Croatia, one Big Movie Set

September 2016

Croatia was our first brand new country in 7 months and we had high expectations. Our overnight ferry from Bari docked in Dubrovnik early morning just as the sun was rising. 

If you are a Game of Thrones (GoT) fan then Dubrovnik is amazing, if you are not a GoT fan then Dubrovnik is still amazing. A real wow moment from first sight. It looks like one big movie set. In fact it is regularly swamped by film crews from around the world.

 the old city skyline from the wall

the old city skyline from the wall

We were excited to tackle the old city wall. In places, the wall is up to six metres thick. Tunnels and fortresses provided excellent protection for the locals in centuries past. Stopping along the way for photos, it took the best part of two hours to complete the two kilometre route.  Stupendous 360-degree views of the old city and the sparkling blue waters of the Adriatic Sea caught our eye at every turn. There is very little in the way of shade, so first thing or late afternoon is a great time to venture out.

The city may have provided a safe haven in days of old but it was no match for modern warfare. The Serbians laid siege to Dubrovnik for 7 months during the Homeland War. Much of the skyline is now new rooftops repaired under the guidelines of UNESCO.

In the afternoon we opted for a guided tour through the old town. Our guide Heni provided some detailed information about the history of the city as well as some more up to date info for example what was filmed where. Sadly, the old city is now inhabited solely by tourists, the local population driven out by rising rents. The old workshops now replaced with souvenir shops. Cruise ships and the revenue they generate has replaced the ship building that once thrived here. Despite the changes, this is still a fascinating city.

There is no shortage of tour guides. Picking one is a little like shooting apples in a barrel. Most are stationed just outside the main gate. This is also where the tour buses drop off and can be a little hectic at times.

Julie has put her acting career on the back burner of late. When we were last in Richmond Park, London she refused to play the part of Fenton. And in Dubrovnik, she refused to reenact the 'walk of shame' (from GoT). I can only apologize dear readers.

We did manage to squeeze in a wine tasting of Croatian wines at Malvasija wine bar along with dinner at the highly recommended restaurant, Azur. Seated down a side alley, a great spot to escape the craziness of the main streets.

Just outside of Dubrovnik is the Trsteno Arboretum which dates back to the 15th century and has also been used as a GoT location.  We spent a couple of hours exploring the gardens and the cute harbour before heading north for Split. 

The road north hugs the jagged and stunning coastline before dipping into the 'Valley of Life'. Here the Neretva River feeds a diverse ecological system. Lush green fields, row after row of fruit trees, all flourishing in this Garden of Eden. Road side stalls offer a taster of the amazing fruit and vegetables. We grabbed some lunch and found a quiet spot by the Baćina Lakes to chill.

Split is grittier than it’s more flamboyant Southern sister. Despite being the second largest city in Croatia, it is pretty easy to get around. Covering the old town takes less than 20 minutes.

Split from the St Domnius Bell Tower

Much of the old city was once part of the Diocletian Palace. Built at the start of the 4th century it was more of a garrison than a single building. We stuck our noses in the Temple of Jupiter before heading to the underground halls of the Palace. We climbed to the top of the 60 meter tall St. Domnius bell tower. The open sides allowing the gusting wind to blow through adding to the excitement of the climb. Late afternoon we headed up the nearby Marjan Hill to get a view of the city at sunset.  We liked Split a lot.

From Split we drove to Zadar before heading inland and on to Plitvice Lakes National Park. Zadar was a bit of a disappointment. Sprawling and heavy with tourists. The historic centre lacked the charm of Dubrovnik or the grit of Split. The Sea Organ, a major draw was somewhat oversold on Tripadvisor.

If Zadar was a disappointment then Plitvice was a real treasure. The whole region looks like a Swiss chocolate box, a definite alpine look and feel.

The Plitvice Lakes National Park is a series of lakes with tiered waterfalls tumbling from one to another. Scenic walks take you from waterfall to waterfall, rustic boardwalks brimming with photo opportunities. 

We loaded up our backpacks so they weighed the same as we would be carrying on the Camino de Santiago, time for a trial hike. Seven hours later, having walked 21 kilometres we collapsed in a bar, the first beer didn't even touch the sides.
 

We went back for a second go the following day. This time arriving at the park even before the staff. We had the whole place to ourselves for the best part of two hours. Then the coaches started arriving, with an army of visitors pouring off each bus, often inappropriately dressed. We both performed our good deeds for the day. Julie rescued a fish that had jumped onto a boardwalk. I helped several damsels in distress who didn't want to get their dainty shoes wet in the large puddles that swamped some of the trails. Somebody had to do it.

In just under a week we got to sample just a small but exciting part of Croatia. It is a beautiful country that just begs for you to return and explore more, particularly the 718 islands. 

Croatia photo gallery, click here.

Dubrovnik city wall at dusk