By Wendy Wood-Prince
Croatia is a spectacular but tiny country with an extensive coastline that stretches down the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea. The coast is dotted with islands that sit just across the Adriatic from Italy’s east coast.
Croatia’s history is dizzyingly extensive and includes evidence of Neanderthals, Greeks, Romans, Croats, Venetians and on and on. This history is evident on every corner with ancient buildings nestled up to modern-day structures. The Pope recognized the first Croatian king around 925 AD, and invasions and wars changed the borders and rulers for hundreds of years. Political jockeying and unrest continued into 1995, when Croatia finally became stable, a member of the World Trade Organization and the European Union.
View from Le Méridien Lav in Split.
The Roman Empire played a large role in the history of Croatia and created provinces within Croatia. The coastal province was and still is called Dalmatia, and this is where many of the most spectacular coastlines and historical sites are located.
The imposing outer wall of Diocletian’s Palace dwarfs the casual restaurant below.
Diocletian’s Palace, built in 350 AD by Emperor Diocletian, is located in the town of Split. This mammoth palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and dominates the town. Split is the second largest city in Croatia and lies along the Dalmatian Coast. The buildings in Split practically lean into the Adriatic and wide marble boulevards invite strolls along the seaside. Split also has white, sandy beaches, which are becoming as popular as the beaches of the Riviera. Le Méridien Lav is a great place to stay, and the hotel concierge will surely recommend Konoba Nikola restaurant, featuring fresh Mediterranean food and delicious selections of local seafood.
Walking through the town of Aron.
As you drive south, down the coast, one major stop should be Mljet National Park on the island of Mljet. This island was once the resort of ancient Romans, who built villas there. There are some remnants of these villas still standing. Forests cover much of the island and host wild boar, deer, lizards and many different birds. Zlatni Rat Beach, which is located on the island of Brac, the third largest island in the area, is a magical beach of pure white sand that changes shape with the tides.
Dubrovnik with the wall heading off into the distance.
After those stops, head into the city of Dubrovnik. One of the most visited destinations in the Mediterranean, Dubrovnik combines natural beauty with amazing historical architecture. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was severely damaged during the 1991–1992 war. Many of the monuments and houses were hit, but with careful reconstruction, coordinated by UNESCO, much of the damage has been repaired, and only when a tour guide points out bullet holes or repaired walls, can you see where the damage once was. The city is gorgeous and pristine, a pleasure to visit.
Dubrovnik is home to magnificent walls and a tour of these is an absolute must. These walls were built beginning in the 8th century but added to and fortified up through the end of the 16th century and is collectively, the largest wall outside the great wall of China. The walls surround the old city and are imposing and magnificent. With the sparkling blue of the Adriatic in the distance, it is evident why so many people flock to Dubrovnik.
Enjoy a cocktail and the view from Restaurant 360 in Dubrovnik.
Stay at The Hotel Excelsior, which sits right on the magnificent bay, and watch the boats come in and out of the harbor and the beach teem with people. A boat tour to the Elafiti Islands is a must. The dramatic and beautiful setting of Nautika Restaurant is outdone only by the delicious food that is served. This most magical setting is the perfect cap to an extraordinary city.
Croatia is overwhelming in beauty and history and a most magical place to visit.
All Photos Courtesy of Paula Tack