View of Dubrovnik from Mt. Srd
The Danish author Hans Christian Anderson once said to travel is to live. Our lives maybe on pause at the moment and the very idea of travel a far away dream, this simply does not mean that we can't reminisce old memories to channel some adventure during these turbulent times. Take a mental break with Savi Munjal and Vidit Taneja as they road-trip through Croatia gorging on some Slavic food and exploring some lesser known towns:
A road-trip through Croatia lives up to one of the greatest cliches about road-trips; here the thrill is indeed in the journey, not the destination. My husband, Vidit and I flew into the capital of Croatia, Zagreb, and drove down to the southern tip of the country. The route — a 700 km drive from Zagreb to the city often referred to as the jewel of the Adriatic, Dubrovnik, via Plitvice Lakes National Park, Zadar, and Split. The journey left us refreshed and reinvigorated. In less than a fortnight, we drove through natural wonders, wide expanses of agricultural hinterland, fairy tale villages, and medieval cities.
Croatia is often sidelined as a tourist destination because it is not part of the vastly popular Schengen area. We noticed this as soon as we landed at the Pleso Airport in Zagreb. The marked absence of tourists meant shorter queues at immigration and car-rental booths. We had pre-booked a car to avail the best discounts. We chose a comfortable Chevy, because we knew we would be racking up countless miles on our journey through Croatia.
Our first stop, the Plitvice Lakes National Park, was only a two-hour drive from Zagreb. We got our first glimpse of the unspoiled Croatian countryside almost as soon as we left the Pleso Airport. The drive took us through stretches of agricultural land and small villages, which would not be out of place in a fairy tale. We just couldn’t get enough of the slanting rooftops sending billows of smoke through their rustic clay chimneys.
On reaching Plitvice, we chose a cozy B&B tucked into a tiny village close to the National Park. There is not much to do in the area after nightfall, so we went in search of a typical Croatian meal. In northern Croatia, the food boasts of Slavic influences. We had the Cevapcici, a unique grilled-meat dish served with fried flatbread, chopped onions, and sour cream and freshly boiled Zganci and topped it off with Zagorski Struk- lji for dessert. It was the perfect time to savour these delicacies, as it is hard to find them in the southern parts of the country. We spotted some dragonflies while walking back to the hotel, and slept dreaming of lush meadows and turquoise lakes. Early the next day, we left for the Park, ready to be amazed by it. But nothing could’ve prepared us for the beauty that confronted us.
Right: Orange Honey shacks line the drive from Split to Dubrovnik.
The Plitvice Lakes National Park is frequently touted as one of Europe’s most beautiful nature reserve parks and boasts of some spectacular walks with breathtaking views. A UNESCO Heritage Site, it consists of sixteen emerald lakes, connected by cascading waterfalls. Photographs are unable to do justice to the real thing; the flora and fauna surrounding it amplify the rare natural beauty of the lakes. We spent the whole day observing the changing colours of the lakes — they changed from emerald to turquoise to navy depending on the intensity of the sunlight. Once we’d had our fill of the lakes in Plitvice (read: torn ourselves away and promised to return at a later time), we drove down to Split. We stopped for lunch in the medieval city of Zadar. Nikola Basic’s unique art installations — the sea organ and sun salutation — drove us there. His sea organ is the world’s only organ, which plays music using sea waves while the sun salutation is a vast circle of solar panels that light up in patterns. Vidit was busy taking pictures of the Adriatic coast, but I spent my time cavorting with the solar lights that flashed in fascinating sequences along the coast.
We drove onto Trogir and spent our first evening absorbing the sights and sounds of the enchanting medieval town. We stayed there for three days, and spent our time in Central Dalmatia by exploring the Roman ruins, medieval towns and fishing ports. While in Trogir, we drove down to Split to explore the Diocletian Palace. The walls of the Palace house a small city, made from marble, within its confines. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Split is perfect for a weekend break in Croatia. We spent our day there sipping coffee and cocktails and nibbling on Burek at the pavement cafe that populates the walled city. We took a walk along its gorgeous seaside promenade at sunset, which was a sight to behold. Before leaving Split, we made a point to rub the giant toe of Grgur Ninski’s statue near the Diocletian Palace — it is said to bring good luck.
On our last day in Trogir, we discovered Solin, a little town situated northeast of Split, entirely by chance. While Split and Trogir feature heavily on offbeat itineraries of Croatia, neither of us had heard anything about Solin. To our surprise, the Roman ruins in Solin were very impressive. The grand amphitheatre at the ruins is especially breathtaking. The best part — entry is free and there are no tourists around.
The last leg of our journey was the drive from Split to Dubrovnik. The drive is only three hours long but uninterrupted views across the Adriatic seduced us into stopping our car at innumerable viewpoints along the way. This drive is frequently featured in the top ten drives of the world, and it lived up to any expectations we had of it. Glistening turquoise waters accompanied by the slanting trees of the Dinaric Alps made the drive along the Southern Dalmatian coast truly memorable. On our way, we bought freshly picked oranges and gourmet honey from the numerous shacks lining the Makarska Riviera.
Soon, we saw Dubrovnik, ringed in azure water. As you continue to drive towards Dubrovnik, you will begin to see the distinctive orange rooftops that are a defining characteristic of the town. Since Dubrovnik is a popular tourist resort of the Mediterranean, it is a lot more crowded than the rest of Croatia. We wanted to escape the madness, so we chose a hotel in the neighbouring fishing village of Cavtat. We spent our days in Dubrovnik absorbing the Mediterranean climate, sunbathing, and gorging on Mediterranean delicacies. It is hard to get bored of Dalmatian beaches, but we did take some time out to explore southern Dalmatian towns.
Dubrovnik’s city centre is completely pedestrianized and its perpendicular streets provide a perfect excuse for lazy walks. For meals,there are countless cafes on the Placa Stradun, the central street of the city of Dubrovnik. The cuisine in Southern Croatia is heavily influenced by Italian delicacies and is a far cry from the Slavic food found in Northern Croatia. Everywhere we went, we found menus laden with pastas, grilled fish, seafood, and pizzas. After gorging on fresh seafood, we took a walk around the celebrated city walls to work off our meal. The two-kilometer walk provides stunning views of the tiled roofs of Dubrovnik. The proximity of the brightly coloured rooftops also serves as a reminder of Croatia’s politically fraught past. A number of houses were destroyed during bombings when Yugoslavia broke apart in 1991. Bold orange tiles cover those roofs that had to be replaced. Ironically, this poignant reminder of Croatia’s troubled past has helped reconfigure Dubrovnik as Croatia’s crown jewel.
We realized this is not without reason when we went atop Mt. Srd to take in a bird’s eye view of the orange city of Dubrovnik. From the top, we were rewarded with some of the most stunning views of the Lower Dalmatian Coast. As we sipped on warm coffee at the cafe%u0301 atop Mt. Srd, the spectacular view made us dwell on our time in Croatia. It might not be well known, but it is a unique oasis of rare natural beauty. Every day in this multifaceted country brought a new revelation and our trip was poignant, rich, rewarding, and exciting all rolled in one.
This travelogue initially appeared in our July/August 2013 issue and is a part of our extensive archive.
Text Savi Munjal
Photography Vidit Taneja