For the past several years, when Kelly and I had been traveling in Europe, we met people who told us Croatia was a “must-see”! So we decided to plan a trip. We wanted to visit several of the islands plus Dubrovnik. We both tried finding cruises, and Kelly came across Sail Croatia, they offered a week long small boat cruise (36 guests) from Split to Dubrovnik with stops in Hvar, Vis, Korcula, and Mljet.
We booked the trip with 3 nights prior to the cruise in Split, and 4 nights after in Dubrovnik. We left Wednesday, 9/11 from Chicago.
Thursday, 9/12. We had an overnight flight to Frankfurt, then on to Split. We had time to use some of our Euro’s in Frankfurt and had a beer on our layover. We arrived in Split around 1300. After getting though immigration, we caught a bus down to the port and walked to House Sandra. It was a nice big room, with a refrigerator, but I thought the beds were too soft. We checked in, cleaned up a little, then walked about 5 minutes to the old town, or Diocletian’s Palace. After entering at the Silver Gate, through the market, we wandered all over the old city. We explored up and down little alleys and tried to find all the gates. We found a little cafe and split a plate of sausages and shrimp risotto and had a couple of beers. We had an early night.
Friday, 9/13. We caught an early #1 bus out to Salona, the Roman capital of Dalmatia. We had some breakfast bars in route. We explored the great ruins and amphitheater, from the 2nd century. Such an amazing site, a great way to spend the morning. We came back to town and found a pizza restaurant, Maslina, by the bus station. We shared a big Greek salad and each had a medium pizza. The location was lovely, by a big stone wall that reminded us both of the walls in Peru.
After lunch we went back to old town, getting ourselves more oriented in the daylight. We found the Gold Gate, Brass Gate, and Iron Gate. We saw the large statue of Gregory of Nin, a Croatian bishop, who opposed the Pope by offering services in the Croatian language. We climbed the Bell Tower in the Cathedral of Saint Domnius for great views, saw the Baptistery and the Temple of Jupiter and the “Let Me Pass” alley, then visited the cellars. After leaving the cellars, we found our way up to the top of the walls for great views above the Riva. Later in the afternoon we walked to the Marjan Pennisula, with more great views of the whole city.
Saturday, 9/14. Today was the start of our cruise. We couldn’t check in until 10:30 at the earliest and had to check out of the hotel by 10. So we had a late start, eating our leftover pizza for breakfast, before getting packed up. We were told the boat could be docked in several locations. We found the boat the night before, so we knew where to go. We dropped our bags off then went back to town, returning to the boat by 1230. They gave us bunk beds and we were both very unhappy with our cramped room. Lunch was at 1300, served as we headed to Makarska. Kelly and I, along with 4 Australians, had booked the white water rafting on the Cetina River so were dropped off at another stop. We rafted for about 3-4 hours then were taken by van to Makarska. Kelly and I cleaned up on the ship then wandered out to explore and later joined many of our shipmates and Mia, our guide, for dinner. I had some great steak. We were overnight in the Makarska port.
Sunday, 9/15. We took the below deck room, thinking it would be quieter. We didn’t hear people coming on board, sure, but we could hear the engines every morning. Live and learn. We learned Sail Croatia rents their boats from the owners who aren’t using them so you never know what your boat, or room, may be like. Not sure I would use this company again, because of that. The pictures we saw of the rooms showed all twin beds not bunks.
Our next port of call was Stari Grad on Hvar Island. We made a swim stop in the morning and afternoon most days. The water was a bit cool when first getting in, but felt great and was incredibly clear. Stari Grad was lovely. We wandered up the ‘Riva’ or waterfront, then all through the town, looking for “Tvrdalj Castle”. It was difficult to find as it was just a big manor house. We finally found it and it was beautiful, with a big courtyard and lovely garden. We also saw a church museum. We stopped on the way back to the ship to buy some wonderful lavender & rosemary soap and lavender oil.
We had seen the signs for Jurin Podrun earlier and I remembered the name was one I had seen online as a recommended restaurant. We found our way back for dinner. We ordered the pork medallions in Dalmation sauce and pork stuffed with pancetta and carrots and shared those entrees plus an order of grilled vegetables with balsamic vinegar glaze. All of it was delicious!! It was a wonderful location at the intersection of two little alleys, lit by hanging lanterns, and great service with a very helpful waitress. We also shared the cheesecake. Easily the best meal we had on vacation.
Monday, 9/16. We sailed around the island of Hvar, with a swim stop in route. We got to Hvar Town early. We weren’t allowed to dock as other boats were there so most of us shared a water taxi to town. Kelly and I walked up the hill to Hvar Fortress first, enjoying the walk. The views just kept getting better and better as we climbed. We paid to enter the fortress and spent an hour or so exploring all the rooms and battlements. Gorgeous. Back in town, we saw St. Stephan’s church and explored St. Stephan’s Square, the main plaza. We walked all over the island looking for the Franciscan Monastery and never did find it but saw a beautiful area, woods and park. We found a good fish restaurant and Kelly had fried calamari and I had fresh tuna.
Tuesday, 9/17. We sailed to Vis today, the outermost Croatian island off the Dalmatian coast. Used for centuries as a strategic military post, it served the allies during WWII against the Germans and Italians and was the site of a large military post under Tito. Kelly and I did the military tour booked through the ship. We had a great afternoon seeing the submarine bays and tunnels and underground installations of the artillery batteries.
Wednesday, 9/18. After another swim stop before lunch, at the Peljesac peninsula, we arrived in Korcula. This is considered to be the birthplace of Marco Polo by the Croatians and you can visit his home; although it’s actually unknown where he was born. Korcula is a beautiful town, with large city walls. We entered at the main gate, the Land Gate through Revelin Tower, or Tower of the South Land Gate. Walking up the Main Street, we went all the way through old town to the outer walls. We continued through the walls and around the back by the waterfront until we returned to the Land Gate. We visited the Cathedral of St. Mark. Completed in the 15th century, it’s the largest church of the city. We climbed the narrow tower for amazing views, saw the Abbey Treasury of Saint Mark, or the Bishop’s Treasury Museum. We stopped for a cold beer at a café on the water.
After our little break, we continued around the old town, heading to the Sveti Nicola, or Monastery and Church of St. Nicholas. However, just as we arrived, mass was just starting, so, of course, visitors not allowed. It was a great walk, though, and gave us nice views of the walled city. I wanted to get tickets to the Moreska Sword Dancers, but, unfortunately, that was only Mondays and Thursdays. Instead I joined Kelly and a few others at the dinner in the village, this was an offered excursion from the ship. We were picked up at 7:15 and taken to a great little restaurant in a village above Korcula town. We had some great Dalmatian ham and goat cheese for appetizers, then pasta and their house wine. Taken back to the ship, we went out for a drink before turning in.
Thursday, 9/19. Leaving Korcula, we headed south to Mljet. We arrived mid-morning, as the water was too rough for the swim stops. Kelly and I went to the National Park, which covers about one third of the island. We walked around the small lake, or Malo Jezero, before heading back to the boat for lunch. After another great lunch from Ivan, who had been feeding us wonderful meals all week, we headed back to the park. We wanted to get the ferry to the island to see the Benedictine monastery. The monastery was built on ancient Roman ruins in the 12th century. There is not a lot to see on the island, and not much was open to the public in the monastery but we saw some of the main rooms then had time for a break before the return ferry. After getting back to the mainland we swam for a few hours. We went back to the ship to clean up and take showers before going back out for dinner.
Friday, 9/20. We were due to arrive at Dubrovnik mid-afternoon, after another swim stop. Kelly and I took off right after we docked, buying the 3-day city card. We caught the bus from the port to old town. We went in the impressive Pile Gate over the stone bridge, which replaced the wooden drawbridge over the old moat. Right inside the walls is the big fountain of Onofrio. We walked down the Stradun, stopping for our first of our twice daily gelato for $1 (5 kuna, half off with our Sail-Croatia card). We went all the way to the end of the Stradun, then saw the Cathedral and Treasury. The Treasury was very odd, not art like we expected but it contains over 100 reliquaries of saints. There are fingers, skulls, legs, feet… all encased in gold and jewels. Beautiful and fascinating and weird. We had planned to meet Robert and Robin, from Melbourne, Australia, for dinner at Kopun. My meal was only okay, but the house wine was great. I shared a carafe with Kelly.
Saturday, 9/21. We had to leave the boat by 9. We knew where our hostel/B&B was and we could have caught the bus to the Pile Gate like yesterday but had to carry our bags up very step and long stairs. Our guide recommended a cab. We caught a cab.
I had thought our hotel was #4 Bernarda Shawa (our reservations were buried deep in our backpacks, for some reason), and we could only find #3 and #5. Then a person popped up over the wall and said no it’s #5. “But that man is crazy, so knock softly so you don’t startle him.” Kelly and I looked at one another and thought, hmm. Well, after knocking, the man on the wall answered and we started laughing. Baldo Stanos greeted us at Family Stanos and let us leave our bags in the courtyard as it was too early for check-in, then we headed back down the stairs to old town.
We were directly north of Minceta Tower. We had beautiful views of the highest tower on the city walls and the sea. We wanted to visit the walls first thing so used our Dubrovnik card which included entry to the walls. We had read it was best to go up by the Ploce Gate, on the east side. If you go up early, you miss most of the crowds, even better most enter the walls at the Pile Gate so we were half a circuit ahead of them.
It was amazing. We took dozens and dozens of pictures; the view kept changing as we climbed and walked around the walls. We visited all the forts and towers on the wall, climbing up to the Minceta tower and the Bokar Fort. We stopped at the Maritime Museum (also included on the card) at the Fort of St. John.
After the wall, we spent the day visiting several of the museums included on the Dubrovnik card: the Rector’s Palace, the Franciscan Monastery with the old pharmacy, the Marin Drzic House. We were supposed to meet some of our shipmates at Buza Bar, on the outer walls, at 1800, but although we checked both Buza and Buza 2, we didn’t see them. Regardless, we had beer/wine at Buza and enjoyed the sunset at this wonderful location. Hanging off the cliffs outside the wall, there are amazing views of the Adriatic.
Sunday, 9/22. We visited the Dubrovnik cable car first thing this morning. We had great views in the car as it rose steeply to Srdj Hill. The views were amazing and I could finally get a good picture of the entire city and all the walls (featured image). We took the time to visit the Homeland War Museum, about the war with Serbia, at the old fort. Glad we did, not only did we get even better pictures, without all the cables in the way, but the museum was really interesting. Back in the city, we also visited another museum on our card, Dulčić-Masle-Pulitika Gallery, three artists whose work I really enjoyed. We spent the afternoon at the beach. That evening we did a second walk on the walls. The first was included in our card, but we wanted to do an evening walk to enjoy the sunset. We had wonderful light as the setting sun hit the orange roofs and walls. Fantastic.
Monday, 9/23. Today was our Mostar tour, we got up early for the pickup at 8:05. We were the first on the bus and spent the next 30 minutes or so picking up the others before heading northwest up the coast to Bosnia. We stopped at Počitelj, with a large fortress perched over the town. We only had time to visit the mosque however, then on to Mostar. The guide gave us lots of great information en route. We had a wonderful local guide in Mostar, who showed us around the city for about an hour. Since we didn’t have a lot of free time, we picked up a couple of ‘burek’ or stuffed meat pies, for a very quick lunch, then walked up to the mosque for the best views of the Old Bridge, or Stari Most. The 16th century bridge was destroyed by the Serbians during the war in 1993, and reopened in 2004.
Lots of pictures here, of course, then we wandered through the market doing a little browsing and sight-seeing. Kelly had a pomegranate ice cream but I chose to try the Sarajevo pivo (beer), instead, and bought the glass from a very nice waitress who had family in Chicago. We left Mostar a little after 3 and got to town about 6. I don’t remember which tour company we used but there are several offering day trips to Mostar from Dubrovnik.
Tuesday, 9/24. We tried walking up the hill, west of the city, to get a view of town for photographs. But we never found “the” spot for that classic Dubrovnik picture. We had planned on spending the afternoon at the beach again, but we were hot after our morning walk, and after seeing the deserted beach, we decided to head back to Family Stanos and change into our suits. We spent from 10-1 here. Empty when we got there, but more and more people came all morning. We spent a lot of time in the stunning blue water before going back to change.
We weren’t sure if our 3-day Dubrovnik card was expired, if it was valid for 3 calendar days or 72 hours, but since it didn’t have a date on it we thought we’d try visiting the remaining museums we hadn’t seen Sunday. We visited the Ethnographic and Natural History Museums, both were very enjoyable. I wanted to visit the Dominican Monastery but we were watching our money; they didn’t take credit cards and neither of us wanted to take more Croatian Kuna out and have to change it at the airport. So we skipped this and another War Photograph Museum, due to the cost. We returned to Kopun that evening for our final meal, both wanting to try the dish we had read about, Capon (Kopun) cooked in oranges and honey. It was wonderful, mildly sweet and tender served with great pasta.
Wednesday, 9/25. Up at 4 to get dressed and complete our packing, we were at the bus stop to catch the 455 bus to the airport. It was quite a distance and we got there after 6, time to check in for our flight to Frankfurt and on to Chicago. I had 20 Kuna left I spent on a croissant. We stopped for Portillo’s in Chicago and got home around 1700.
It was a fantastic trip, although fairly expensive. Even being unhappy with the boat and our cabin, we loved cruising the beautiful Adriatic islands, and both Split and Dubrovnik are amazing, beautiful cities, with gorgeous views around every building. I definitely recommend a visit to Croatia.
** all photos property of Lisa, not to be copied or reproduced **