In just two hours from London you’ll encounter a gem of a destination where Italianate towns meet clear azure waters; intriguing culture and nature complement each other idyllically and the food is simply out of this world. Europe Product Manager Gemma picks her favourite Croatian experiences…
1. Oyster harvesting and a private island picnic
The historic town of Ston – one of the lesser discovered treasures of the Dalmatian coast – is home to a well-known Croatian delicacy, so it’s no surprise that one of our favourite experiences is a gastronomic treat!
Fishing, olive growing, home-produced wines and the unmistakable salt pans make Ston a unique place for a visit from Dubrovnik, but it’s the delicate freshly-harvested oysters that would have you return for more.
In a beautifully picturesque bay you set out by private boat with Denis, a third-generation local fisherman, discovering the oyster beds in nearby coves and watching as they are harvested straight from the sea. Retreating to the calm of your intimate private island, Denis carefully prepares a mouth-watering picnic of the freshest oysters you are ever likely to eat, accompanied by a steaming pot of mussels, all to be enjoyed with a bottle of Croatian red. Authentic, romantic and utterly delicious in our opinion!
2. Waterfalls of Krka National Park
With seven dramatically cascading waterfalls, crystal clear emerald waters and just under two kilometres of forested walking trails, the Krka National Park is a nature-lovers haven. One of the main attractions is ‘Roski Slap’ which translates as ‘the vast waterfall’ – a title to only be appreciated as you contemplate its endless procession of mini-falls, countless backwaters, travertine islands and series of restored watermills.
You can choose to escape the heat of the day with a dip in the fresh waters, walk the wooden bridges as water crashes beneath your feet or discover the plant and animal species native to the park. The Franciscan monastery on Visovac Island can also be reached on a scenic boat ride. Whether you spend the whole day here or just a few hours, Krka offers activities for families or couples in abundance and is one of our natural highlights of the Split area.
3. Croatian family cooking experience
Chef Tatjana welcomes you into her 13th century Dalmatian family home in the UNESCO listed town of Trogir for, what I can best describe as a culinary journey of the finest Croatian cuisine. The morning starts with a visit to the local farmers market where fresh ingredients of the day begin to inspire Tatjana’s menu (tender asparagus spears and meaty scallops were ’du jour’ for my visit), and her tips for recognising freshness or organically-grown produce give an added depth to the market experience.
Authentic cuisine and even more authentic surroundings – Tatjana’s home is Dalmatian to its historical core. From the colourful open courtyard to the library of books and family mementos in the traditional dining room, her husband and two children never far from the wafting smells of the small kitchen; you are treated as part of the family from the moment you arrive. With a hands-on introduction to the preparation of Dalmatian food, ranging from making homemade pasta and cleaning fish, to traditional entrees, sauces and marinades, you’ll feel like a local by the end of the day!
Tatjana’s cuisine is flavoursome and her passion infectious. This is simply one of those remarkable experiences that will stay with you for years to come.
4. Bee-keeping on the island of Solta
Hidden away on a tiny island within the central Dalmatian archipelago remain the gastronomic traditions of two local families. Mr Kastelanac demonstrates his years of expertise in olive growing and harvesting; a stroll through his olive groves provides an insight into the labour of love undertaken by his family in the pursuit of rich olive oil. The tastings are divine, with the wild rosemary and garlic oils being particular favourites and are certainly too good not to bring a bottle home.
Solta has a dramatic and contrasting panorama, its rocky coastline and Mediterranean-style villages lie just a mile from the islands summit at 700ft above the Adriatic. Amongst this special landscape we find the third-generation bee-keepers of the Tvrdic family who are equally eager to share the fruits of their labour. After a visit to the bee hives and fascinating introduction to the process of honey-making the home-made varieties are yours to taste, and are – be warned – temptingly moreish.
5. Island hopping by private yacht
The dreamy Dalmatian archipelago….your own skippered yacht and a heavenly day discovering hidden beach coves, swimming in calm turquoise waters and sampling some of the finest seafood for miles – all in complete privacy. Croatia has no less than a thousand islands, which may take some discovering, so we’ve shortlisted a few of our favourites:
a. Korcula; for the prettiest medieval town, lunch spots with views to die for and family friendly beaches
b.The restaurants of Vis, which offer some of the freshest lobster in the Mediterranean
c. Mljet island national park with its salt lakes and Benedictine monastery accessible only by boat
d. For Carribean style beaches; Dugi Otok island is the place to head for. Saharun Bay promises intense turquoise waters and a smooth white pebble shore against a backdrop of pine-clad hills
e. Kornati National Park; a paradise maze of islets and reefs best discovered by small boat
6. Cruise the Elaphiti Island archipelago
The pretty Elaphiti islands can be found just off the coast from Dubrovnik, an intimate collection of 13 islands of which just three are inhabited. Pristine beaches and lush vegetation are a common feature among the islands, yet you’ll notice a slightly different character as you cruise from one to the next. We’d be hard pushed to choose a favourite but the vineyards, fig trees, lemon and olive groves of Šipan just make it that extra bit more special and give a taste of the real Croatia. Explore by bike and stop to experience one of the two working fishermen villages on the island.
A number of the smaller Elaphiti islands have waters which are perfect for swimming or snorkelling and we’d recommend either taking a picnic or finding a small restaurant to sample the catch of the day.
7. Cycle around salt-water lakes of Mljet National Park
The island of Mljet is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful spots on the Dalmatian coast with its deep gorges, pine covered slopes and turquoise waters, and its two salt-water lakes are lapped by fantastic cycling trails, making for one of our favourite family days out.
Inland, the easy to navigate cycle paths are pleasantly shaded and you can be as active or relaxed as you choose, the surrounding scenery is blissfully idyllic and you can stop off for a paddle in the warm waters or to admire the views as many times as you like! Through four kilometres of verdant pine forest you feel a million miles away from anywhere – for a small island Mljet is simply bursting with natural charm!
8. Truffle hunting in Istria
Croatia’s lush region of Istria could be mistaken for a Tuscan landscape with its undulating hills, vineyards and medieval villages. It is also a foodie paradise! Heading out with a local family and their specially trained dog on a truffle hunting adventure is a unique and fun way to spend the day; children in particular will enjoy exploring the forests in search of their lunchtime treat! Follow the dogs as they sniff for black or white truffles through the hilly woodland, finishing with a delicious truffle feast accompanied by local cheeses and wine. September and October are brilliant months to try this.
9. Game of Thrones – Klis fortress
For any Game of Thrones fans, the fortress of Klis will perhaps be better known as the town of Meereen. The series bears a surprisingly close resemblance to the Croatian stronghold which is regarded as the guardian of Dalmatian history from its dawn to the present day.
If you love the show then no visit to Croatia would be complete without taking the short journey from Split to step back in time in your very own medieval re-enactment. Head up to the fortress to see how Uskoci guards defended the fortress in its days of glory and learn the skills of medieval archery and sword fighting with a local expert. Definitely one the kids will love!
10. Kayaking in Korčula
Korčula’s hidden jewel lies in its scenic archipelago, tiny islets scattered around the island’s southern shore which reveal serene sheltered coves and small pebble beaches at every turn. Knowing the breath-taking seascapes that await, we certainly wouldn’t need convincing to climb on board and kayak our way through the calm waters, discovering remote corners of the country unknown to the masses. The day really does go at your own pace and we can suggest some really special routes for you to make the most of your exploration. Whichever you choose, keep your eyes open for the dolphins that frequent this astonishing area!