Our first stop in Croatia was Varaždin, north of Zagreb. Varaždin is a sweet little place, rarely stopped at by tourists, and generally used as more of a ‘break town’ on the way to Hungary.
We had some incredible food in Varaždin, but the best was at Palatin on our last night there. While we waited for our meals the waiter gave us locally made duck paté. It was perfect and so were our mains. They don’t look like much but the flavours were superb.
Odin and I had a couple of spare days in Zagreb before we met Anton and those days were spent in the Archaeological Museum and drinking sublime coffee at Eli’s Cafe. If you’re in Zagreb you really have to make this coffee place a priority.
We met up with Anton and had some celebratory drinks at Pod Zidom, a groovy bar with a short but delicious cocktail menu. We ate at a few places around Zagreb, but the standout for me was Bistro Karlo. Again, a free entree was given to us whilst we waited and I had an amazing beetroot soup.
We then all trundled off to Pula. Pula was a fantastic place, bursting with history and beautiful beaches.
Around 45–46 BC Pula became a region of the Roman Empire and also developed as a significant trading centre and port. Despite being demolished following Octavians victory the town was quickly rebuilt and the ampitheatre was constructed between 27 BC — 68 AD. Also remaining is the Arch of the Sergii, the Gate of Herakles, and also the Twin Gates. Unfortunately the Archaeological Museum was shut, so I didn’t get a chance to go in there.
We actually enjoyed Pula so much we spent a few extra days there. Our second host, Bojan, drove us out to Premantura Pula, a beautiful national park by the ocean.
We decided to head to Rijeka next, as it would be easy for Anton to get back to Zagreb in time for his flight. We thoroughly enjoyed Rijeka, particularly the best fish we’d had on the trip so far.
We said a sad goodbye to Anton, and then spent the next couple of days aimlessly wandering around Rijeka pondering our next stop. We spent a day at Kostrena beach. Finding the beach was an adventure in itself. We caught the local bus and got off more than a few stops early. We ended up walking down a dirt path winding down the mountain before popping out along a busy road. As we were walking along it, our bus drove past and the driver pointed frantically down the hill to the path we were supposed to take. We were met with a sublime view and we had an alcove all to ourselves.
The next day we went to Opatija beach and wished we’d gone back to Kostrena instead. Win some, loose some.
For our next destination we decided on the island of Pag, notoriously known for being a party island. We stayed in Simuni, which was pretty out of the way but incredibly beautiful and quiet. We did head to the party beach, Zrće, but it was a tad too noisy for my liking. We had fun though, and certainly indulged in the 1 litre cocktails!
Our bus from Simuni was leaving at 2pm but checkout from our Airbnb was at 10. The only logical thing to do was to spend a few hours relaxing on the beach. Good decision, Ellie!
We arrived in Zadar and went exploring into the old town. We were admiring a rather large cruise ship in the dock when we began to hear relaxing music. We wandered further along as it grew louder but we couldn’t tell where it was coming from. Turns out it was a sea organ, a musical instrument which plays music by the sea waves through tubes underneath the marble steps. It was divine to sit there and watch the sun sink down.
From Zadar we took a day trip to Dugi Otok. I was drawn to Dugi Otok for its archaeological value. The island hosts a number of sites from the Paleolithic and Mesolithic eras, and also some Illyrian settlements. Unfortunately, archaeology in Croatia is vastly underfunded so although these sites are known about, many haven’t been studied in any way at all.
The next destination was Split. Despite being over-run with tourists (ourselves included!) it was a pleasant city.
We were lucky enough to be hosted by two archaeologists, who told us about a brilliant Roman town nearby. Just a short bus ride from Split, Salona was initially established as a marketplace but quickly developed into the capital of the Roman province of Dalmatia. Many of the finds from the site are in the Archaeological Museum in Split, which was itself very worthwhile.
It was a really hot day exploring Salona, but there were plenty of shady spots to rest, not to mention all the wild blackberry bushes. We ended up getting a bit lost and found ourselves cruising through gardens laden with fresh tomatoes and pomegranates.
The other attraction in Split is Diocletian's Palace. Built as the intended retirement home of the emperor Diocletian in the 4th century, the palace evolved over the centuries to function as the heart of Split. Surrounded by antique market stalls, wide promenades along the seafront, and of course, narrow alleys crammed full of shops and restaurants, the centre of Split is really something special.
I thoroughly enjoyed being able to go into the basement of the palace, not only because hardly any other tourists did, but also because it was a few degrees cooler and it was well worth being able to see the foundations of continuous history.
Another highlight of Split is Marjan, a dense forest only a short walk from the city centre. If you climb to the top you can get a view of the whole of Split.
After Split we found ourselves happily ensconced on the island of Hvar. We decided to stay in Stari Grad instead of Hvar town and I am so pleased we did. Our first afternoon in Stari Grad we simply swam and swooned over all the beautiful yachts.
The next day we hired some bicycles and took ourselves off in search of a 4th century BC Greek watchtower. What followed was an exhillarating ride through the Stari Grad Plains. In use for agricultural purposes since the 4th century BC, the plains not only remain in use but retain almost their original form. Protected by UNESCO, the area has been in use for twenty-four centuries.
We stopped for a picnic lunch in an abandoned farmhouse complex and before we knew it we’d found the foundations of the watch tower.
We then continued on to Vrboska, which was founded as a fishing port in the 15th century. We stopped for a swim and a little lie down before beginning the hot ride back to Stari Grad.
We’d certainly worked up an appetite so dinner that night was the local speciality: wild boar with gnocchi, followed by a pear, apple, honey and lavender cake. Not local speciality but jolly delicious.
The following evening we took ourselves off to Hvar town. The town is very beautiful but very busy. We had a swim and then climbed up the hill to watch the sunset, bottle of wine included.
We had an early start the next day to catch the eight hour ferry to Dubrovnik. Before we’d even got on the ferry we met a lovely English couple, Matt and Lucy. The ferry ride was fairly uneventful, the only issue being the bar didn’t have any gin OR tonic. Nevermind.
Before we knew it we were in Dubrovnik! I’d be lying if I said we didn’t loudly hum the Game of Thrones song.
Dubrovnik was busy and it’s very easy to see why it was chosen for filming some of the scenes for Game of Thrones.
Despite the hustle and bustle of it, we still managed to find some solitude and some empty streets. Not only that, but we bumped into the English again, and discovered we were all on the same bus the following day to Montenegro! Small world.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Croatia. Lots of delicious sea food, some incredible beach days, and all-round laziness made it the perfect interlude for the busyness of travelling.