Some people have a bucket list of where they’d always dreamed of visiting. I have no list. Things cross my desk, I read an article in a travel magazine or the New York Times, and a destination calls to me.
This is how it was with Croatia.
I didn’t do a lot of research and didn’t know what to expect. What I discovered were warm, lovely people, delicious cuisine based on use of locally sourced and fresh ingredients, exquisite picture perfect postcard settings and even the walled city where Game of Thrones was shot.
We started in Split which is a very busy transit point for visitors to the Dalmatian Coast. It’s bustling with people most of the time, but the days we were there it rained so there were fewer people out and about.
This gave us the perfect opportunity to explore the 4th Century Roman Palace of Diocletian. It’s gone through many iterations but the basic maze-like structure and original palace walls are in tact. What’s amazing is the fact that people still live and work within the walls of the ancient Palace.
As interesting as the Roman ruin was, my favorite memory of Split was my first taste of a seafood stew called Gregada. Wow, what a revelation! Little did I know that at our next stop in Hvar, I would learn to make this superb dish.
We had to get up very early to board a ferry for a 2-hour cruise to our next stop: Hvar. I’d like to tell you that the scenery on the Dalmatian Coast was incredible but it was still pouring rain during this journey. So we spent the entire trip below deck, drinking hot tea and recovering from our 6:00 a.m. wake-up call.
Finally, we arrived at the island of Hvar. It was so glorious, a world unto itself! We had heard it had a microclimate which gave it perfect weather. I didn’t believe it, but it was true. The town comes right into the harbor and from our window we watched the huge yachts and water taxis pull in and out of the harbor and saw the village slowly wake up in the early morning hours, while the partiers were just going to sleep.
This is a magical place where it seemed like there was endless music, joy and sunshine. It was also the place where I had the great privilege of taking a cooking class with a master chef and long time resident of Hvar. (More about that later.)
As hard as it was to leave Hvar, it was another short ferry ride to our next stop. We were headed to Dubrovnik with a stop along the way in the village of Ston for oysters, grilled shrimp and a piece of the famous Ston Cake.
Our driver was watching me as we approached Dubrovnik. He waited for my reaction to my first sight of the walls.
I just might be the only person on the planet who doesn’t know that the television show Game of Thrones was filmed in Croatia and that the city of Dubrovnik is one of the most important locations.
It’s another remarkable city. I was in awe of its beauty, its design and by the fact that people still live and work in this walled city. Some residents are understandably annoyed or bemused at the huge influx of tourists to their home town. Nevertheless, they are warm, generous, helpful and endlessly patient with us tourists.
While staying in Dubrovnik, I took a day trip to Montenegro which has a totally different and more intense energy. It was has a cat museum, the first I’ve ever seen.
A few more magical excursions and we were making our way toward the Dubrovnik Airport. But, not without a stop along the way to the village of Cavtat, for yet another delicious meal while we watched the small boats come and go.
This was an amazing first visit to Croatia, but definitely not my last.