Crystal@Home Featured Destination: Croatia
Where History and Beauty Are Walled Within
From the walled city of Dubrovnik to the vineyards of Istria.
With miles and miles of stunning coastline and more than a thousand islands, Croatia is a yachting haven, an eco-wonderland and a cultural treasure trove. Some have been known to call it Central Europe’s Riviera, and rightly so. Here you’ll find cypress-lined pebbled beaches, perfectly preserved medieval towns and dramatic forested mountains. For millennia, empires and rulers have all left their mark here – think Roman ruins and Byzantine mosaics, Venetian bell towers and Habsburg villas, ancient walled cities and communist concrete. From the dramatic cliffs of the Dalmatian Coast in the south to the breathtaking Istrian Peninsula nestled in the northern most reaches of the Adriatic, Croatia is a magical, captivating and enchanting land.
“You must try Dubrovnik before you go home….”
So sang Liza Minnelli in the classic Broadway showstopper “Ring Them Bells” about a globetrotting young woman who leaves home in search of love. On the sunny beaches of “little Venice” as the city is sometimes called, Liza’s character finds the “man next door” a world away in this Croatian resort. Few places will elevate you from “casual tourist” to “seasoned traveler” like this legendary town. If you have “never tried Dubrovnik,” as the song says, it must be elevated to the top of your must-see list in the days ahead. The spectacular views from the ancient walls of this stunning fairytale city will stay with you for a lifetime (and they might just remind you of a fictional place called King’s Landing from a certain HBO hit called “Game of Thrones”).
Dubrovnik commands Croatia’s famed Dalmatian Coast. A gorgeous mountain serves as a backdrop for the antique city. Mount Srd is also a natural bulwark that has guarded the inland approaches since before recorded time. There is plenty of geographical contrast. Bays and beaches are backed by steep cliffs and densely wooded islands. There are lush groves of cypress, pine and olive, as well as lemon and orange plantations. The Mediterranean climate is perfect for grapes and there are many vineyards in the region.
The city also has a wealth of cultural and historical monuments. In fact, many people describe Dubrovnik as one of Europe’s greatest outdoor museums. Largely because of its intact medieval walls, among the best surviving examples of this type of architecture, the old city has been included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
From Dubrovnik, a journey up the Croatian coast aboard Crystal Esprit might incorporate visits to Korčula, Vis, Hvar, Split, Trogir, Sibenik, Zadar, Opatija and Rovinj. Here we spotlight the extraordinary archaeological history and natural beauty of a few.
One of the most charming and beautiful islands of the Adriatic, Korčula (kor-chu-la) has actually benefitted from its tumultuous political history, in that it is comprised of some of the best architecture produced by the Illyrians, Greeks, Romans, Goths, Renaissance Venetians and other Italians over its almost ten-millennia existence. Through it all, this walled medieval town has survived to become one of the eastern Adriatic’s most popular tourist destinations, instantly recognizable and ultimately memorable for its pinkish-gold buildings, limestone towers, red rooftops and a variety of church spires rising dramatically over the dark-green-hued landscape. Korčula fills the senses with aromas of lavender and eucalyptus, tastes of world-famous wines and olive oil, sounds of laughter from sidewalk cafés and spectacular views no matter where you look.
History reminds us this plot of land was settled as early as the end of the third century. Much of the credit for ensuring its importance is bestowed upon the Roman emperor Diocletian who ordered his engineers and builders to construct a magnificent palace here. It was of such a scale that it became the centerpiece of the old city, which grew up around the palace walls. Guides and guidebooks will boast that this palace is among the most famous, architecturally and culturally speaking, of all structures decorating the shores of the Croatian Adriatic. And UNESCO has placed the palace on the World Heritage List. Religious leaders also created architectural treasures to impress the masses. The Split Cathedral, which houses a valuable collection of religious art known as the Treasury, still stirs the souls of the faithful.
Situated on an island between the mainland and the island of Čiovo and connected to each by a bridge, this jewel of a town connects visitors to the past, escorting history buffs and fans of architecture through a travelogue of time – from the Greeks and Romans to Venetian and Austrian rule. What makes Trogir unique is its capsulized representation of the centuries. The remains of defensive walls, a wide, palm-lined promenade and views of sleek yachts in the marina create a picture – and an experience – that offers something for everyone… a Venetian cathedral here, a 14th century fortress there, and narrow, cobblestone streets dating to ancient Rome everywhere. The magnificent buildings and general historic feel are so remarkable that the whole of the old town has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.
With its Italian and Austro-Hungarian history leaving a delightfully layered architectural legacy, Opatija might be thought of as the “Monaco of the Adriatic.” This is truly a striking city, Turn a corner as you walk the steep, narrow street or glance up to the pastel-hued buildings as you amble along the waterfront promenade and you might think you are in Salzburg or Budapest, and no wonder: Opatija was once a fashionable resort for the Habsburg elite. With Italy’s border to the northwest and Venice just across the Adriatic, Opatija has also enjoyed favor with the Italians, an infatuation discernable in ornately decorated buildings and the daily routine of elegant living. Abundant sunshine, inspiring scenery and a fine array of stylish villas are beautifully suited for restorative respites, swank gatherings and a peek into European history.