Byron christened it, ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’, George Bernard Shaw ‘Paradise on Earth’, to us it’s simply idyllic. Naturally beautiful, historically fascinating and wonderfully Mediterranean. Croatia is simply one of Europe's 'must see' destinations, with a recent past unique in European history. Within just five years it experienced the fall of communism, a war and then full independence. Today however, with the scars very much healed, this matchless blend of history, Mediterranean ambience and truly stunning natural beauty is, and rightly so, on the discerning traveller’s map once again.
Ruled for 2,000 years by some of the greatest powers of their time: The Romans, Byzantines, Venetians and the Habsburgs amongst others, have all left their mark both architecturally and culturally. There are Roman palaces, amphitheatres, baroque churches, imposing civic buildings and even mosques. Dubrovnik in particular is a delight, almost a living museum, medieval in character with a heavy influence of the baroque period in the numerous churches and where life spills spontaneously onto its pedestrianised marble streets. Once the centre of a thriving commercial empire, Lord Byron christened it ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’, whilst George Bernard Shaw thought it simply ‘Paradise on Earth’. In our view – it is simply idyllic!
The Dalmatian coastline is legendary: one of the most dramatic in Europe, extending for hundreds of miles, where steep limestone cliffs plunge into sapphire-blue waters. Just offshore the mirror-like Adriatic is studded with countless islands, some tiny, some large, some inhabited, some not, but giving scenery almost reminiscent of a series of huge intertwining lakes. The hillsides are clad in a green carpet of lush pine-forests giving that instantly recognisable Mediterranean aroma to the air. Clinging to the coast or nestling in picturesque coves are medieval fishing villages, with tiny shops, refreshingly free from tasteless development, where the alleyways are simply pebbles set into the earth and overhead shutters precariously sway and squeak in the warm, gentle breezes. Life continues much as it has for centuries with the elderly still clad in black, so typical of southern Europe.
Whilst this is a unique country, the Croatians appear very much Mediterranean in character: effervescent, friendly and open. The cuisine really is superb too! Heavily influenced by nearby Greece and Italy, everywhere you find exquisite fish like sea bass, tuna and bream fresh from the sea and cooked in a variety of ways, but best simply grilled. Excellent meats abound too and fresh colourful Mediterranean vegetables such as peppers, aubergines and courgettes, combined with olive oil, create tasty, healthy menus.
Then we visit Montenegro, one of the world’s newest countries and if you can imagine what the Mediterranean was like thirty years ago then this is probably it! A stunning coastline with centuries old fishing villages, full of tiny streets where the eaves almost touch, interspaced by market squares with stalls creaking from the weight of colourful local produce and dotted with intricately decorated Byzantine churches. Everywhere we visit on this tour is still so wonderfully beautiful. It cries out to be explored and offers the privileged visitor a remarkable blend of wonderful scenery and fascinating places to visit; it truly is a journey back in time.