Last year I toured the Balkans with Ethan, and it opened my eyes to seemingly ignored region of Europe; one rich with culture, history and diversity.
Each country has its own charms, from the Ottoman influence in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Roman influence in Croatia, Serbian in Montenegro, and Austrian in Slovenia. One day, we were in the hilly city of Sarajevo, where it was snowing, and then a couple of hours later, we were in the idyllic 20°c seaside jewel of Dubrovnik.
The diversity makes the region is unpredictable, which is why it’s such an exciting place to visit.
Here’s a map of the places we went:
I pin everything on a map to remember where I went, but that’s a story for another time. I’m going to tell you the good places and the bad places, tips and whatever have yous if you’re thinking of making an unforgettable Balkan trip.
Taking the bus down from Rijeka to Split, to see the south of Croatia, is a trip of its own. It’s nine hours of driving up the precarious, cliff-faces that make the coastline, overlooking a glistening, deep blue Adriatic. It prepares you for the sights to come.
Highlight: It’s difficult to pick, however it’s between walking up to the peak of the Marjan Forest Park, or simply walking around the UNESCO World Heritage old town. It’s an obvious choice, but the Diocletian’s Palace is impressive.
Lowlight: Forgetting my coat in the apartment. Darn it!
Verdict: Split is a popular destination for a reason, it has everything a city needs to make a good destination, and the old town is just a bonus.
Tips: For the cheap and cheerful crowd, Fife’s restaurant is the place to go. We went twice, and the waiter in fact declined to bring my whole order, because she said it would be too much food. The portions are generous to say the least, tasty and super affordable. Get the calamari and chips for £5.60!
Highlight: Sitting on the harbour, by the castle, eating ice cream in the blistering sun.
Lowlight: All the shops were closed. I think that around lunch is always the wrong time to expect something to be open in the Mediterranean.
Verdict: Trogir is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an old walled city built on a little island. It’s a beautiful town, and the views to the other side of the island are great. The centre’s history is rich, the castle impressive and restaurants are a many. Worth a visit if you have the time from Split.
Tips: There’s a market on the mainland, opposite the bus station. I think we got Burëks there. A burëk is never a bad idea.
Highlight: Making the long walk up to the top of the mountain. If you think you can walk up, do it. It’s an unforgettable journey; the view over the city gets more awe-inspiring with every step. When we reached the top, feral cows blocked the path. I got afraid they’d go rogue, which put us in between potentially violent cows and ‘the Terminator’, this dude behind us in hiking wear and sunglasses, who never missed a beat. Long story short, we eventually got past damage free. Well, except for my pride.
Lowlight: One thing Dubrovnik has that Split does not so much, is cruise loads of tourists in the old town. Thousands of them, and this was in March. I don’t want to imagine the summer crowds.
Verdict: They don’t call it the Jewel of the Adriatic for nothing. Dubrovnik is a place every person must go, it absolutely charming. No need for a tour, do it independently.
Tips: If your apartment/destination is uptown, not in the old town, and you walking is difficult or have heavy luggage, take a bloody cab. We had an hour of the hardest slog up hundreds of flights of steep, medieval stairs.
The inside of the stari grad is now a war museum. It costs around £10 to enter, we didn’t as we had not the time, but it has a good reputation. An apt place to have a war museum.
This pizza restaurant just outside the old town is cheaper than any inside the walls, and soooo good. It was busy with locals, so you know it’s worth the fuss.
Anything else for Croatia Part II?
I don’t think I can recommend going to Croatia enough. Tourism is absolutely booming there, and right now is the optimal point where the reality of Croatian life can still be experienced, and the tourist industry is also developed enough to accommodate.
Eat pizza and burëks! Drink wine, and eat truffles, fish, and pasta! The cuisine is out of this world. Which fits, when the weather, locals and scenery is too.