A year ago, if you had asked me to tell you all the things I knew about Croatia, I could've scraped the recesses of my brain for exactly one and a half fading facts from 8th grade geography. Since I've moved to the UK, Croatia has popped onto my radar in a major way. Croatia's Dalmatian Coast is a common European holiday spot, probably because it's a cheap flight from London and yet to be widely discovered by those yappy American tourists (wink). That's where I enter the picture!
I met a few expat girlfriends in Split, an ancient coastal town famous for its palace walls and gorgeous marina. We rented an Airbnb near the Old City with windows that looked out onto the sea of red tiled roofs... and onto the actual sea. Our first days were spent meandering the maze of narrow alleyways within the city walls – shopping, sightseeing, eating, eating, and eating. My only goal for the vacation: eat gelato at least once a day. (Achieved.) The surprise hit of our time in Split was the art museum, so check that out if your an Impressionist fan. Every corner we turned brought some cinema-perfect scene of linens billowing on a clothesline or an orange cat perched on a windowsill or pink bougainvillea spilling over a terrace wall. I was in HEAVEN, people.
One evening at dusk we wound our way through an old Jewish cemetery to a lookout over the marina. With tea in hand, we watched the sunset at a little cafe and began to understand why Croatia is considered Europe's hidden gem.
A short ferry ride took us to the island of Hvar one afternoon, where we wandered more gorgeous alleyways and ate more gelato. We had some fancy health food at Vita, then hiked up to an ancient fortress where we took in the rather spectacular views of the Adriatic Sea. Sadly we missed a chance to see Hvar's famous lavender fields, but I trust you will have that adventure on your own! On the boat ride home the sunset was positively stunning. At one point the silhouette of a cruise liner passed in front of the the hot pink sun as it sunk below the horizon. Like, what?!
Krka National Park, an hour's drive from Split, is worth the time and car rental. We spent the day walking the sunny trails, sailing on the lake, and watching the more dauntless tourists take a swim near the freezing waterfalls. Fig trees were growing everywhere I looked, which made me SO happy. No figs were ripe yet, which was probably for the best because I wouldn't have left a fig in Krka had they been edible. My favorite bit of our day in Krka was a boat trip to a monastery on a small island that four monks and a whole bunch of chickens call home.
A cheap four-hour bus ride (fifteen minutes of which were spent in Bosnia!) carried us south to Dubrovnik, a city recently famous as a Game of Thrones filming location. Our beautifully decorated rental house was nestled right in the Old City and super convenient to all the action. I'll say it 'til I die: In Airbnb we trust. We had trouble leaving our house because we all loved the beautiful garden and terrace so much! Eventually, we ripped ourselves away to explore Dubrovnik and eat an insanely good vegetarian dinner. Croatia has this whole food thing down, which makes it an automatic winner.
Want to know a secret? Going to the movies is one of my favorite things to do in a new city, so we saw one in Dubrovnik. A lot of travelers would scoff at that (fair enough), but I find something so intriguing about doing such a familiar activity in a foreign place. Plus, movies cost like a million bucks in England, so I gotta soak up the cheap tickets where I can! On a related note: Mother's Day will not win any Oscars.
Dubrovnik was just fantastic. I wish we'd had more than a day and some change. We took the cable car up a mountain for a panorama view of the coastline and a high-altitude cappuccino. After some more alleyway wandering (which never got old, to be honest), we clambered around where the fortress walls met the ocean and pretended we were mothers of dragons. My Dubrovnik highlight was the hour-long walk along the city walls, which allowed us to see down into the city and out across the ocean. I loved peering into the little pieces of real life being lived inside the walls – a woman watering her garden, three boys kicking a soccer ball, a little old man hanging out his laundry. It was hugely satisfying. I suppose that's really the best part of traveling –experiencing, if only for a moment, what life feels like to another human being.
We finished the day lounging on the cathedral steps in the city center, people-watching and chatting. And drowning our goodbye blues in, of course, gelato.