Visiting Croatia has long been on my bucket list. As a child, I remember hearing how Yugoslavia (now Croatia) was my grandmother’s favourite vacation spot for its warm sun, abundant flowers and sea breeze. In recent years, the coast of Croatia has become a hot travel spot due to its location in the series Game of Thrones. (Fans call Dubrovnik “Kings Landing”.) This blog post isn’t about the spectacular places to visit – you’ll find plenty of guide books about the clusters of villages protected by crumbling stone fortresses – but how the trip came together. After posting pics on Instagram (@lisatant), I got a lot of requests for my plans. Here you go! But make it soon before this Croatian Riviera is overwhelmed by tourists from around the globe. (Dubrovnik is already restricting the number of large cruise ships planning to stop in its port.)
Imagine ancient Rome, sprinkle in some Riviera glamour and then abundant nature (clear blue seas, lush greenery, cloudless skies) – it’s hard to find another place as captivating as the Dalmatian Coast. I absolutely loved it, and would return in a heartbeat.
When to go? May and June, or September and October. Peak tourism season is July and August when it would be blistering hot and the narrow village streets would be shoulder-to-shoulder packed with tourists. At the beginning of June, the weather this year was hot and sunny every day.
Getting around? There was only one option for me. I hated the idea of moving hotels nightly and searching for parking in the small villages. Or spending hours on an air-conditioned tour bus. Booking passage on a small ship (19 cabins) was an ideal way to visit small islands at a leisurely pace with plenty of time for both exploration and relaxation. A highlight of my morning routine was the plunge into the Adriatic Sea off the back of the ship, followed by drying off on the sun deck as we sailed to our next port.
How to book? Many agencies book passage on the network of ships registered in Split. You’ll find one week packages at a variety of prices for different lifestyles – 20somethings looking for a party boat (booze cruise), to nudists (seriously) to adults (no kids). Katarina Line is one of the most popular companies. www.katarina-line.com. I booked through a Split-based agency – www.visiting-croatia.com. Prices vary depending on the age and size of ship; meal service; size and location of cabins etc. I didn’t care about the free beach towel service or extra lunch course (just soup), but an above deck cabin with a private bathroom and beds (no bunk beds) was critical. The ship I travelled on offered daily breakfast and lunch, plus two dinners over 6 nights. Our cruise cost approx $2000 per person for the week based upon double occupancy. (Alcohol and tips were extra.) Keep in mind that the more expensive the ship, the older the passengers.
Which route to take? We stayed in Split for three days before the cruise to acclimatize. We loved the ancient village built around Diocletian’s Palace (300 AD). Our B&B, the Kastel was inexpensive and basic but clean with a brilliant seaside location. (Skip the breakfast and pay cash to save 20%.) Our cruise started in Split and wove down the coast to Dubrovnik (stopping in Bol, Hvar, Korcula and more) before heading back to Split. I would have liked an additional day in Dubrovnik where the architecture and city wall (with a walking path along the top) is absolutely jaw-dropping.
The basics? The ship food was fine (nothing special) but fruit markets and restaurants (plus gelato!) are available at every port. The Captains’ Dinner was low key – you don’t need to dress up. Pack sneakers as many of the Old Towns have spectacular views that are worth the walk up to the peak. You’ll need to use the local currency – the Kuna – and bank machines are plentiful. Most places prefer cash. Locals in the tourist areas speak English and are happy to help.
Getting there? We flew to Split after a break in Prague, another city on my bucket list. On the way home to Toronto, we spent a night in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, after a short flight (less than an hour) from Split. Next time, I would fly from Split to London Heathrow and then home.
Your essential planner? A travel guide is critical. My partner researched every village for activities (renting bikes to the the recommended tourist stops) and to make sure we picked the highest rated (not price but quality of food) restaurants. A wooden board overflowing with tapas at Macondo in Hvar was our best meal – and cost approximately $45 Cdn for two (without alcohol). Buy an updated version of your favourite travel guide as restaurants can come and go.
Check out more photos from this trip-of-a-lifetime on my Instagram @lisatant #tantrumtravels