I’M SITTING AT MY LAPTOP IN THE DINING-ROOM of a 44 metre launch that’s been chartered just for us Kiwis. Outside, the sun is shining, the sky is blueing, and the teal-green Adriatic looks like a postcard. Limestone cliffs loom massively on the mainland side, green-fringed islands of Dalmatia on the other. And dolphins have just been spotted, surfing in the wake of our boat.
Most of our gang are sprawled on the top deck, grabbing some tan – the rest are lounging out back with noses in books or iPads. An hour ago we pulled into a beaut little bay, and were soon cooling off in the crystal-clear sea.
Coffee’s now being handed around. Along with chocolate croissants. We’re cruising the coastline of Croatia. And there’s nowhere else we’d rather be right now.
This time last week we were in Venice, wandering canals and gobbling pasta. Then we were driving through Slovenia, stopping at places we couldn’t pronounce – like Postojna (pos-TODG-nyah) that has these fantastic subterranean caves … and Ljubljana (loo-bil-LEE-ahna), a picturesque capital on an emerald river … and Plitvice (pleet-weet-cha – come on, try it), a wilderness of tumbling streams and silvery falls, just across the border in Croatia.
But we couldn’t stay long. We had a rendezvous to keep further down the map – in the port of Split, with its 1700-year-old palace built by Emperor Diocletian. Our floating hotel was waiting at the waterfront, and we wasted no time going aboard.
In the dreamy days since, we’ve had wall-to-wall pampering and highlight after highlight. I mean, check out these extracts from my Croatia diary:
OMIS (ahmish): Sailed into this gorgeous town after a breakfast-time cruise. Rode small boats upriver into the Cetina Canyon (a stunning nature reserve). Enjoyed refreshments: local wines, smoked ham, cheese and homemade bread. Heard tales of the much-feared pirates that once haunted these regions. Looked around but didn’t see any.
PUCISCA (pu-CHISH-cha): Tied up here on the island of Brac (bratch). Surrounded by stone quarries that yield some of the whitest limestone on earth. Pillars of this stuff decorate the façade of the White House in the USA. Watched stonemasonry students plying their centuries-old trade with the same unconventional tools used by ancient Romans.
HVAR (kVar): Locals claim this is the sunniest island on the Dalmatian Riviera – much-loved for its atmospheric Old Town, its 17th-century fortress, and its lavender products (they’ve farmed the purple herb here for yonks). We sat around soaking up the ambience and wishing we were back at work. (Not!)
VELA LUKA: A fishermen’s town on the western side of Korcula Island. Bought an embarrassing, multi-cone, lip-smacking ice-cream. Then toured a fair-dinkum olive oil factory. Mr Zlokovic explained olive-pressing methods, old and new … then gave us a taste of his prized extra-virgin. Mmmm!
KORCULA: A medieval Old Town stuck on a lumpy peninsula behind round, defensive towers. Was controlled by Venice for centuries (the Venetian-lion coat-of-arms still adorns official buildings). Known for its dessert wines, made from the large white ‘grk’ grapes they grow around here. (Hey – more tasting!) Torrential rain forced us indoors, but we still heard about Korcula’s famous explorer, Marco Polo, who ran around these streets as a kid. A local a cappella group came aboard and serenaded us with soothing Croatian ballads (followed by some guy strumming an unbelievably fast guitar).
DUBROVNIK: Simply magnificent – the perfect finale! A medieval jewel, girded in massive 9th century walls that drop sheer to the water’s edge. If it’s not on your bucket-list, it should be! Used to be part of what used to be called Yugoslavia. Luckily the Old Town escaped total destruction in the violent ‘homeland war’ that clobbered this region back in 1991.
We chased crowds through Dubrovnik’s Pile (pee-lay) Gate … followed our guide down the Stradun (the marbled main street that bisects the town) … got lost in a labyrinth of steep, narrow alleyways … paused at an ornate Franciscan monastery where Napoleon’s troops were once billeted … did a quick-march around those six-metre-thick walls … and rode a gondola up to a cliff-top café for an early evening vino.
“Too much of a good thing is wonderful!” said Mae West. And, as the setting sun turned the Adriatic to liquid gold, I had to agree …