In the midst of dealing with the fallout from being away for a fortnight (laundry, mainly, though having lots of nice cups of tea also features heavily), I think it’s worth gathering our thoughts about the last couple of weeks and sharing them here, just in case it helps others planning something similar. Generally, both Jane and I thoroughly enjoyed our experience of Croatia and would heartily recommend it (particularly the Dalmatian coast) as a walking and/or sailing destination.
Timing. July and August can be fiercely hot all over Croatia. The best time to visit is May or (like we did) September. This is the second time we’ve visited in that month and the weather we experienced was, by and large, lovely. The Croatian tourist season runs out at the end of September or very early in October and things start to wind down quite markedly, so getting hotel rooms later than September might be challenging.
Walking. Our experience of walking in Dalmatia is very positive, but it was definitely a good thing to have thoroughly researched the level of difficulty in prospect, and the levels of fitness required, before booking the walking tour. We were operating towards the top end of our range with many of the group younger (and fitter) than us… Anyhoo:
- The tracks are plentiful and well-marked (though I wonder how many of them we would have found without having an expert guide to do this for us).
- Most of the routes we undertook were short on shade, which means that the walking can be pretty hot work, and taking lots of water is essential.
- The tap water is perfectly drinkable, so take your own bottles and refill.
- Very few of the walks we did passed any outposts of civilisation, so it’s advisable to take some food with you as well.
- Mobile signal appeared to extend over much of the terrain we covered.
Sailing. This is big business along the Dalmatian coast. There are lots and lots of sailing boats, even some small towns sport large marinas and generally this part of the Adriatic is a good place for sailing, with or without an engine (take note, however, of the section below about the weather).
Landscape. The Dalmatian landscape tends towards being mountainous and scrubby – the land is difficult to farm, being stony. So the trails through it are pleasant enough and will occasionally offer great views from the tops of hills, but are otherwise not particularly scenic and are in some cases quite challenging. Our admiration for the local people who used these trails simply to get from A to B (often with their livestock, and often despite advanced age) grew day by day! We followed a couple of trails through woodland, which were more rewarding.
Townscape. The cities we visited all had old towns, which are all worth looking around. The towns and villages are by and large somewhere between pretty and handsome – well-maintained, tidy and picturesque.
Money. Croatia is no longer the cheap destination it was, but it’s not too expensive, either. In the towns, debit cards were widely accepted in shops, cafés and restaurants, and it was easy to find ATMs. You might find places that will accept Euros, but it’s best to have local currency (Kune) available. If you’re off the beaten track, you’ll need cash to be able to buy anything.
Eating out. Tourism is an important industry in Croatia and so there is usually a plentiful supply of cafés and restaurants in the towns, with English spoken and good service.
Cuisine. As you’d expect, there’s some good fish on offer, and seafood (especially squid and octopus). But emphasis tends to be towards meat and potatoes – the vegetarians in our group had some difficulty getting anything more imaginative than a plate of grilled mixed vegetables on occasion. For non-vegetarians, a couple of traditional dishes are worth seeking out: Pašticada, a slow-cooked beef stew; and Peka, a baked dish of meat and, yes, vegetables, cooked under a dome in barbecue coals. But there’s no problem finding more cosmopolitan fare such as steak, pizza or burgers – the burgers I had were very good, and served without bread, which I prefer.
Drinking out. You’ll find that most restaurants have a limited selection of wines and what is offered is likely to have been made locally or nationally. Croatia has a well-developed wine-making tradition and the local wines are perfectly good without being stellar. Local beers tend to be of the lager persuasion and are perfectly good.
Liqueurs. Something of a Croatian speciality is the production of liqueurs based on local produce – one we found to be very nice is based on sour cherry, but you’ll also come across walnut liqueur and something called Prošek, which is grape-based and quite sweet, among other variations such as olive and cornelian cherry. These are quite often offered as a welcome drink and I think it’s polite to sample at least one…
Bloody Cruise-Ship Tourists. Many of the larger or more attractive towns in Croatia are magnets for the big cruise liners – Dubrovnik and Split have a constant stream of them during the holiday season, for example, and Trogir during the height of the season is reportedly an utter zoo. So you may find that such towns are crowded during the day.
Bloody weather. Actually, for the most part our weather was pretty much perfect – a bit hot for me for going uphill, but sunny, warm and lovely for sitting outside when eating or drinking. But the Bura wind that we experienced is capable of wreaking havoc on sailing boats and travel itineraries. I was grateful for the experience of our captain to know it was coming (it took many others by surprise) and plan accordingly; if you’re considering sailing in the Adriatic, this is the sort of thing that can become very suddenly of very great pith and moment. Having said all that, and with the benefit of hindsight and no havoc having been wreaked, we’re glad to have experienced it; apart from anything else, the Bura clears the air and the visibility after it died down somewhat was vastly improved.
For anyone interested in sailing, walking, history, archaeology and/or pretty places to visit, the Dalmatian coast of Croatia is somewhere that we think should be high on the list. We hope that these thoughts, along with the descriptions of our various vacation days, help in understanding the possibilities that Croatia presents to the tourist.