The last leg of our recent visit to Croatia took us from the KRKA NATIONAL PARK to TROGIR, a beautiful historical pedestrian town, packed with atmosphere and traditional Croatian character. Set on a narrow island that is linked by bridge to the mainland on one side and by another bridge to Ciovo across the Trogir Channel, this picturesque town has been placed by UNESCO on its World Heritage list in 1997. A town wall with two gates encircles most of the old historic centre.
The maze of narrow cobblestone streets resembles very much the Old Town section of Stockholm, Gamla Stan, and Carcassonne in France: unique winding streets, lined with cute original local bars and craft shops.
The Cathedral, the Town Hall, Loggia, and Cipiko Palace surround the town square, Trg Ivana Pavla. Sitting under umbrellas at the popular Big Daddy Bar, similar to the St Mark’s Square in Venice, one can enjoy the hustle and bustle of the locals.
A good place to be acquainted with the layout of the town is from the ramparts of the Kamerlengo Fortress, Originally built by the Venetians in 1420 to fend off the Turkish attacks. From the fortress, that offers good views across the old town’s spires and rooftops and out to sea, one can head along the Riva, Trogir’s main boulevard, which in summer is lined by expensive yachts, tour boats, and crowded pavement cafes.
We stayed over at the family Runtic’s Villa Sikaa on the Trogir Channel, with stunning views of the historic buildings on the Riva Boulevard. The only seven large rooms are all individually furnished and offer the best value for money, inclusive of breakfast. Because we had to leave very early the next morning to catch the ferry, Antoneta prepared us a nice picnic hamper instead of breakfast.
A good time to visit Trogir is the late spring or early autumn, when the narrow streets, flanked by ancient stone houses, are not so busy with summer visitors. Then there is place to park your car and admire the ingenious architectural details that make the island so fascinating: a carved doorway, a coat of arms, or a mullioned window may decorate the façade of a building, and the entrance to a courtyard may offer glimpses of miniature scented gardens.
These are all indications of once widespread prosperity and evidence of Trogir’s cultural past as an important centre for the arts. With this background, Trogir can also boast a present-day success story: the tailor Boris Buric Gena specializes in making stylish clothes for ceremonies and draws wealthy and famous clients from all over Europe.
The ferry services along the Croatian coastline are very good and conveniently scheduled to operate from Rijeka in the north, down to Dubrovnik in the south of the country. Almost all the islands along the coastline can be visited by ferry.
We boarded the Jadrolinija Liburnija ferry at Split, for our day cruise passed the islands of Brac , Hvar, Korcula, and Miljet on route to Dubrovnik. The reason being that a visa of Bosnia Herzegovina is required for the 8 kilometres intrusion into Croatia between Metkovic and Dubrovnik. Unlike Croatia, Bosnia has no embassy in South Africa.
Art treasures, a mild climate, good beaches, and fields of scented lavender make HVAR one of the treasures of the Adriatic. Hvar town has a long tradition of art and culture and one of the first theatres ever built in Europe is found here. Because Hvar has some 340 days of sunshine annually, it is referred to as the Sunshine Island.
Vines are grown all along the coast of Dalmatia, and on many of the islands. From KORCULA come Posip and Grk, both white wines, as well as Dingac, one of the best Croatian reds. Built on stoney hillsides, these vineyards are often fortified with low dry-stone walls, painstakingly constructed with geometrical precision by peasant farmers. Low-growing vines cultivated inside the walls are protected from the cold north winds and kept cool in hot summer months.
Dense forests of pine, cypress and oak, as well as excellent vineyards are found on the island: locally known as the Island of Wine. Tasty local wines can be found on sale all around the island, and exploring deeper into the smaller villages and the vineyards is highly recommended.
It is said that the explorer, Marco Polo, was born on this island. Also popular is the knight’s play, Moreska, which celebrates the triumph of Christians over Turks. This sword dance ritual is performed annually in July in Korcula town, but for the benefit of tourists, regular performances take place on Thursdays through the high season.
Our last destination in Croatia was Dubrovnik, almost isolated in the southern tip of the country, facing the sea. Set in the limpid waters of the Adriatic, this jewel of a town has prospered within its walls for centuries. Backed by sweeping limestone cliffs and flanked on three sides by the aquamarine-coloured sea, the setting is breathtaking. The perfectly preserved fortifications and cobbled pedestrian streets, without any vehicle-intrusion, give result to a living history book, which feels far from 21st-century Europe.
From the autumn of 1991 until mid 1992, the Siege of Dubrovnik made headline news around the world as the World Heritage-listed city that was the target of relentless, heavy bombing by Yugoslav Serbs. During this period, some 2000 bombs and guided missiles fell on this historic fortified town, damaging some of the most significant symbols of Dalmatian culture, as well as half the houses. Tourism suffered for four years, but under the supervision of UNESCO and the European Union, much of the damage has been repaired to restore this remarkable town to its former splendour and tourism is once again flourishing.
Pile Gate is the main entrance to the old fortified centre. A wide cobbled street, Stradun, leads onto the Square of the Loggia, surrounded by beautiful examples of medieval architecture: the Sponza Palace, Church of St Blaise, and the Rector’s Palace. Opposite the well-known Fountain of Onofrio, is the Franciscan Monastery. We were fortunate to be in Dubrovnik on Easter Sunday and attended the Mass in the Church of St Saviour: everybody arrived with an olive twig to commemorate the day. What a special way to end our visit to this heart-breaking country, almost torn apart by war and turmoil . . . and yet it has so much to offer the inquisitive traveller!
– Johann Beukes
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