A few years ago I was lucky enough to travel to Croatia – I stayed in Dubrovnik, Split, Hvar and Krk, using trains and ferries to explore the rocky country. It’s a wonderful destination, full of charm, beautiful people and excellent pizzas.
So I was delighted when a good friend of mine, playwright Jennifer Adam, said she had written this piece about Hvar and Dubrovnik. And I was chuffed to bits she let me steal it for Three Days Away! Enjoy – you’ll want to book your flights straight away.
Right before that awkward moment when you arrive into a new country or city and realise you had researched everything apart from how to get from the bus terminal, train station or ferry port to your hotel… there is a wonderful feeling of anticipation and excitement the first time you cast eager eyes across the landscape of your next adventure.
It suddenly doesn’t matter that it took what felt like a week to get here, or that you haven’t eaten all day, or that you’re not 100% sure your luggage was put on the same mode of transport that you were… That first sight, the initial discovery is the one that will stay with you, even if it didn’t occur to you at the time to take a photograph.
For me, arriving in Hvar – one of many stunning Croatian islands on the Adriatic Sea – it was the town’s square. Standing only on the cusp of its perimeter, I strained hoping to see cars or roads that might indicate there was a taxi rank nearby. Instead, I was faced with a bustling business of bars, restaurants and stalls with the sea allowing a line-up of several gleaming yachts in the background. The sun which lazily floated towards sunset certainly didn’t affect the heat; in fact it appeared the only people fully clothed in this town were the waiters. Having just spent four nights in Dubrovnik, further down the coast, it suddenly became clear where all the other twenty-somethings were hiding. Each one, beautiful, slim and sun-kissed, had succumbed to a diet of ice cream and Prosecco – a custom which appealed to both my mental and actual age and one which I replicated for the remainder of the trip.
The quaint Croatian architecture that appeared to dominate Dubrovnik almost went unnoticed in stylish Hvar, which instead boasted corridors of modern beach front restaurants and four-tiered boats with just enough light on deck to try and lure you inside.
My first sight of Dubrovnik, as the airport shuttle bus to Pile (Old Town Gate) hugged the inside of the cliff-edged roads, was from the top of the startling Mount Srd. Giving way to a host of terracotta tiles and the contrasting turquoise Adriatic Sea, a mix of locals and tourists below filled the traditional restaurants and could be seen bobbing in and out of the water. There couldn’t have been a more welcoming sight if President Josipovik himself met us off the bus with a cold bottle of pivo.
Dubrovnik had been described in travel journals and articles as a hidden gem, a slice of paradise that you didn’t have to fly all the way to the Caribbean to find; and the more time we spent touring the ancient streets and throwing ourselves from rocks into the sea, the easier this became to believe.
Early on in our trip, my boyfriend and I met an older British couple in new town Dubrovnik who recommended that we, “Go where the strip is…” we nodded. “Then go down the strip to where the noise is…” Ok. Got that. “Then…” the gentleman smiled, “…walk in the opposite direction.” Taking his advice, we got to the main drag, followed the noise and music of the surrounding restaurants, then walked to the right, along the coast. Other than passing a few cliff edges that had been worn into a pathway for people to jump into the sea, there wasn’t much around and it would be accurate to say that the Croats aren’t too fond of streetlight either. Never the less, eventually a staircase suddenly took a swift turn, descending towards the water – easily missed in the dark. Curious, we climbed down to find a small bar and restaurant, faintly lit overlooking the water, and nestled inside a cave in the face of the cliff. – A discovery they had presumably come across on their travels and were kind enough to share.
We held on to this piece of information once we reached Hvar. After climbing down an actual mountain of steps from where our apartment sat perched mid-way up the back hills, we reached a small inlet of pebbly beach. To our left was the coastline stroll to Hvar town centre which passed a variety of ‘sunbed bars’ including the very popular ‘Hula Hula Bar’ and men offering their boats for hire. We took a right and headed west – the opposite direction. The path ahead seemed to project a long baron coastline with little to accompany the gentle waves other than the greyish volcanic rock on the island edge. Not long after, however we discovered Falko – a small bar tucked inside a woodland. Hammocks hung from the trees, shaded by branches, sheets were draped from the boughs to prevent sun peeking through and a DJ in the back had just changed from Guns n Roses to Bob Marley. Definitely more my kind of place.
The art of travelling (yes it’s an art) is fuelled by a passion for discovery – though not always geographic. I found myself, now at the end of a second eight hour ferry trip back down to Dubrovnik, struck by a familiar homely feeling as the Jardolinija Ferry approached the orange rooftops of the old town, despite spending less time here. I was almost a little concerned that I appeared to feel more comfortable among the history and authenticity of ancient Dubrovnik, than the music filled party town of Hvar.
I began to wonder which part of Croatia the best memories would come from, years from now, which stories will I still be telling? Would I remember the trip at all or would future adventures overshadow it? As the boat cruised into the Gruz Harbour at dinner time I took another look at the final sunset I would see in Croatia, and as we pulled into the pier, a polite Croatian man came over the tannoy, “I thank you for choosing your travel with us…” I stood up and collected my things as he parted with “…Good appetite. And have a good life.”
- There are over a thousand Croatian islands in the Adriatic Sea – some of them are popular tourists destinations, some are uninhabited.
- It’s a great place to go island hopping as they are very well connected by various ferries – Croatia Ferries
- Hvar is the longest and the sunniest Croatian island.
- You can fly from the UK to a number of destinations in Croatia – including Dubrovnik, Split, Zagreb, Zadar and Pula. Prices range from £35 one way to £100 from all major airports.