CROATIA

To celebrate our first wedding anniversary, my husband and I decided upon a weeks trip to Croatia. We have been asked many  times as to why we chose this destination and in all honesty, it’s not that clear. My parents had had little experience of Split and Dubrovnik as part of a European cruise a few years back and had always said that it was worth a look knowing that I love quaint,
picturesque places. Anyhow, before we knew it, I had ordered a second hand Rough Guide book and my husband and I were thumbing through it over a hearty Sunday lunch in our local pub one dreary afternoon, shortlisting places to go to in a 7
day visit.

The first big decision was whether to do Split or Dubrovnik. My folks fell in love with Dubrovnik (“the streets are so clean and shiny”) but after some research we decided that we might be able to soak up a bigger variety of Croatian culture and beauty (beyond said clean streets) if we stuck to the Western Coastal areas around Split.

An initial ‘must have’ on the list had been a trip to the Plitvice National Park lakes. However, given that we were only going to be in Croatia for a week, it was going to work out as quite a chunk of travelling time to get there and back. So that was struck off the list as we discovered another National Park called Krka that had fab reviews and was a fraction of the distance away. We also
intended to stay on the island of Hvar. Armed with this list (Split, Krka and Hvar) I googled for any specialist Croatian travel agents and discovered Completely Croatia. Alison and Jane were our contacts and were only too pleased to help advise on and shape our trip. I find putting trust in others fairly difficult, not in an ‘I know best’ kind of way but just because you never really know levels of others expectations and values when it comes to holidays. But these ladies know Croatia, that was clear, so after many an email, this was our finalised plan (including all transfers):

Airline: Wizz Air (more on them later)
– Arrive in Split and immediately transfer to Trogir for a 2 night stay.
– 1 day excursion to Krka National Park
Day 3: Ferry to Hvar for a 5 night stay at the Podstine Hotel.
– Whilst on Hvar, our plan was to go to Brac (Bol) for the day to see ‘the
beach’  Zlatni Rat.
Final day: early morning ferry back to mainland to fly home from Split.

All set! Right? No…

A slight chink in the plan came when we MISSED OUR OUTBOUND FLIGHT. Yep. Mortifying. Ever missed a flight? You feel like an idiot. You watch other blissful couples, excited youngsters, families and more embarrassingly the elderly leisurely check in and be on their merry way whilst you are standing at the Wizz Air information desk flustering over what other flight you can get
on…whilst crying. Not good. It was an honest mistake (the husband’s to be clear, although we’re still married so it wasn’t THAT bad). A simple timings error. We arrived at the airport when our flight was taking off. Sickening.

Now, not that you are going to make this mistake but a word of warning just incase. Flights to Croatia are currently  not that regular. At time of writing this, flights from all London airports are once daily and in the early morning. We therefore couldn’t get a flight later that day. Or the next day (fully booked). Old Wizz Air desk lady simply sat there shaking her scrunchie clad head
at my husband.

“Help, we’ve missed our flight!”
At around 7am on our departure day, we were sheepishly calling Completely Croatia. ‘They are going to think we’re stupid/they’re not going to understand that the husband is usually ‘plastic-folder-man’ with all documents and timings in absolute order/they are going to judge us and have us down as terrible travellers’. Oh the shame. Alison was cool and calm though (‘this hasn’t happened to me in 6 years’) as she went through options whilst we sat at a coffee shop at Luton airport. A nail biting taxi journey home ensued as we awaited a revised itinerary….thoughts of ‘is this holiday actually going to happen? Will we only get a 5 day break? What is this going to cost us?’ ran through our ‘terrible traveller’ brains.

Long story short. £800 later we were rebooked, retaining our 7 night break but with the order of the holiday turned on it’s head.

New itinerary:

– Fly to Split and immediately transfer to Hvar to redeem our original booking at The Podstine hotel.
– After 5 days on Hvar, ferry to Split and transfer to Trogir to stay at a new hotel; The Palace Derossi for 2 nights with a trip to Krka on our penultimate day.

Take 2
We land in Split. It’s 37 degrees, bright sun. The airport is pretty small and has to accommodate a lot of visitors from Scandinavia, the Uk, Germany etc. It wont be long before it has to expand in size. A short private transfer gets us to Split where we have a few hours to kill before our ferry to Hvar leaves…

SPLIT

Split really is rather lovely, from it’s markets to how clean it is (ok mum and dad, I get your ‘clean streets’ comment now). But what grabbed me most was the buildings. From the higgledy piggldly brickwork to their shutters. Old battered wooden shutters. Gorgeous. I desperately want to be peaking out from them and not peering out through double glazed glass  back home. How unromantic. We wandered, I bought cheap flip flops and kicked off the Converse and we settled on a little port side restaurant for a quick bite and drink.

People watching is a favourite pastime and Croatia is a great place for this as it caters to all sorts. The young party goers most notably from America and Australia, the older Velcro sandal wearers of South Africa and the tall beautiful Scandinavians that saunter past with their flat tums and perfectly blonde locks. People slow down, there’s no fast pace urgency at all. They lick their dripping ice creams, sit on the port edge watching the water and the comings and goings of boats and simply absorb their charming surroundings.

HVAR; The Podstine, the sea, good restaurants and boat hiring…
We board the Jadrolinija ferry at 8.30pm to begin our stay on Hvar. It fills up pretty quick with a real mix of people (and their cats and dogs!) The trip is pretty smooth and as we depart Split we get a lovely view of the sun making it’s way down over the crooked rooftops.

Tip: even though the weather is very hot, if you sit outside on the ferry, pop a little sweater on as the breeze is rather chilly.

1 hour and 45 mins later, we arrive in Hvar and as we disembark the ferry we’re greeted by our transfer driver who picks up us and another more elderly couple.

Now as it’s dark, we don’t get to see much of the scenery…but we can tell that we are climbing high as our ears pop and by the way we can make out the lights down below of little villages and towns. The smell hits us too…Croatia is known as a fragrant destination and Hvar really represents this. It’s a mix of spice and lavender with the latter having been a key export of Hvar for years. The island is dotted with fields and fields of the crop and on your trip you’ll notice Market stalls full of lavender wrappings and gifts for tourists.

45 mins later we arrive at The Podstine hotel (which our driver tells us is much nicer than Hotel Croatia where the elderly couple in our minibus were just dropped off at!)

As it’s gone 11pm, the bar is shut so as we make our way to our room, we hope for a minibar.

The decor of the hotel overall is fine. Dated, but fine. However, I couldn’t help but think that it would really benefit from a nice whitewash on the walls to neutralise and brighten it up. I also have general issues with red carpets too (don’t ask!) and these run throughout the halls where the bedrooms are.

Our bedroom was compact with conflicting wallpaper on different walls, we had two single beds pushed together and 1 pillow each. These are not complaints by any means, just observations. You won’t be spending your time in the bedrooms anyway with all that Hvar has to offer outside. But if you are expecting exquisite luxury, a room at The Podstine is not for you.  Doors open up to a little balcony and we have aircon and a minibar – hoorah! Incidentally, after a word with reception, we got more pillows and a double mattress topper and sheet fitted.

We awake on our first full day on Hvar and the first thing we check is our view from the room as we have no idea what the sea is like etc. It looks bright turquoise which is always a good sign. The sun is shining, its deliciously hot and we go down for brekkie.

Buffet breakfast food at The Podstine: hams, cheeses, fruit, granola, cereals, scrambled eggs, yoghurts, toast, bacon and sausages.

Steps from the breakfast restaurant lead you down to a few outdoor split level areas of the hotel; an alfresco restaurant area, a cocktail bar, a PADI scuba diving centre, and 3 staggered   levels of sun beds and beanbags in amongst pine trees for shade that overlook the sea. The hotel also features a little secluded pool, a gym, a gorgeous smelling spa and whirlpools.

The sea: wow. It is crystal clear as hoped. It’s calm and clean and has a rocky bed. There’s no sand here, ladders step you into the waters and although the cold of the sea is an initial shock (mainly because of your body temperature from the sun!) once you’re in, bobbing around, taking in the moment, all is perfect in the world.

Definitely hire a snorkel from the PADI centre.  There are an abundance of little fishes to spy on.

Highlights of Hvar:

– Hiring a little boat for the day, organised at the Podstine reception.  Its a must and really cheap to do. We sailed our way around the Pakleni islands opposite our hotel and moored for lunch at a lovely restaurant called Zori on the island of Palmizana.
– Hvar Town: a pleasant 20 minute waterside walk from The Podstine brings you into Hvar Town with it’s gorgeous cobbled streets, port, restaurants and shops. On your walk you will pass the Hula Hula bar which is a bustling party bar that warms people up for the night ahead. Worth a stop. You’ll also pass the rather impressive if a little daunting in size, Amfora hotel. It’s huge and boasts quite a few pools.
– Restaurants in Hvar Town: Dalmatino is fabulous, down a little side street. We had chataubriand which was melt in the mouth good.   Divino is also nice, we went here for our anniversary dinner. Its up some steps port side so brilliant for appreciating the comings and goings of some impressive yachts. Give Bounty a miss. Bad service and food. On the walk from The Podstine to Hvar Town you will also pass Bonj les Bains which looks nice in location and setting but received some bad reviews from some fellow guests at The Podstine.
– Floating in the sea. Sounds simple hey? But there’s something about the sea here that let’s you just float. With no effort at all. You lay back, your toes pop out of the water and you stare up at the clear blue sky and can do for however long you wish!

SONY DSC

ON TO TROGIR
After our 5 nights on Hvar, it’s time to depart for Trogir. This time as it’s during the day we climb on board the  Jadrolinija Catamaran instead which shaves 45 minutes off the ferry transfer time, getting us back to Split in one hour. Again, as arranged by Completely Croatia, we are picked up by our driver and make a 20 minute air conditioned drive to Trogir.

Trogir is a yet another quaint little destination. It’s a bit peculiar in formation, with the heart of Trogir being a small islet laying between the gentle hills on the mainland and the coast of the Island of Ciovo. As we find our hotel, The Princess Derossi through an archway off a busy sidewalk, husband and I look at each other and giggle as this is what we call ‘cranky’, in a good way. You find yourself in a little courtyard with some tables and chairs laden with red check table cloths and look above you to see bedsheets and towels all drying on washing lines hung between the hotel’s windows. Cute. The receptionist is smiley and welcoming and shows us to our room on the second floor. Word of warning: no lifts.

We unpack and go for a wander.

Through enchanting, winding cobbled streets we come across a fourteenth century cathedral which is rather astonishing. So well preserved and expertly carved. Round another corner we find a busy square with a classical band playing. We grab an ice-cream and head to the port. Another stretch of waterside restaurants and bars awaits us, we choose a bar and sit back with a mojito.

At the end of the islet, is the impressive Trogir castle. Worth a visit.

Although our time in Split was short, I really would recommend a stay in Trogir over Split.

We hadn’t really done our restaurant research for Trogir and just opted to stumble upon ‘nice looking’ ones for the 2 nights we were there. Whilst the food on every menu in Croatia is pretty similar (Dalmatia cured ham anyone?) you don’t come here for the food and unless you’re a total foodie you’ll easily get by. By day you’re guaranteed a fresh thin crispy pizza cooked in a clay oven. By night meats, pastas, seafood and salads are on offer. I recommend reading up on the restaurants to head to in advance though as we had in Hvar to guarantee satisfied taste buds.

All in all, Trogir captivated me. Smiles all round.

KRKA NATIONAL PARK
The day before we leave for home is a moment I’d been waiting for, our trip to the waterfalls of Krka National Park. My shower at home is the nearest I’ve been to a waterfall before, expectations were high.

Again, a private drive awaits us and our driver is a delightful local man ready to talk us through life in Croatia. One thing we learn is that their tax rate is around 28%, wow.

The trip to Krka is around an hour from Trogir but it whizzes by as we meander up and down the beautiful scenic route. As we leave the car and lovely driver man, we are free to do what we want for the next 2 hours.

The sun is blazing once more and as we have arrived fairly early, the park is not that busy. We have a feeling that will change!

Walking down the numerous steep steps at Krka in the scorching heat is enough to make anybody a little parched and clammy but there’s no better reward than hearing the thunderous sound of falling water before turning a corner and seeing the magnificent sight of the falls.

Water cascades down into more crystal clear waters where people are swimming and bathing. We can’t wait to have a go.

We perch ourselves on a clear rocky patch by the water and take it in turns to have a swim. I was a little overwhelmed to be honest, by the sounds and the feelings of being in such gorgeous natural waters. Swimming against the force of
the water, making it to the floating barrier and hanging on to it just looking at the waterfall. Not a care in the world.

After our time in the water it was time to lay in the sun with another ice-cream before returning to our lovely driver man, driving home and catching a little snooze on the backseat.

A real must- see.

THE LAST DAY; OKRUG BEACH
Ordinarily the day you return home is reserved for hurried packing and moodiness. But not this time! We’d packed the night before and seeing as our flight home wasn’t until late afternoon, we set off to Trogir port around 9am with our swimmers on underneath our clothes to catch a little boat taxi to a nearby beach. Time to soak up the last of the rays and for one last swim.

There are a couple of nearby beaches but a 15 minute sail away from Trogir. We chose Okrug for no particular reason, jumped on the little taxi and away we went.

It’s not the most exquisite of beaches, is fairly narrow and a step away from a road. But for one final relax and for the sake of a couple of hours it’s heaven compared to the stresses back home. It has a lot of beach refreshment huts fordrinks and is full of locals making the most of it on their weekend.

FAREWELL CROATIA AND THE 5 HOUR DELAY
As stated earlier, Split airport is small. Not an ideal place if delayed. And delayed we were. Almost as if to get us back for missing our original flight, our Wizz Air flight home is delayed by 5 hours.  Holy moly.

I look at my iPad battery, 30% remaining. Great. And there’s only so much Fifty Shades of Grey you can take in one sitting. I’m screwed. Excuse the pun.

I spend some dosh in the duty free, I go back every hour to douse myself in the body moisturiser testers and I claim my free complimentary sandwich.

Despite this slightly bitter ending (that the Wizz Air pilot later blames on the Olympics even though it’s early July!) our love affair with Croatia holds strong.

In short, Croatia is whatever you want it to be – good for clubbing and partying, for families with babies, for doughy eyed couples and for the older generation. With their velcro sandals.

OTHER BITS:
Currency: Kuna
Food: Do your research to find the best restaurants. There’s no real signature dish of Croatia but you can eat really well if you do your homework.
Love your tootsies: Invest in some of those ugly looking water feet things so that you can easily walk on the rocky sea bed.
Ice cream: Eat loads.

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3 comments so far.

3 responses to “CROATIA”

  1. @nnie says:

    I’m saving this link/post in my favorites folder for whenever I am going to Split (definitely will be going to the National Park!)
    🙂

  2. Wow that was odd. I just wrote an extremely long comment but after I
    clicked submit my comment didn’t show up. Grrrr… well I’m not
    writing all that over again. Anyways, just
    wanted to say superb blog!

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