Went to Croatia for a week break with little expectation, and left overwhelmed by the amazing landscape, charming people and awesome food. And not forgetting the wonderful experiences and laughter shared with my five friends from London. Joining us later at Croatia was a couple from Bristol and Irish family with 3 lovely daughters.
Our base was Novigrad, a small fishing village 2 hours drive north from Split. The village was so small that it took only 15min to walk from end to end. There was only 1 bakery, 2 grocery stores, 1 cafe, 1 pizzeria, 2 restaurants and no nightlife other than enjoying beer outdoors with the sea breeze.
(Beach just outside out hotel)
(Our favourite bakery for fresh bread and pasteries)
Novigrad represented my ideal retirement home – long rugged mountain range of Velebit in the background and sheltered sea just by the doorstep. Enjoyed watching the sunsets everyday – vibrant colours thrown into the open skies and calm sea. Rare experience for myself since I’m trapped constantly in an urban setting.
(Sunset view from hotel’s balcony – looking out to the Novigrad sea and Velebit mountain range in the background)
Spent most of our time doing something active, except for the 1st and last day. Joined a 8days adventure package by Huck & Finn, local adventure company based in Zagreb (www.huck-finn.hr). It has been ages since I last participated in an organised travel option compared to my usual free & easy style.
Our main guide Ivan was great the whole time and we have definitely left a deep impression on him for being his first group of Asian visitors. He found it interesting that we were sharing meals amongst us and the amount of food finished in comparison to our small sizes, plus the many stops for photo-taking. The other guide we had was Mica, who led the river kayaking section. Crazy guy who actually jumped down the huge 12m drop, while we had to walk safely down it along a narrow footpath.
(Massive 12m waterfall during our river kayaking trip. Our river guide Mica actually jumped the falls after making sure all the kayaks were safely pushed down for our next leg of river journey)
(Our charming Croatian guides – Mica on the left and Ivan on right)
We went sea-kayaking for 3 days at different places, river kayaking down Zrmanja river (grade 2), hiking inside Paklenica National Park and walking around Krka National Park. Weather was beautiful – hot and sunny on most days except for the walking days. Finally regained some healthy glow after losing it through the gloomy winter months in London.
Sea kayaking days were pretty easy since the good weather gave us pretty calm sea conditions. Breaks were long enough for swimming and cooling down after the efforts of paddling. Best part was the warm waters, as opposed to the chilling cold waters common to UK. The river kayaking was mostly calm, except for a couple of rapids. The biggest was a 3m drop, which most of the participants survived without capsizing.
(1st sea kayaking day – easy paddle to another nearby village for yummy mussels)
(2nd sea kayaking trip up Zrmanja canyon – longer paddle trip)
(Final sea kayaking day along Vrgrada islands – Angie & Chee Ann showing off their paddling skills)
(River kayaking along Zrmanja river)
(Chang Yate & Chee Ann stucked at a small rocky rapid)
Hiking inside Paklenica National Park was a welcome change after the first 2 days of sea-kayaking. The rocks nearby the front park entrance is famous for being one of Europe’s best climbing areas and host the annual big wall climbing competition. Our day hike brought us up to Manita Pec to view the local cave beauty and Sklopina for our lunch break.
(View from Sklopina – our highest hiking point inside Paklenica National Park)
(Anica Kuk – 350m high and offering some of Croatia’s hardest rock climbing routes up to 8a)
(Rock climbing actions inside Paklenica National Park)
Krka National Park showcased the beauty of Croatian waterfalls to me. It was amazing to learn that it was home to the world’s first hydroelectric dam invented by local Nikola Tesla back in 1895. We enjoyed a slow cruise up to Skradinski buk for lunch and explored an old Franciscan monastery at Visovac enroute. Highlight of the day was definitely the walking to Roski Slap and enjoying the views of the many cascades and quick swim in the bottom pool (www.npkrka.hr/html_en/uvod_en.htm)
(Poster view of old Franciscan monastery at Visovac)
(View of Roski Slap from bottom pool – one of the many magnificent waterfalls inside Krka National Park)
Food has been simply superb. We gorged ourselves silly with the juicy tomatoes, sweet watermelons, freshly baked pastries and succulent seafood. After plenty of seafood sessions ranging from huge bucket of mussels cooked with white wine to grilled seafood dressed simply with olive oil and garlic, my top meal would be the seafood platter which we had as dinner at our hotel’s restaurant. All of us enjoyed a huge fish each, several calamaris and scampis to ourselves for only 120 HRK (GBP13). Delicious!! Plus lotsa cheap Karlovacko cold beer to cool ourselves down after all the hardwork from kayaking and walking around.
(Our best seafood platter prepared by our very own hotel’s restaurant)
(Me gleefully showing off a scampi during our mega seafood feast)
We managed to squeeze in some time to visit Sibenik and Zadar, both cities notable for its old city quarters. Highlight at Sibenik was St James Cathedral, which was constructed entirely in stone combining both Gothic & Renaissance elements. Taking 104 years to build it, the cathedral is also famous for being the only Renaissance building in Europe constructed by mounting prefabricated elements.
(Chen, Nancy & myself jumping with joy in front of St James Cathedral, Sibenik)
Zadar presented visitors with plenty of Roman ruins, medieval churches and variety of museums nestled amongst busy stores and cafes. Didn’t really have much time to visit any of the churches or museums in detailed, so ended up walking the streets within the old quarters and soaking up the afternoon atmosphere.
(St Donatus Church – one of the many historic buildings in Zadar)
Watching the final sunset from Zadar’s coastline, felt a touch of sadness that my week-long summer adventure in Croatia was near its end. I particularly enjoyed this trip more for the tranquility during our activities – no overcrowding of tourists so typical of a popular European destination. Cheers to Croatia!
(Sunset scene from Zadar coastline)