beautiful isles just off the coast give the story a happy ever after.
Croatia’s islands have a real Peter Pan and the Lost Boys feel to them, so they’re perfect for fantastically peaceful holidays. Lopud is one of the closest to Dubrovnik – it’s a 20-minute boat ride away. Its little lanes are car-free. Instead, golf buggies bump you along dirt tracks to Sunj Beach, a wide horse shoe bay with water so clear and shallow that you can see tiny fish darting around your ankles as you splash. The neighbouring isle of Kolocep is just as fair of face. Even quieter than Lopud, it’s a 1 shop, I donkey, 1 hotel kind of place and, again, is free of cars.
Halfway up the Adriatic coastline, meanwhile, Hvar and Korcula look like they’re just stirring from a hundred-year sleep. Think cutesy villages, woodlands, vineyards, and a stash of sandy beaches, and you kind of get the measure.
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Author: Sharon Greaves
Published: March 7, 2014
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