Greetings! In March, my sister and I took a guided tour to visit Croatia and Slovenia. Our itinerary included one stop in Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I wrote about our day trip to Mostar here, and our wonderful time in Slovenia here.
While in Croatia, we started from Dubrovnik, travelled north with overnight stays along the Dalmatian Coast, Plitvice Lakes National Park, the Istria Peninsula, and ended with a two-night stay in Zagreb, Croatia's capital, before flying home.
At each location we had about one to two hours of walking with a local guide, followed by free time on our own until we met again to return to our hotel. The old towns are all cobble stoned and the best way to explore them is by walking. One exception is Plitvice Lakes National Park where our tour guide was with us for close to a full day.
We lucked out on at least three things:
- Our group size was twelve, including my sister and I, even though the tour was advertised with a maximum of twenty-two people. The participants were all Canadians, from various Canadian provinces. Everyone was friendly and prompt, which means no wasted time waiting around at meet-up times.
- The weather was superb for March, a transition month from winter to spring. We had sunny skies and pleasant temperatures throughout the entire trip, except one overnight stay at Plitvice Lakes National Park. On a couple of days, it felt like summer at 25C (77F).
- The tour went smoothly from beginning to end. We received all the services as outlined in our tour package. In hindsight, my sister and I both feel that we've got very good value for the 'flash sale' price we paid. In addition, by travelling in shoulder season, we didn't encounter any crowd or long queues at the main sights, or traffic jam on the highways, or delays at border crossings.
Croatia's coastline is 1778 km long, with over a thousand islands dotted the Adriatic Sea, waiting to be explored. We flew from Toronto to Dubrovnik and started our guided tour in Dubrovnik. Our Dalmatian Coast adventures included four stops, shown as blue markers in the photo below: Dubrovnik, Split, Trogir, and Zadar. Click to enlarge the pictures.
|Dalmatian Coast, Croatia|
My first sight of Dubrovnik, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was from a hill top, and it was as beautiful as I imagined it to be. The well-preserved citadel completely encircles the city, with red-tiled roofs within its 800 year-old medieval wall. On a clear and sunny day, Dubrovnik is a jaw-dropping beauty with the blue Adriatic Sea as its background, dotted with a few green islands.
Before entering Dubrovnik's Old Town, we stopped to take in the views of Fort Bokar and Fort Lovrijenac. Without a doubt, Dubrovnik is Croatia's gem. Its image is on the back of Croatia's 50 Kuna bill (Croatian's currency is the Kuna or HRK).
|Dubrovnik: Fort Bokar, Fort Lovrijenac, on 50 HRK bill|
We entered Dubrovnik's Old Town from Pile Gate (top left in the photo below). The pristine marble streets in the Old Town are lined with baroque buildings, beautiful Renaissance fountains, and facades. Some of the important landmarks include: Stradun (the main street in Dubrovnik's Old Town), with the Franciscan church and monastery at one end (top right), Sponza Palace at the other end (bottom right), Rector's Palace, and Dubrovnik Cathedral (bottom left).
|Pile Gate, Stradun, Sponza Palace, Dubrovnik Cathedral|
|Dubrovnik's Bell Tower, Old Port, and City Walls|
At Dubrovnik's market, we tried a delicious local snack consisting of dried figs, orange rinds, and nuts. Then stopped by the Terrace by the Sea coffee shop by the Old Port for a good cappuccino while soaking in the views.
|Dried figs, orange rinds, nuts, and cappuccino|
Dubrovnik's main attraction is the City Walls which are approximately 2 km long. With renewed energy after our coffee break, my sister and I decided to climb the narrow streets of the Old Town up to the northern walls for great views, and walked along the perimeter of the Old Town before meeting our group to return to our hotel. It was a gorgeous day in a beautiful city!
Split is Croatia's second largest and lesser known city. It's a town steeped in ancient history preserved over the course of 1700 years by its inhabitants. Emperor Diocletian chose Split as his retirement destination in 305 AD and had a grand palace built here to accommodate his post-imperial court. Today, the ancient Roman palace – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – serves as Split’s vibrant marketplace and its city center. The ancient narrow streets are alive with people, shops, bars, restaurants, and hotels.
|Columns at Diocletian Palace, Split, Croatia|
|Church and Statue of Gregory of Nil, Split, Croatia|
|Split Cathedral, Alley, Theatre, and Fish vendor|
Split is also known as the jumping off point for a visit to the magical Mediterranean islands. Unlike Dubrovnik which has unfortunately become full-on touristy, Split is the place to discover real Dalmatian life in an atmospheric setting. On a beautiful sunny day, we strolled Split's seafront promenade which is lined with palm trees. We savoured the views of dramatic coastal mountains and shimmering sea, and mingled with the locals.
At our tour guide's recommendation, my sister and I ordered traditional Dalmatian pasticada with gnocchi and local wines for dinner. Pasticada is a stewed beef dish slow cooked in special sauce and served with homemade potato gnocchi for special occasions. We quite enjoyed this flavourful dish.
|Pasticada with gnocchi in Split, Croatia|
Trogir is a medieval town developed in the 13th to the 15th centuries and another UNESCO World Heritage site. It's located about 29km west of Split.
We entered Trogir historic town centre via the Renaissance city gate. Above the gate is a statue of the town's protector, the Blessed Ivan Orsini. Trogir historic town centre is pedestrian-only and is like an outdoor museum. We walked to explore the beautiful facades, elegant churches and palaces, and medieval streets.
|Trogir city gate, cathedral, and palace|
Trogir waterfront has a wide promenade perfect for walking. At one end is the Kamerlengo fortress which was built in the 14th century and used to be connected to the city walls. From the promenade, one can see the Trogir-Ciovo bridge and many sailboats.
At our tour guide's recommendation, we took a coffee break at Dovani restaurant which has a great pastry selection and coffee bar on the ground floor. The cake and coffee were some of the finest that we've had.
|Cake and coffee in Trogir, Croatia|
Zadar is a walled Adriatic town like Dubrovnik, with Roman ruins, Venetian architecture, and a rich cultural heritage found on every corner. The city was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 2017.
One of the main attractions in Zadar is the Roman Forum, constructed from the 1st century BC until the 3rd century AD. It's the largest forum in Croatia. Here we see St Donatus church (the round pre-Romanesque church in the photo below), St Anastasia's Cathedral (right), column ruins (front), and the Pillar of Shame (left) which was used to punish evildoers during the Middle Ages.
|Roman Forum in Zadar, Croatia|
Zadar historic centre is pedestrian-only. The streets lead to several beautiful public squares. One of them is the People's Square (top left in photo below).
|Public squares and Roman ruins, Zadar, Croatia|
Other landmarks shown in the photo below: St Mary's Church and the Benedictine Convent (top left), the ornate, late-Renaissance Land Gate dating from 1543 with a snarling Venetian lion over an effigy of St Chrysogonus on horseback (bottom left), the Captain's Tower and the Square of the Five Wells (bottom right).
|St Mary's church, Buildings, Five Wells, Land Gate|
Zadar's waterfront is a great spot for strolling and watching the sunset. On the southwestern quay, we sat on the steps to listen to the Sea Organ. It's an urban installation and a musical instrument. Tubing within the stone steps transforms the movement of the waves and the sea breezes into a series of musical chords.
Nearby is the Greeting to the Sun, a remarkable installation made out of 300 photo-sensitive glass plates that absorb daylight and transform into a wondrous light show at night. Both the Sea Organ and the Greeting to the Sun installations are designed by Nicola Basic.
|Sea Organ, Greeting to the Sun and Boardwalk|
While in Zadar, we tried a popular Croatian snack called Burek at the local Mlinar bakery. Burek is phyllo pastry filled with meat or spinach and cheese or just cheese in spiral shape. It's inexpensive and tasty.
|Burek in Croatia|
I hope this blog post and my photos reflect how delightful Croatia's Dalmatian Coast is. In my next post(s), I plan to share my highlights of Croatia's Istria Peninsula, Plitvice Lakes National Park, and Zagreb.
Thank you for travelling with me. I'd love to hear your comments.