Croatia has a stunning coastline, fascinating history and enviable climate. Getaway visited the medieval city of Dubrovnik in 1997, the first travel program to go there after the Serb Croat war, and we discovered a place begging for a return visit.
Founded 1300 years ago, much of Dubrovnik's appeal lies in the old town of Stari Grad. It has marble-paved squares, steep cobbled streets and the tall houses, convents, churches, palaces, fountains and museums have been created from the same light-coloured stone.
The seventh century saw an onslaught of barbarians which wiped out the Roman city of Epidaurum, the site of present-day Cavtat. Residents fled to a rocky islet which separated the mainland by a narrow channel. Recent excavations show that it was probably already inhabited with the new-comers swelling the population of the inaccessible settlement around the southern walls of present-day Dubrovnik. The walls were amazingly fortified, and by the ninth century held a Saracen siege at bay for 15 months, and they remain intact today.
Sadly, most of Dubrovnik's Renaissance art and architecture were destroyed by the 1667 earthquake. It also took 5000 lives. Only the Sponza and Rector's Palaces survived to give an idea of what Renaissance Dubrovnik must have looked like. Rebuilding was in a uniform baroque style with modest dwellings in rows with shops on the ground floor.
The pile gate main entrance to the town is a fifteenth century construction, complete with a statue of St Blaise, the city's protector, set in a niche above the arch. Of the many towers and bastions which punctuate the walls, the 1455 Minèeta fortress on the north-eastern side, is the most imposing. There are just two hotels within the walls, but many locals rent out studios and apartments.
Sprinkled in the Adriatic Sea are 1185 islands and islets along the tectonically submerged coastline. Some are lush but most are barren, with high mountains dropping into the sea. Just 66 of the islands are inhabited.
It would be almost impossible to visit Croatia and not be tempted to take some time sailing. We went to the Elafiti Islands, an archipelago north-west of Dubrovnik. Its most popular islands are Koloèep, Lopud and Šipan. They are easily reached and offer escape from the crowds and heat of the mainland.
We went ashore on Šipan, the largest of the islands. The car-free island has pinewoods and scented rosemary and sage. Natural vegetation has been untouched, except for an inland area which has grape vines and olive trees.
It was a favourite with the Dubrovnik aristocracy who built massive summer residences in the fifteenth century. Remains of a Roman villa and a Gothic duke's palace remain. Vice Stjepoviæ Skoèibuha's residence has been meticulously restored and while it is a private residence, it is open to visitors. There is a main house, chapel, lodge, tower, bulwark, large water tank and gardens intersected by rectangular paths. Vice planted decorative and exotic plants he brought back from his sea journeys, and they still grow there.
When it comes to food, Croatian cuisine reflects the cultures which have influenced it. The Italian-style cuisine of the coast changes to Hungarian, Viennese and Turkish influenced cuisine in the interior. Each region has its own speciality, each using quality, fresh, seasonal ingredients.
Konavoski Dvori restaurant in Cavtat is lively and fun. The food is good and diners are treated with a Dalmatian folkloric performance. It is customary to drink plum and herbal brandies, cognacs and sweet, fruit liqueurs. Domestic beer and wine are also popular.
The south-east tip of Croatia.
Qantas flies daily to Frankfurt with Croatia Airlines connections to Dubrovnik three times a week.
Discover Croatia Holidays has seven night packages including return economy airfares, twin share private accommodation and city tour starting at $2835 from Perth and $2994 from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Darwin per person. Prices for hotel accommodation start at $2940 from Perth and $3099 from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Darwin, per person. Prices include charges/taxes and are current at time of writing but may vary at time of booking. Seasonal surcharges and conditions apply.
Please note that the prices listed are valid at the time of filming.
Discover Croatia Holidays
Shop 2, 38-42 Bay Street
Ph: 1300 660 189, (02) 9567 1100
Fax: (02) 9567 0330www.discovercroatia.com.au
Qantas: 13 13 13