Hello and welcome back to beautiful Croatia!
Wednesday, May 13 – May 16: Makarska, Croatia
We travelled 3 hours via bus from Dubrovnik to Makarska today. To our surprise, a small piece of Bosnia, a city called ‘Neum’, interrupts the Croatian coastline. It was interesting and meant two unexpected passport checks.
Makarska is a small city about 60 km southeast of Split and 140 km northwest of Dubrovnik with a population of 14,000. It is a tourist centre of the Makarska Riviera, located on a horseshoe shaped bay between the towering Biokovo mountains and the Adriatic Sea. In the past Makarska provided protection and safe harbor during stormy weather to sailors, pirates and merchants, and nowadays it does the same for yachts, sail boats and tourist ships.
The Makarska’s promenade is lined with palm trees; the beaches with fragrant pinewoods. Countless restaurants, cafes, bars and boutiques overlook the harbour and gorgeous turquoise sea. There are many pleasure craft moored here, and ferries and a variety of tourist attraction vessels pass through the bay all day.
The city was relatively quiet during our stay but preparations for the busy tourist season ahead were underway. While it was mostly seniors now, things get kicked up several notches from June to October when cafes are converted to night clubs. Construction of many hotels/apartments can be seen along the expanding shoreline.
Homes and restaurants:
We had lunch at a fast food burger place one day, something we rarely do but oh, was it good. Our waitresses’ family owned three restaurants in Makarska so we had dinner at another one of them. Her cousin was our waiter and he was the happiest man alive; it was oozing out of him. He gave us free cheese with olives and bread to start, and after dinner a free dessert, plus after dinner cocktails! Happiness IS contagious!
We took a two hour wine tasting / pairing course on Croatian wines. It was at a neighbouring hotel and we were the lone participants. The presenter was a young entrepreneur and founder of the ‘Croatia Wine Club’. The course was interesting and the wine and food pairings were enjoyable. The wine we tasted came out of his own personal collection!
We learned that The Zinfandel grape originated in Croatia and they are extremely proud of this fact. It took some DNA fingerprinting to reveal that Zinfandel is the genetic equivalent to the Croatian grapes Crljenak Kaštelanski and Tribidrag. The grape found its way to the United States in the mid-19th century, where it became known by variations of the name “Zinfandel”.
Walked around the Bay:
Another city with Love Locks!
Cactus birthing Asparagus, right?
Saturday, May 16 – Tuesday, May 19: Split – Apartment
Enjoyed a quick bus ride from Maraska to Split. What a gorgeus view along the coast.
As we drove to Split, it was clear it was one of the bigger cities in Croatia. A population just under 200,000 makes Split the second-largest city in Croatia. It is a popular tourist destination with links to numerous Adriatic islands, and the harbour is busy and lively.
Split at night:
Split lies on the eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea, centred on the 4th century Roman Palace of the Emperor Diocletian. Inside the white stone walls are shops, bars, cafes, cathedrals, hotels and several houses.
Legend has it the same white stones from the Island of Brac were used to build the White House in Washington, DC.
Split is built over a 2000 year old underground sulfur spring that gives one part of the city a very strong and bad odor. They say the 100 year old fish market next to it was purposely built there because flies don’t like the smell either!
We spent our first 4 nights in a tiny apartment behind the bus station. We were central to everything and Joe the Navigator knew his way around the core quickly. We had some sunny, warm weather.
The restaurant menus in the Croatian Old Towns are more geared for tourists than considered traditional Croatian food, with the exception of some well sought out locations we found.
We toured Krka National Park, a beautiful park filled with incredible waterfalls:
And diverse flora and fauna.
This spot is perfect for taking a dip in the cool water:
Loved the colours of the water:
Our tour group had a nice lunch in the park and we visited with a gentleman from Ireland, 2 girls from Finland and 2 young girls from Ontario that were having a fantastic European holiday.
Our tour bus stopped at the seaside city of Sibenik, home to the Cathedral of St. James, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Several successive architects built it completely in stone between 1431 and 1536, in both Gothic and in Renaissance style. The interlocking stone slabs of the Cathedral’s roof were damaged when the city was shelled by Serbian forces in 1991 but have since been repaired.
What is involved for a restoration – must be painstaking!
Bus window pictures:
Vineyard with stone boundaries:
Wednesday, May 20 – 23: Split – Hotel
We switched hotels in Split – moved to where we spent 3 days with Jordan and Amy. It was so great to see them!
They had only been in Europe for 3 or 4 days with their first stop in Barcelona, so showed signs of jet lag off and on. I didn’t know you could fall asleep in so many places. : )
The Hotel Meridian was about 15 minutes outside of the city and it was breathtaking. We crammed a beach walk and pool time into the first afternoon.
And an evening trip into the city so Jordan and Amy could see the Old Town. We checked out the harbour area where their ship would be waiting for them on Saturday; they were taking a 7 day sailing cruise of Croatia with some island stops and Dubrovnik too. If you could see the water and islands here, you would realize how incredible that sounds!
Split is known as one of the shoe shopping capitals of the world, we could not believe how many shoe stores there were! Amy and I were prepared to spend a few hours bargain hunting but did not find the pricing to be in our favour. The guys seemed pleased with this! We also window shopped in the open-air market and ‘green market’ just outside the Palace a few times. The prices were better here and Amy is a skilled negotiator!
We were very happy we did all those things on Day 1, because Day 2 & 3 were pretty rainy. We made the best of it and really enjoyed our time together.
And did we ever have some unique experiences! The first, was a Split Area Wine Tour. Our private sommelier/guide, Tino, picked us up at our hotel on Thursday evening. We was also a bit of a Game of Thrones location expert so gave us the skinny during our drive to the first cellar. Some of the scenes of Daenarys and her dragons were filmed in Split! I love the Mother of Dragons! We visualized when he told us how they closed the Diocletian for filming and actors were spotted having coffee in their costumes. A fortress in the mountains was turned into Bravos.
Our first tasting was at Putalj Winery, where we sampled wine in the production area, and in the cellar. We had a lot of wine! Some of the vats were empty this year as bad weather in 2014 resulted in only 10% of their normal production. This small boutique winery was founded by Anton Kovač in 2008 as he built on his family’s 100 years of wine making tradition. We were lucky to have this passionate winemaker give us a personal tour. The wines were delicious!
We were scheduled to visit the vineyard but it was not possible because of the rain. We got off topic a bit when communism and the war entered the conversation which visibly exposed Anton’s feelings of those horrific years. A large portion of his family’s land was taken from them during those times.
Our second tasting was at Vuina Cellar. Tino conducted this tour as the winemaker didn’t speak fluent English. Also great wines here with appetizers of shrimp pate and broad bean spread, olives from their own trees. I can still taste it all….
Olives account for a high percentage of their business and possibly other wineries. The pours were a good size at both cellars. We bought a few bottles between us to share the next day.
Next Tino practically poured us out of the car at a local ranch where we were served a traditional Dalmatian ‘Peka’, a baked meat dish – ours was veal. The meat and vegetables are added to a tray (pot) and the covered pot is put into the embers of a fireplace, covered with coals, and left to cook for several hours.
Once pulled out of the fireplace, it goes directly to the table for guests like us, to really enjoy. The veal was so tender and flavourful…add warm bread and lettuce right out of the garden and you have a traditional Croatian meal. It was so good! It was such a wonderful experience to enjoy a meal this way.
The owner of the ranch was an artist and it was filled with interesting pieces.
His wife and a friend did the cooking and also served us wine and a little Croatian Raki.
While we were relaxing, a few animals came to visit the table, much to Amy’s delight. We called her the Bird Whisperer.
We had already met Doogie the Donkey outside so we got the real farm feel!
The next day we discovered a Split Wine Festival in the basement of the Diocletian. What perfect timing we had on a rainy day to find this and what an incredible backdrop to hold the event.
For about $5 each you could sample unlimited wines from around 50 wineries. Amy recently completed several levels of a Wine and Spirit Education course so was happy to get some practical experience with some local experts.
We ended our last day together at a recommended nearby restaurant. The owner/chef/waiter gave us a menu but suggested the house special which was various fish courses; as many as you could eat and he would ‘squeeze’ the wine into the price. One by one he brought out the fish on today’s menu for us to see and we had no problem deciding to ‘give ourselves to him’.
And it was fantastic! Here are the courses with what we remember of the description of each dish.
Tuna Carpaccio with butter roses:
Clam and Oyster shells stuffed with something incredible…
Prawns wrapped in grilled zucchini, baked in cheese with a balsamic drizzle:
Shrimp and homemade cheese gnocchi in a lobster, vodka champagne sauce:
Grilled John Dorey or Red Snapper, with sautéed vegetable sticks:
Ice Cream Crepe topped with crushed nuts and chocolate drizzle in a fresh strawberry sauce
(Amy had a lime sherbet slushie with champagne and vodka)
Those were two pretty incredible dinners in a row!
Saturday, May 23 – Split to Zadar
It was time to say good bye to Jordan and Amy as we saw them off on their 7 day cruise. Their ship was beautiful!
If the weather improved even a little, it would make a difference. Fingers crossed. Once they sail back to Split on Friday, their vacation continues in Germany and France, where many more memories and wine tastings will occur. This was a teary goodbye, no family arriving after them and talks of not seeing anyone for 3 months, made the end of of 3 day visit just a little sadder for me. So happy for the time together though – it was fantastic! Miss you guys! Still missing Spencer and Linsday too. Enough for me to want to pack it in? Not on your life! Onward ho!
We traveled by bus today, not a fancy ship, but our turn is coming. We are now in a village outside of Zadar in a nice ‘balcony with a view’ apartment. Getting around without a car is pretty much impossible but the very kind woman that checked us in drove us to the grocery store and back and then to a nearby restaurant and back. Talk about service! We are set now for some quiet days by the sea….
Talk to you soon!
Paula and Joe