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Croatia is like a brand new box of crayons, with every colour you ever dreamed at your fingertips, Cerulean Blue sea, Sunglow sand beaches, Outrageous Orange rooftops, Tropical Rainforest Green gorges and Piggy Pink blossoms.
Roadtripping down south
Croatia’s stunning coastal road is often compared to California’s famous Highway 1 between San Francisco and Los Angeles. While I love cruising down the Pacific Coast Highway, I’ve got to say the dramatic drive along this 200-kilometre stretch of the Adriatic Highway hugging the Dalmatian Coast between Split and Dubrovnik has got it beat.
We’re cruising along Croatia’s breathtaking Southern Dalmatian coastal highway, curving high along the looming limestone mountains that plunge into the endless Turquoise Blue of the Mediterranean, glimpsing sun-drenched seaside villages and pretty pebble beaches far below.
- The pretty seaside town of Omiš snuggles beneath sheer stone cliffs in a fertile Jungle Green valley at the mouth of a spectacular gorge where the Cetina River meets the Adriatic Sea.
- The Makarska Riviera is a stunning 60-kilometre stretch of dramatic scenery through one of the most famous resort regions along the Croatian coastline. Colourful roadside stands filled with fresh oranges and home grown produce are a tasty stop along the fruit-filled valleys of the Neretva River Delta as I sample the local honey and chat with a friendly farmer.
- We have our passports ready as we approach the border for a brief visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina, but the border guards don’t even bother checking as we pass into what’s known as the Neum Corridor. Croatia’s coastline is interrupted by a nine-kilometre stretch of Bosnia and Herzegovina territory and we just have to stop in the country’s one and only seaside town of Neum for ‘Bosnia-selfies’ to brag we’ve been there.
- The lure of local wines and succulent oysters has us detouring along Croatia’s Pelješac peninsula into Ston while Dubrovnik beckons us south, just an hour away along one of the world’s top ten coastal drives.
I’m hooked from my very first glimpse of Old Town Dubrovnik – a red-topped fairytale fortress overlooking sun-kissed green islands lounging in the ‘jump into me’ royal blue sea. Step through the grand Pile Gate into the Old Town and travel back in time in this medieval Mediterranean fantasy of marble streets and beautiful Baroque buildings, embraced within the mighty walls of the 12th-century citadel. Dubrovnik’s rich history, culture and art come alive everywhere you look in a city that is literally a living museum.
It’s so perfect it could be the set of a Hollywood movie, or in this case, the backdrop for a worldfamous TV series. Game of Thrones fans like me will instantly recognize Dubrovnik’s famous walled seaside fortress as the fictional city of King’s Landing. Walking these famous city walls is a must and so is a sunny cable car ride up Mt. Srđ to take in a stunning panorama over the medieval terracotta topped Old Town, the beckoning island of Lokrum, and Croatia’s delightful Dalmatian Coast dipping its suntanned toes into the endless shimmer of the Adriatic.
Back to the North by boat
Over a thousand islands bask in the Adriatic’s dazzling-blue embrace along Croatia’s 1,778 km-long coastline, just waiting to be explored. And there are lots of ways to cruise this sailor’s paradise here in the northern arm of the Mediterranean Sea. Croatia’s cruise season runs from mid-April to mid-October, when you’ll find everything from week-long journeys with local cruise operators and Croatian sailing cruises to super-sized cruise ships with Dubrovnik and Split as popular ports of call. You can also rent a boat here and sail off on your own to discover these delightful islands dotting the coast.
Cruising the coast on the local ferries works fine for me. And while island hopping on the numerous ferries, catamarans and taxi boats takes some time and planning, it’s the perfect way to discover the little patches of paradise that make up Croatia’s alluring archipelago. My favourite scenic ferry ride is the leisurely cruise between Dubrovnik and Split past picturesque islands like Mljet, Korčula, Hvar and Brač.
Split is known as the jumping off point for a visit to the magical Mediterranean islands, but Croatia’s second largest and lesser known city is steeped in history and the perfect place to discover real Dalmatian life in an atmospheric setting that is thousands of years old. The imposing Roman ruins of the gleaming white stone Diocletian’s Palace stand sentinel between the dramatic coastal mountains and shimmering sea, dominating the town. Ready for a living history lesson, I step through one of the four palace gates into the heart of this vibrant city, its ancient narrow streets alive with people, shops, bars, restaurants and hotels. Expecting a museum, instead I find the only Roman palace where people still make their homes.
Getting lost in this ancient labyrinth, I discover hidden passageways into quiet courtyards with laundry fluttering on lines from white stone walls covered in colourful Tickle Me Pink blossoms. Local kids kick a soccer ball by the palace’s northern Golden Gate, oblivious to the ancient history that surrounds them. Climbing to the top of the Cathedral of St. Domnius bell tower gives me a celestial view down over Split’s impressive UNESCO World Heritage Site. Traditional singing soars from inside the Diocletian’s Palace dome, a beautiful accompaniment to this amazing glimpse back in time.
My nose lures me to a cute little plaza hidden away in the heart of these ancient walls for some of the best pizza ever at Konoba-Pizzeria Maslina. And I save enough room for a tasty gelato as I stroll along the lovely marble seafront promenade just beyond the south wall of Split’s impressive palace.
Time to split from Split with one more stop enroute to Zagreb. Croatia’s Plitvice Lakes National Park is a magical world of waterfalls cascading from 16 terraced lakes flowing through a lush Fern Green fairytale forest. For a waterfall junkie like me, wandering the 18 km of wooden footbridges and winding pathways through this watery wonderland is like hiking through a natural Aquamarine paradise here in Colour Me Croatia.