Hvar Croatia

From Brac I got a ferry down to the island of Hvar. The boat arrived right into the centre of Hvar Town on the West coast of the island. The town is renowned as the party capital of Croatia and because I didn’t book a place to stay I struggled to find a room and was in fact lucky to find somewhere in the end. It was pretty basic, but at least centrally located in Hvar Town, just a few streets back from the port, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend it. So book ahead unlike me.

Hvar Town itself is deceptively small, there’s a long and pretty promenade along the seafront full of bars and restaurants punctuated in the centre by the historic St Stephen’s Square. It’s one of largest squares in Dalmatia and the whole area around it is completely car free with lots of tiny lanes running off it. The square contains the town’s grand cathedral, a museum and also the old military arsenal, as well as lots of pretty umbrella shaded cafes. Next to it sitting high above the town at the top of a small hill is the medieval castellated Fortica. It’s a short gentle walk up from St Stephen’s Square and gives lovely views over Hvar Town and out to sea and across to the Pakleni islands. Definitely worth the gentle meander up.

While in Hvar had one of the most bizarre nights of my life. I was relaxing on the beach during the day and randomly got chatting to this guy and he invites me to a party that night on a yacht. It was kind of random and sounded a bit dodgy, so I wasn’t super keen, but I took his card anyway and thought nothing of it.

Later on I’m in Hula Hula, an open air bar/ club just outside Hvar Town, with some American girls I’d met and I can see the yacht anchored offshore. I mention to them that I was invited on board. By this point I’d had a couple of drinks and the girls were like we should totally go. I call the number on the card and before I know it I’m at the harbour waiting for a motor launch. A crew member clad in all white Ralph Lauren comes to pick us up in a speedboat. We’re shuttled over to this yacht, which looked pretty massive from far away, but is even bigger in reality. There is literally a friggin’ helicopter on the top deck and apparently the boat is some 80 metres long. We arrive at a dock on the side of the boat and we’re helped on by more crew. There’s a row of chairs and we’re instructed to take a seat and then one by one we’re called up, we have to show ID, have our photo taken and sign in. No phones or personal belongings allowed, we have to check them all in. The captain reads us a set of rules, we’re only allowed on the second deck, no going inside and finally have fun.

We’re lead up to the second deck at the back of the boat. It’s a huge terrace with a circular bar in the middle, maybe 50-60 people there, a mix of good looking guys and girls. Cool music playing, champagne flowing, free bar, we can order whatever we want. We mingle, some people are staying on the boat, other people like us were invited that day. We drink, we dance, we get pretty wasted and we party til like 3am and then the party finishes and we’re taken back to shore. I googled the boat name, Samar, afterwards and turns out the boat is owned by some billionaire Kuwaiti guy who just likes to party. Amazing night, but kind of surreal.

Bol, Brač

From Split I continued my adventure by sea and got a ferry to the island of Brač. It’s famous for its radiant white stone which was used to build the Diocletian’s Palace in Split, as well as for the White House in Washington DC. It’s other claim to fame is its stunning long pebble beaches. The ferry arrives into the small harbour of the sleepy old town of Bol on the southern coast of the island. It’s very pretty, but not a whole lot to do apart from relax so I only stayed for a few days and spent most of my time on the beach, but nice to chill for a bit.

Split Croatia

From Plitvice I got a bus to Croatia’s second biggest city, Split. The city centre of Split is dominated by the Diocletian’s Palace. It’s not so much a palace as a small town with a labyrinth of streets packed with shops, bars, restaurants and people, and all set within the walls of one of the most imposing and impressive Roman ruins in existence. I stayed at an Airbnb just outside the walls and then went to explore.

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Just outside the city walls stands the statue of Gregorius of Nil. Apparently if you rub the big toe of the statue it’s meant to bring you good luck and guarantees that you’ll come back to Split. You can see where it’s been rubbed as it had got shiny with the many hands that had touched it over the years. I don’t really believe in these sort of things but thought I’d give it a go just in case.

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After walking round and exploring most of the palace, I bought a ticket in the early evening to go down into the substructure basement of the Diocletian’s Palace. A huge vaulted space of interconnected rooms, it was a welcome cooling relief from the heat above. When I visited it was almost deserted and I had the place mostly to myself. It was very atmospheric and interesting. Any Game of Thrones fans may recognise it as where Daenerys Targaren keeps her dragons while she is in the City of Meereen. I can highly recommend a visit.

Plitvice National Park Croatia

After a lovely few days in Zagreb I got a bus down to the Plitvice National Park. I stayed in a lovely little B&B called the Plitvice Miric Inn. You can just do Plitvice as a day trip, but I’d been advised to stay overnight so I could get the most out of it and to avoid the crowds and I’m so glad I did. The park is split into two halves, the upper and lower lakes. I arrived at Plitvice mid afternoon around 3pm and after checking in, I headed into the park around 5pm and started with the upper lakes, it was really quiet and I hardly saw anyone else, the weather was lovely, beautifully sunny, but not too hot. It’s a big area and I finished the circuit of the upper lakes quite late just before the park closed for the evening. I had a nice meal at my hotel that evening and met a lovely Canadian couple and ended up having a slightly later night than I had intended. The next morning I’d been told to go to the park really early as soon as it opened to avoid the crowds, but being lazy and a bit tired I didn’t. Anyway big mistake, it was heaving, a complete contrast to the day before. Coach trips arrive from around 10am and stay til about 4pm and as such it was unpleasantly busy. Literally queuing along the boardwalks unable to pass anyone. So in short yes it’s definitely worth staying overnight at Plitvice and go very early in the morning or late in the afternoon/ early evening.

 

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Zagreb Croatia

I started my Croatia trip by flying from London Heathrow to the Croatian capital, Zagreb, on Croatian Airways. The flight which I only booked less than a month in advance was less than £80 (one way) and was significantly cheaper than the normal budget airlines like Ryanair and Easyjet. Plus unlike those airlines I got served a free drink and snack on the flight.

I stayed at a delightful little B&B called Studio Kairos, which was recommended in the Lonely Planet guide book. They kindly sent a car to pick me up from the airport. I’d really recommend this place it’s tiny, just four rooms, but it’s centrally located, the staff couldn’t have been more welcoming and helpful, and they do an excellent breakfast. 

Zagreb is a a really pretty little city, the main centre is compact and it’s easy to walk around without the need for public transport of any sort. It’s got a beautiful historic centre with a wonderful cathedral and lots of pretty pavement cafes and bars, ideal for a little coffee break or to sample some of the great local beer.

My first night I was keen to try some local Croatian food so I went to Vinodol, a pretty restaurant with beautiful vaulted ceiling and an ivy covered outside terrace. They serve traditional central European food, including many Croatian delicacies and local wines. My waiter was lovely and explained through all the menu and recommended dishes for me. The food was delicious and the Croatian wine surprisingly good.

On a side bar can I just say that I ate REALLY well in Croatia, I was expecting the food to be quite heavy/ very meat and potato based, quite Eastern European, filling but maybe a bit stogy. Anyway I couldn’t have been more wrong, the food in Croatia was stunning. If anything it was more influenced by Italy, than other Eastern European food. I had wonderful meat, fish and seafood. Great pasta and pizzas. Just really wonderful food, some of the best I’ve ever had in Europe.

My favourite meal in Zagreb was at Mali Bar though, I had a wonderful pate and also one of my favourite dishes, Vitella Tonnato, veal in a tuna sauce. Delicious, you must go here if in Zagreb. 

At a the other end of the price scale I had excellent pizza at Karijola. It serves authentic crispy, thin crust pizza cooked in proper wood fired clay oven. Great value, washed down with local beer. Both Mali Bar and Karijola are on the same terraced street and are conveniently just a short walk from Studio Kairos.

My personal Zagreb highlight though was probably the Museum of Broken Relationships, a quirky museum that explores the mementoes that remain after a relationship ends. The exhibits were on a world tour for many years before settling up at this permanent site. Apparently it’s been so successful that they recently opened a second site in Hollywood. It started quite light and then went really dark with items to do with suicide, rape, abuse and even murder. Thankfully it ended on funny break ups. It’s not often you go from crying with sadness to laughing out loud. Some of the stories were genuinely heartbreaking. I felt quite drained afterwards.

 

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