"In cooking, as in all the arts, simplicity is a sign of perfection." - Curnonsky

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Croatia's Sparkling Dalmatian Coast

My Croatia Adventure with the Phi Mu Foundation was a wonderful trip and I do agree that this is "the Mediterranean, as it once was". Twenty-eight travelers met in Chicago on May 10 to head towards this unknown part of the world for the next 10 days.

Croatia is an up and coming country. It has been labeled as having a sleepy and industrializing economy, which usually turns people away from the country. But why in your travels would you skip a country where the Adriatic water is about 77 degrees all year around. The towns along the coast look like they have not changed in 50 years.Besides the beautiful beaches, which contain more pebbles than sand, it is the lifestyle that brings tourists to the Dalmatian Coast. The cities are non commercialized and most of the people live in medieval seaside cities or traditional island villages.

Since we had only about nine days to get to know Croatia's 200-mile long Dalmatian Coast, we focused on the southern half from ancient Split south to medieval Dubrovnik, a stretch particularly noted for warm waters, consistent sailing winds, and scores of beautifully wooded islands. We started our explorations by sailing aboard a chartered boat (the Aloha) from Split. Sailing offers the opportunity to experience the beauty of the Adriatic Sea up close, including otherwise inaccessible island coves and villages.

Highlights of my trip included:

Hvar stood like a medieval maiden crowned with its castle-fort, its walls trailing like locks of hair down to the 13th-century town. Scores of fishing boats bobbed in the harbor as families and couples strolled along its marble promenade.

St. Stepjan's four-story bell tower beckoned us toward the central town square rimmed with cafes. We walked through the ancient town wall gate and got lost in the maze of cobbled alleyways that climbed up towards the castle. Three-and four-story stone houses towered above, many with inviting first floor shops or restaurants. Each lane brought new architectural surprises: sculptured porticos, ancient wooden doors, and bridges spanning the alleyways. We had entered a time warp to the middle ages.

Maestral? Bora? Scirocco? I didn't understand the terms until I experienced one these sailing phenomena firsthand. The Adriatic's maestral northwest thermal winds blow most summer afternoons. The gusty northeast bora winds raging down from Croatia's mountaintops affected a couple days of our sailing making for some rough seas. The light southern winds are called scirocco.

The week's sailing was accompanied by anchorages in beautiful fishing village coves: Mljet Island's harbors and Korcula Island's harbor town come to the top of my mind. After a day's sail we'd hike and sightsee or swim and lounge. A major highlight on Mljet Island was a hike & ferry ride around its salt-water lake, Veliko Jerzero, where we spent an hour swimming and cooling off, and a 12th-century Benedictine monastery islet.

Another of the week's highlights was to medieval Korcula. The walled and towered pedestrian village dating to the 1400s encompassed a small hilly north-facing peninsula with both western and eastern harbors. The crowning attraction was St. Mark's Cathedral at the central square. A network of twenty crosshatched alleys emanated outward from the single street that divided the village. One of my best meals was enjoyed at a seaside restaurant on a beautiful evening.

As for sailing, what could be better than the Aloha, a 101 foot three deck boat cutting through the Adriatic at 20 knots with a dining/bar area and outdoor lounges. Each cabin, although small, had its own shower and air conditioning. The dining area even had a DVD player, which we enjoyed watching old 50's TV shows a couple of evenings.


There couldn't have been a better place to celebrate my birthday (May 15) than the walled town that's been coined the Adriatic's "Crown Jewel." We entered Dubrovnik through one of its grand gates. This eastern end expanded into Luza square bordered by entrancing Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque structures such as the clock tower, Sponza Palace, St. Blaise's Church, the Rector's Palace, and Cathedral of Assumption of the Virgin. I was bowled over by the wide marbled pedestrian boulevard and the spouting 15th-century Onofrio Fountain that had fresh spring water spouting out of the mouths of the sculpture.

We did not hike the town's incredible walls since it was extremely hot that afternoon. However, there was no overlooking the warring history when I first saw the huge walls measuring up to 60 feet thick and 80 feet high. First built in the 1200s as protection against the Venetians and other marauders, the walls and towers were enhanced in the 1400s against the Turks and again in the 1600s against the Austro-Hungarians.

The Heart of Dalmatia - Split

Split, the second largest city in Croatia, boasted a beautiful palm-lined harbor and a treasured old town dating back to Roman times. The emperor Diocletian built a huge retirement palace here around 300 AD. The Roman walls, imperial quarters, and mausoleum survived to this day, intermingled with medieval homes, alleyways, and churches juxtaposed with the original Roman structures. It's no wonder that UNESCO has named the palace a World Heritage Site. I most admired the Peristyle's marbled Roman imperial entrance court and its bordering 12th-century St. Dominus Cathedral built with Romanesque columns, alters, and sculptures within the octagonal structure of Diocletian's mausoleum.

We visited many other memorable places - Zagreb, Plitvice Lakes, Mostar in Bosnia/Herzegovina, the Island of Sipan, Tisno, and Sibenik during our 10 day journey.

I invite you to visit my photos on YouTube by clicking here: Pam's Croatian Adventure

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