My general rule of thumb in decision making lately has revolved around avoiding regret. When approaching a large or small decision I’ll ask myself which option I’m more likely to regret later. Will I regret drinking this third glass of wine? Possibly, but the laughter I enjoy with my friends while consuming it will help me quickly let it go. Will I regret screaming like a banshee at my overtired five-year-old who is currently in the midst of a full-blown meltdown over a band-aid? Yes, so go to a happy place and ignore her until its over. Will I regret coming to Croatia for a month and not making the 7-hour drive down the coast to one of the most famous cities in the world? Ummmm…yeah.
The gorgeous beaches, rolling hills, and relaxing lifestyle of the Istria Peninsula had us so content during the first part of our stay in Croatia we almost decided to stay put. I mean, how could anything justify leaving this paradise? Two things knocked some sense into us. One was a historical novel I’d been reading which takes place along the Dalmatian coast. Its references to ancient cities and battles of the Croatian War made me want to see these places in person. The other motivator was the influence of social media. About the time we were trying to decide if it was worth it to make the long drive down the coast, I came across one of those lists of places to visit before you kick the bucket. Dubrovnik was near the top, so I took it as a sign and went straight to Airbnb.com to find us places to stay.
The first stop on our journey to southern Croatia was Split, which sits about halfway down the coastline. This Roman town has been well-preserved and provides visitors with an easy walk through history. The highlight of our short time in Split was climbing to the top of the bell tower at Cathedral of Saint Domnius and viewing the city and sea through its tall stone arches.
We stayed our first two nights in Makarska, situated on the coast about an hour south of Split and smack dab in the middle of the beautiful Makarska Riveria region. The rocky mountaintops of the Biokovo range rise above the Adriatic coast, creating views from every direction. The town is a jam-packed tourist destination with shops, restaurants, and various attractions lining every step of the main pedestrian walk. However, just a few steps through the enormous trees lining the coast took us to pebble beaches and blue water.
Despite the heavy commercialization of this resort town, we did manage to find natural beauty and tranquility just a short ride north, ironically via one of the tourist attractions. The girls became obsessed with the little train that rolls along the wide sidewalk carrying visitors up and down the shoreline. Brian and I finally caved and coughed up the money to ride it.
We were pleasantly surprised when it dropped us off at a remote beachside cafe situated next to a wilderness area with hiking trails. We followed a trail along the coastline and enjoyed an afternoon climbing on rocks, breathing the sea air, and periodically averting our eyes away from the nude sunbathers.
On our third day we left Makarska and headed south along the coast, which required a 9-kilometer drive through Bosnia. The time it took us to get through the border crossings on the north and south ends of this tiny strip of land was about four times longer than the actual time we spent in the country.
Our next stop was the famous walled city of Dubrovnik. Suffice it to say, we were extremely glad social media and historical fiction led us to seeing this unique place. I’ll let Brian’s photos do most of the talking because words can’t capture the magic of the town.
The Old City has two entrances. While the Pile Gate entrance on the west side is more accessible to the main parking garage and city bus routes, I highly recommend finding time to explore the Vrata od Ploca entrance on the northeast corner of the city. The stone corridors and remnants of ancient gates transport visitors back to the middle ages. Walking through this area of the town I could almost hear the rattle of old wooden carts and the clicking of horse hooves echoing off the high stone walls. (Perhaps I should be a bit concerned about hearing carts and horse hooves in my head?) Another must-do is the scenic stroll atop the city’s massive wall. Every turn in the walkway provides different views down into the city, up the hills of new Dubrovnik, and out across the Adriatic. The best time to begin the walk around this highrise perimeter is late afternoon or early evening after the largest crowds have departed and the sun shines its golden rays on the western slopes of the orange tile rooftops.
While in Dubrovnik we also toured the nearby Elafiti islands. At the last minute we were able to schedule an extremely affordable full-day cruise with Dubrovnik Boats to see the islands of Koločep, Šipan, and Lopud. Our friendly and knowledgeable captain and the crew prepared a fantastic grilled fish lunch for us. (One of the best meals we’ve had in Croatia!)
It goes without saying (but I’ll type it anyway) we certainly have no regrets about our trip down the Dalmatian coast. We enjoyed great weather, delicious food and left with more fun memories to look back on after we end our time in Croatia. Even the return drive up to Istria proved memorable when we stopped along the way to visit a beautiful national park…but more on that another time. This post is getting long.