Exploring Croatia by road, sea and foot was the most satisfying and enjoyable trip we’ve undertaken this decade.
We knew there would be historic cities and beautiful landscapes. But the truth is that we had no idea just how overwhelmingly stunning those landscapes in Croatia would be, or that we would be assaulted by mouth-wide-open views that simply never let up.
Possibly the biggest surprise was Croatian gastronomy. We really didn’t know what to expect. What we found was a culinary tradition that, for us, surpassed areas which normally have travel bloggers salivating over their keyboards (I’m especially thinking Morocco and France).
Croatia had it all, putting it right up there as one of our favourite gastro hike destinations
Walking in Dalmatia – A land of emerald lagoons and flamboyant insects
We’ve enjoyed more challenging walking and more dramatic terrain than we experienced in Croatia. However, often it felt like walking in an unspoilt paradise – a Garden of Eden. I’m not sure how much of a reputation Croatia has as a walking destination but in mostly perfect walking weather in May we rarely met any other hikers.
On Hvar, we strolled through olive groves and past tiny historic hamlets, mysterious stone mounds and fields of wild flowers where the scent of wild orange jasmine was borderline orgasmic. One trail emerged at a small farm by the perfect Adriatic Sea and we were treated to a home grown feast during an afternoon so idyllic, it will take some beating.
On Mljet our routes traversed dreamy lakes and dappled forest paths where a flighty army of butterflies and the most exquisite looking insects I’ve ever seen added explosions of colour to the rich green landscape. At one point we caught a boat to an island within an island. At another we emerged at Roman fort beside a picturesque lakeside town and listened to the woes of a woman tending a goat with anger management issues.
Each walk was full of beauty and interest. There was often a tangible feel of walking in the paths of people from great ancient civilisations.
We’re also big fans of city hiking and Dubrovnik and Zadar offered two destinations that were ripe for exploring on foot. Dubrovnik’s streets can be a bit manic, but an escape to the walls both acted as a breather and stole our breaths away. Captivating Zadar didn’t have the same level of tourists but was the huge surprise of the trip that we would have overlooked completely if wasn’t for the fact that Ryanair made it a cheap option to fly there.
Our memories of all those places are filled with warmth, big smiles and a sense of discovery.
Wining & Dining in Dalmatia
From our first meal in Zadar, a world-beating seafood risotto and sensationally savoury cheesy gnocchi, our tastebuds were whooping with joy throughout our time in Croatia (save for two truly bad meals in Dubrovnik).
We were constantly impressed with the diversity of what was on offer; from light Mediterranean pastas and fish and seafood dishes to rich stews (pasticadas) and herby sausages. Traditional Croatian konobas with rustic designs and cosy courtyards were our favourite places to enjoy a varied cuisine that should keep all palates satisfied. Even the accompaniments to the main dishes scored high marks; creamy polenta instead of potatoes or blitva (Swiss chard, potato and garlic), a seriously tasty side dish that’s good enough to eat on its own.
When it comes to wine, Croatia’s is still a bit overshadowed by other European countries. But it has been a wine producing country since Roman times and the peppery, fruity reds we downed enthusiastically were right up our street, especially the Plavac Mali.
What made Dalmatia and other areas of Croatia a dream destination was the huge generosity and infectious humour of the people who offered us drinks at the slightest opportunity. I’ve lost count of the number of free grappas we were plied with – usually a throat stripping one for me and a softer, sweeter variety for Andy. The grappa highlight was at Konoba Lambik on Hvar where they even had a grappa experimental lab.
We were totally smitten by Croatia; its people, landscapes, towns, cities, food and wine. It was one of those places that had all the ingredients that ring our travelling bell.
It is an extraordinary gastro hike destination and we can’t wait to return to explore, and eat, more.
Jack is co-owner, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites as well as a contributor to lots of other places. Follow Jack on Google+