Friday, September 24, 2010

Croatia

Northen and Central Dalmatia. Fabulous food and white wine, clear blue 23°C seas, stunning landscapes and cities.

We started with five nights in Zadar, travelled inland for two nights at Plitvice Lakes national park then spent four nights in Trogir.

Zadar is funky. A tourist-lite Rome, it has cute places to eat; dramatic city walls; a market groaning with fresh figs, sheep cheese and local honey; pizza, coffee and ice cream cafes galore; countless little churches and ancient ruins. It also has the sea organ, an instrument built into the sea wall that creates haunting, whale-like cries as the waves rush into the hidden holes and push air up through the pavement. At night, the next-door Sun Salutation uses the day's energy of sea and sun to put on a spectacular random light show. We spent several a happy half-hour just staring at these mesmerising installations.

Day 1 (arrival) - explored Zadar, found the boatmen of Zadar
Day 2 - explored Zadar more
Day 3 - took a boat tour to Kornati National Park
Day 4 - went to Paklenika National Park
Day 5 - went to the barren and beautiful island of Pag

It was raining when we got to Plitvice and stayed damp throughout (actually a blessing because even in the wet the place was teeming with tourists). The lakes are absolutely gorgeous: little waterfalls everywhere interspersed with deep, bright green pools of the clearest water. We felt a bit misled by the Lonely Planet, though, which didn't warn us about how heavily managed the park is, the Yugoslav prison block atmosphere of the hotels or the general drudgery of food on offer. A full day visit would have been preferable to two nights on site. Definitely a sight to see, though.

The hospitality of pretty Trogir helped us recover. A charming hotel on the traffic-free island that is the town centre delighted us with outdoor breakfasts and excellent service. This was our favourite city: more intimate than Zadar but just as gorgeous, with lovely places to swim within easy walking distance.

Again, we felt let down by Lonely Planet with regards to Krka, as tourist management was overbearing but useful information scarce, so much of the day was spent looking for park highlights in the car. I was, however, asked in conversation by a French couple if I was "Quebequoise" which made me rather pleased with myself.....

Split was impressive but too big for a stay and very touristy. I'm glad we didn't bother with the drive south to Dubrovnik. It was worth the tricky, unsigned hunt round Trogir streets (as wide as your arm) for the local ferry booking office to the tiny Drvenik Veli. No other Brits on board and a fabulous little island to swim off on arrival.

Day 8 - explored Trogir
Day 9 - trip to Split
Day 10 - visited little island of Drvenik Veli
Day 11 - visited Krka National Park

We then drove back to Zadar and spent our final afternoon chilling out in The Garden. Very cool.

Flights were Stansted to Zadar. Prices on location not cheap but a bit cheaper than the UK. Croatia's culture changes from a Western European vibe to something more Eastern European as you move inland. They don't have the €. Everywhere, people speak English or are ashamed not to. Service is generally good but you feel a bit more will need to be done (or perhaps will be done out of necessity) if the tourist industry reaches its full potential. You have to be a bit savvy to make your holiday work. Our guide book told us you could get around by bus and that was our intention, but we hired a car on day 2: it is, in fact, essential.


I can heartily recommend this part of the world and wouldn't be at all surprised if it catches on rapidly in the next few years.

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