Croatia was a country we’d both wanted to visit since we don’t know much about it. Our visit served to show us we were right about our ignorance and barely satisfied our instant taste for the glorious sunshine, stunning beaches, cheap beer, great pizzas and interesting history and architecture.
We hired a car and headed out of Split airport on the main road south to our base on the Makarska Riviera, Baska Voda. We passed through towns, resort hubs, cities and all the way were accompanied with the breathtaking views across the water on our right and as we got closer, the Biokovo Mountains loomed and seemed to grow in front of our eyes, rising ever higher on our left. This view would become familiar during our time as we ran up and down the main highway between towns seeking out beaches, restaurants and sightseeing.
Most days we found ourselves back at Medici and its perfect little strip of sand set away from the tiny town languishing in sunshine all day. We may have also stumbled upon the best lunch deal ever: a giant vegetarian pizza, including zucchini stings and corn kernels (which do crop up everywhere), and a litre of Croatian-and-very-good-thank-you beer, all for around £8. Thanks to Venetian influence in the past, Croatia does great pizza.
We also visited the beach at Baska Voda…along with lots and several and many other people, thankfully it stretches for lots and several and many metres and is covered by rentable sun loungers and fringed with open-air bars. We found a spot and settled our air beds for a day on the pebbles. The water all around is absolutely crystal clear but even so, walking around on the rocky bottom is still fraught with the certainty you’ll fall over trying to make your way in or out of the waves…even with reef sandals on. In its favour is the fact you don’t get sand in every cranny including some you didn’t know you had.
We did manage to tear ourselves away from the air beds for a fish picnic boat trip to Hvar Island. It was a long couple of hours to get from Baska Voda and Brela to Hvar due to head winds constantly beating us up. When they deemed the seas was calm enough they served up bread, cheese and ham which we practically inhaled and washed down with watery white wine. It was barely after 10am…somewhere in the world at least.
We arrived into Jelsa on the northern side of the island and were loaded onto a bus to head past lavender fields and farms to Hvar town. A gorgeous old port town with 13th century walls, a hilltop fortress and a main square overlooked by the Renaissance-era Hvar Cathedral. We found our way up to the fortress that dominated the hill climbing up through narrow stone alleys and many steps past quaint cafes and restaurants.
The views over the water and out to the Pakleni Islands were amazing and as we climbed just kept opening up wider. Inside the fortress we checked out the prison with its tiny stone cells, gave Julie a heart attack when I gasped as my hat blew off in the wind, ranged all over the various rooms and turrets and terraces. Between the historical fortress under our feet and the expansive views all around, it made the trek uphill completely worth the effort.
Back down to the square and we strolled through the cobblestone alleys that gave a new view of gorgeous old buildings around each corner. We peeked in the jewelry shops and finally picked up some supplies to sit and make crisp sandwiches while people-watching on the main square. Julie picked up some fruit from the market as we returned to the bus and back to the boat. On the trip home we were served our fish picnic…prior to this I had said I was vegetarian since I’m not fond of whole fried fish. Jugs of watery white wine and juice appeared, plus bread and a mountain of sliced cabbage. Then out came the fish and then my meal…apparently vegetarian in Croatian is a plate of even more cabbage and slabs of cheese. Then they brought out grilled chicken!! Felt so cheated but didn’t want to tarnish the idea I’d called myself vegetarian by tucking into chicken. Serves me right for not asking if the menu for a fish picnic stretched a little further than fish.
The trip back to port was eventful and a lot more fun than the trip out. The blaring traditional music was replaced with music much more suited for dancing as best you could on the slippery floor. The more outgoing of the crewmen took it upon himself to partner up with a passenger and both could dance…much to the jealous anxiety of her drunker-and-drunker boyfriend who couldn’t match the fancy footwork of Gilligan. Things occasionally got heated enough for him to scurry away over the side and walk along to drop down to hide next to us, or try and force his more junior and completely non-dancing crew member to take the lead. This provided great theatre while we got more than a little tipsy on the not-so-watered-down-anymore white wine – served in plastic cups because we’re classy like that – and beers, which helped us get to know our fellow passengers sitting around a large table at the back. Hailing from Norway they were a lot of fun even if we couldn’t understand the whole conversation. Added to that was the loss of a buoy and the ensuing donuts we spun in the boat trying to retrieve it with broom handles and finally the long lanky arms of the junior crewman, made instant hero.
After a day on the water we opted for a day on the road, going as far south as the border. Along the way we passed through farmland which appeared quite strange after the mountains the plunge into the sea we’d been used to so far. A gorgeous lake district appeared around another corner to take our breath away…just as well the road builders had also built laybys to pull into for your selfies so you don’t drive off the side staring out the side window.
On our way back we drove down into the villages, descending from the main road to try our best to negotiate the little roads which must be designed to get you hopelessly lost…they work too! As with so many of the older towns and cities in the world, whether it’s Paraty in Brazil, Mykonos in Greece or the little towns on the Makarska Riviera in Croatia, the little alleys are designed to help you get lost – presumably to thwart pirates and marauders. Visiting them when you’re merely a tourist and not armed with a wooden leg and eye patch, they conjure up a magical air of calm and then turn to excitement as you discover what’s hidden around each corner.
Baska Voda is just one of the towns on the Riviera, Makarska and Brela are more famous but we liked our little town completely. Our hosts were lovely Austrian/Croatian and after welcoming us in to choose between sea or mountain view rooms (as we were out of high season), they asked if we’d like a drink of juice. I said not to worry as we’d head out and grab a beer with lunch…he disappeared and came back with two bottles of cold, delicious Karlovačko beer! And they wouldn’t take two new ones we got at the market to replace them. And the grapes off the vine growing over our balcony were lovely. Something that was a surprise for us was the German influence, until we knew more about the history. Every restaurant has schnitzel and sausages, plenty of pork and sauerkraut. The beer and wine are good and cheap and the standard is a little higher than I think we both expected. When your main market is tourists from Germany/Austria, it seems you have to lift your game a little. The second language here is German and all the signs for the day’s specials were in German. We were a novelty to be visiting from the UK, much less from Australia. Nonetheless, we were still made to feel very welcome.
We are already looking ahead to our next trip here and plan to go inland, see the lakes and more. Croatia, you have captivated us both!