Posted by: Nick Ward | 22 August, 2012

Croatia, you really have arrived

Warning:Unashamed Travelogue Follows.


I visited Croatia on my first ever overseas trip, 25 years ago. It was part of Yugoslavia then, before the country broke up into its constituent states, and then endured a bloody war. I recall it being the surprise of a nine-month European trip, an unexpected jewel.

Well, it’s been discovered now. Thoroughly. It’s no less a paradise, but don’t expect to share it only with the Croatians. I think I heard pretty much every European language echoing down the marble streets of the towns we visited, and more than a few Australian accents too.

This return trip took in Zadar, the Sibernik Archipeligo where I joined a group of friends doing a week-long ocean swimming trip, on to Split and then Hvar, before finishing up with Dubrovnik. It was, of course, too short – the sign of a fantastic holiday destination.

The towns are amazing. The people are, generally, very friendly. The waters are an amazing blue, just as I remember them to be. And, in this part of the world, life revolves around the sea.

The sea was the centerpiece for the reason for coming to Croatia, six days of swimming around the islands of Sibernik with Strel Swimming. It was just awesome.

The ocean was so clear you could see 50m or so underwater – perfect to allow some fantastic photography of people swimming or just playing around. It was just the right temperature, and thanks to the shelter from hundreds of islands, there was always somewhere perfectly calm to swim. Even my bitey-creature-phobic European & American friends were fine in the deeper parts in the knowledge that the scariest thing in this body of water were a few lame-arse jellyfish. Nice.

Our lunches generally included a wander around an island village or climbing some hill for a knockout view. The evenings were spent eating ravenously and exploring towns, villages and national parks in the region, generally with an ice cream in hand. Even our transport for our swims was what you would have hoped for: a selection of gorgeous local fishing boats which moonlight on such ventures during the summer months.

Honestly, this was one of the best things I have done in a long time.

Strel Swimming aside, this Croatian adventure also took in Zadar, Sibernik, Split, Dubrovnik, and the beautiful towns of Stari Grad and Hvar on the island named after the latter. I had visited Split & Dubrovnik on that long-ago Yugoslav visit, but the other towns were a first-visit.

Hvar in particular was quite eye-opening. I expected quiet sea-side fishing villages. I got the Riviera (although it must be said with a lot more charm).

Hvar Town

The beautiful people have arrived. There are fashionable seaside bars and all night beach parties. Rumors of visits from celebs included Beyonce and Prince Harry. The beautiful people clearly don’t arrive on the ferry however, as the waterfront in Hvar town was packed with massive motor cruisers.

Despite all this, the place isn’t spoilt at all. The old town of Hvar is still a labyrinth of pedestrian streets reaching up to the fortress. And if you walk a few hundred metres along the waterfront you’ll find relaxed bays and gorgeous swimming away from the summer crowds.

If, however, it’s still too Eurotrash for you in Hvar Town, it is only a short bus ride to explore Stari Grad on the other side of the island. This is a picture perfect little town with chilled out restaurants and bars, where Jazz is more the music style than Dance. There really is something for everyone on Hvar.

The thing I love about this country is the Old Towns. Each city has its own character, but they tend to have beautiful medieval stone buildings and marble streets in common. There are no blights on the streetscape – even those houses destroyed by war were painstakingly restored in their original style.


Let me mention the war.

I remember watching in horror back in 1992 when the television news broadcast images of the walls of Dubrovnik being pummeled with shells from Serbian gunboats. I was worried that these perfect streetscapes could not have survived intact. Well, of course, in the short term they hadn’t. There is a map just inside the main city gate in Dubrovnik showing which pavements were shattered by a direct hit, which buildings lost their roofs, and which were completely destroyed. There was a lot of damage. The great testament to the residents, however, was that they rebuilt every single building, every roof, replaced every stone. You struggle to spot what is original and what is post-war. How good is that.

The only problem, if you can call it that, faced by Croatia is cost. It plans to enter the EU next year, but most things are already being priced in Euro – and the numbers of Euro, in particular for hotels, are not small. Indeed, on Hvar I think our hotel had pretty much the most expensive room rates for its category that I’ve ever paid. If the country continues along this path the boom may be short lived. Let’s not forget the experience of the Greeks.

Hopefully, however, this won’t be the way Croatia heads. If supply of rooms can catch up with peak-season demand so that prices are pitched competitively then the county’s sheer beauty and charm will be what visitors talk about. If that’s the case, then watch this space. You’ve seen nothing yet. This place is going to be the place to go, possibly the place to be seen, but definitely the place everyone is talking about.


  1. Many of us discovered Croatia way back in the early 70’s. The coast has always been one of Europe’s best kept secrets.

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