It was quite by coincidence that we arrived in Croatia on the day it officially joined the European Union. We had been planning our holiday on the Dalmatian coast for months, booking self-catering flats and a long ferry journey to the island of Hvar. Our first stop was Dubrovnik, a coastal city with a late-medieval walled town centre.
With spotless white stone buildings, polished streets almost completely pedestrianised and gorgeous views in all directions, Dubrovnik old town is beautifully preserved and full of character. English is widely spoken, the locals are friendly and helpful, and the Italian-style ice cream is inexpensive and delicious!
If you choose to walk around the city walls you can get a fantastic view of terracotta-tiled roofs and the harbour beyond. The photo above shows a small island called Lokrum in the distance which is only a 15-minute boat ride from the harbour. We discovered it has great swimming, cliffs for jumping and quite a lot of peacocks wandering about!
The little boat across to Lokrum runs all day and costs about £3 per person. Once you reach the island there are many beaches to choose from (including a nude one we didn’t visit!) We found an inland grotto called the Dead Sea that my kids liked especially, thanks to the stone cliffs they could scramble up and jump off.
They started off about halfway up this rock face, but before the end of the day they were jumping off the very top (about 30 feet up!) Luckily the water was very deep, so I managed not to panic too much…
The island of Lokrum also has a botanic garden full of giant cactus plants. When we first arrived in Dubrovnik we discovered that the walled city and the island of Lokrum have both been used as locations for the television series, Game of Thrones. (If you are a fan, the walled city was used as King’s Landing in season 2, and the botanic garden and other parts of Lokrum doubled as Qarth.) Apparently tourist numbers visiting Dubrovnik have gone up by quite a bit since the programmes have aired!
Back on the mainland, we discovered that there are more cliffs to jump off near a cafe in the old town. Here is my son jumping again, while I take photos from a shady cafe table above. The overhang worried me a little bit, but apparently this was not as high as the Lokrum cliffs so he just leaped out and was fine. It’s amazing that you can swim in the clean, clear water that surrounds Dubrovnik. Not many cities can say that!
After four days in Dubrovnik we got on a big ferry and chugged up the coast to the island of Hvar. It took eight hours and was a very pleasant journey. At lunch we sat in the dining room and were served mountains of food. The courses just kept coming!
The ferry docks at a huge concrete pier in Starigrad, and we were picked up and driven to Hvar town right away. Later we took a bus to Starigrad to have a look around. The little harbour you see above is in the old town, where narrow medieval streets and cobbled squares look unchanged over centuries.
It’s little surprise that film crews come to Croatia for medieval settings! They can also rely on perfect weather, as we didn’t see a drop of rain the whole time we were there.
We arrived in Starigrad in mid-afternoon when the old town was quite deserted. Luckily there were cafes open so we sat in the shade sipping peach juice and sampling Nutella crepes. My daughter was amused by the sign at one of the cafes and took the photo above. You can see they are catering largely for English-speaking tourists. We heard lots of American, Australian and English accents while we were there.
The last part of our holiday was spent in the beautiful town of Hvar. Like most of the settlements along the Dalmatian coast, Hvar is nestled in amongst hills next to the sea, and its harbour is busy with luxurious yachts and sailboats of all shapes and sizes.
We had a flat with a balcony where we could watch boats sail past all day and into the evening. Nearby there was a lovely beach for swimming, and we could walk around the coast and find lots of different places to use the snorkelling gear. There were fish and other sea creatures to discover, and great excitement ensued when my husband spotted an octopus!
The water was chilly getting in, but perhaps that’s because the air temperature was usually around 30 degrees Celsius!
There are lots of cruises going past Hvar in the summer, in big modern ocean liners or impressive tall ships like the one above. Usually when they went past our balcony they had their sails down. This one stopped and then a loud noise could be heard of the anchor chain being lowered into the water.
I had fun trying to photograph the boats as they went by. It was tricky getting an evening shot, but this sailboat all lit up looked so beautiful I had to try!
I would certainly recommend Croatia for a relaxing and stress-free holiday. Something tells me we will be back!