Cro-WOW-tia!  Part 1

by Russ Wagenar


It did not take me long to realize that all the buzz lately about this country is well-merited!

My arrival in Dubrovnik was in the late afternoon and by the time I arrived at The Hotel Excelsior, it was shortly before sundown. Seeing the sunset over the Adriatic with the Old Town of Dubrovnik in the foreground was enough to make me realize that the next 7 days were going to be something very special.

Our touring and transfer arrangements were expertly handled by Round About Experiences a company that is based in Ljubljana, Slovenia. This destination management company specializes in offering Gastronomy tours through Slovenia and Croatia and throughout the region of what was once Yugoslavia.

Beginning in Dubrovnik we enjoyed a 2-night stay at The Hotel Excelsior located a short 10-minute walk to the entrance of the walled Old Town of Dubrovnik. Taxi service is available for approximately 13€ which seemed rather steep when you consider the short walking time. Excelsior’s 158 contemporaries, comfortable accommodation includes 139 spacious rooms and 19 luxury suites shared across the original 1913 section of the hotel Villa Odak, as well as the more modern addition, The Tower. I enjoyed my room in the Villa Odak wing which had a nice size terrace with two chairs and a small table offering a view of the Old Town in the distance.

I survived the climb up the stairs to begin the Wall Walk which affords an absolutely incredible view over the city and sea. After conquering the walls (well at least half of the route) we walked to the Cable Car station to enjoy a brief 4-minute ride up 1200ft above sea level to the Imperial Fort for a bird’s eye view of the Old Town.

We were greeted by champagne and nibbles at the top of the hill to enjoy the cool breeze and spectacular views.

After spending some time taking in these views we were then taken back to sea level and a short drive to meet our next excursion — riding in 1970’s Renault 4 cars from Dubrovnik to the town of Stari Mlin and a visit to the Crvik winery. We did have drivers at the wheel!

From Dubrovnik the next day we boarded James Bond-like speed boats for the approximate 30-minute ride to the island of Šipan where we arrived at the restaurant BOWA (Best Of What’s Around).  A very cool concept, there are several cabanas either over the water or dotting the hillside where tables are set for lunch and/or dinner.

On the menu, fresh tuna and snapper tartare and sashimi along with grilled octopus … 😊

After lunch, it was onward by boat north to the island of Korčula and the Old Town by the same name. Lucky for us that this was pretty much the only rain shower we had during the week as we were speeding along on the water in the boats!

Korčula is one of the best-preserved Medieval towns in the Mediterranean region. It was one of my favorite stops on the trip. Small walled city chock full of ancient charm, cafes, shops, and restaurants. Very picturesque and laid-back atmosphere.

We were overnight in Korčula staying at The Lešić Dimitri Palace Hotel, a Relais & Chateaux property. Located in the heart of the old town facing the sea the 6-room property consists of 1,2 and 3-bedroom apartments. There is also the Michelin 1-star LD Restaurant where we had an amazing dinner.

The palace’s design pays homage to Marco Polo and his Silk Road adventures with subtle themes from the route’s different regions integrated with restored original features and exquisite handcrafted furniture. The apartments are named Ceylon, Sumatra, Arabia, India, China, and Venice.

After a short morning tour the next day I found time to climb the narrow circular staircase in the church’s bell tower for a wonderful view over the city and sea.

We then were given the opportunity to self-drive 4-wheel ATVs from the town center up into the forest to an organic farm named Eko Škoj where we enjoyed lunch outdoors. Feasting on their delicious olive oils and home-baked bread along with salads made with over 40 of the farm’s fresh vegetables and herbs. On the way to the farm a short stop for a panoramic view of the town.

After our lunch, we made our way to the pier in Korčula to board a highspeed Catamaran ferry to the nearby island of Hvar. This is maybe the best know island in Croatia due to many active restaurants and nightclubs that come to life in the evening, especially during the summer months. Our overnight accommodations here were at The Adriana Hvar Spa Hotel. This 4* vacation full-service hotel is located on the marina in the heart of Hvar. Rooms were of average size and comfortable.

Prior to our dinner in the restaurant at The Adriana, we were able to have a tour of the nearby 5-star Palace Elisabeth Hotel which was in the season pre-opening stages. This palace dates to the 13th century and in 1899 it was rebuilt under the name Spa Hotel Empress Elisabeth after the famous Austrian Empress Sisi who was a generous patron of the hotel’s construction and known for her exceptional traveling lifestyle. Elegant antique furnishings throughout, and some of the rooms have hand-painted wall coverings. At almost twice the price of a room at The Adriana, I’m sure it is worth it if one is seeking a luxury holiday in the city.

The next morning after breakfast at The Adriana we were out for a 1-hour walking tour of Hvar then we were whisked away by a catamaran ferry to Split where we were led by a private guide for a walking tour of this city. Due to pain in my lower back, I opted to skip the 1-hour walking tour in Split and instead was allowed to proceed to the private yacht chartered for the group to take us next to Trogir.

The promenade in Trogir

My Casablanca

Trogir was my second favorite stop on the trip. Like Korčula it is a wonderfully preserved Medieval town known for its Renaissance, baroque, and Romanesque buildings. It is here where we then boarded our private mini cruiser the MY CASABLANCA which would be our home for the next (and last) 4 nights of the trip.

The next morning, we awoke to a plentiful breakfast on the yacht and then it was off for a 1-hour walking tour in Trogir. Returning to the yacht we then set sail heading to our next destination. En route, we were treated to fresh sea oysters in a region famous for the flavorful gems due to the convergence of waters from the Krka River and the Adriatic Sea. We continued further inland and then arrived at Skradin where we docked overnight. Skradin is a small town at the entrance to the Krka National Park.

We enjoyed an approximately 90-minute guided walk through the falls area. There are some dirt trails but also many wooden planked pathways laced through this area where you can have views of the forest and falls from many different angles. After our tour at the park, we were taken by mini-vans to the nearby popular Bibich Winery for a wine-tasting experience.  Back to the yacht after the winery visit we then set sail for Kornati Island.



Our arrival here was pretty cool as our vessel was the only one in the bay and we docked right where our next dining experience was to be. A restaurant at the furthest southern point of the island in the middle of nowhere, the Konoba Opat.The restaurant offers indoor and outdoor seating and gets quite busy in season from mid-May through October with patrons arriving by boat or land. A thoroughly delicious 6-course dinner was served to our party of 15……….

After a 4-hour dinner, we just HAD to be served dessert, right?! I was going to skip it but when it was presented I quickly changed my mind! A heavenly rolled crepe filled with chopped walnuts and cinnamon covered in a decadent vanilla custard baked in a clay dish direct from the brick oven ….

Our last day on the trip was spent getting over the dinner from the night before as we sailed from Kornati northward to Zadar where we would spend our last night on board the CASABLANCA.

On arrival into Zadar, we were led on our last walking tour!  The city is best known for the Roman and Venetian ruins in the Old Town, churches, and history galore. The city suffered intense bombing during World War II therefore does not have the same true old-world charm as many other locations what with more modern 20th-century architecture existing next to ancient buildings. But there is still plenty of character!

Designed by local architect Nikola Bašić and completed in 2005, the organ consists of a broad stone stairway descending towards the sea. Wave action pushes air through a series of underwater pipes and up through niches cut into the steps, producing a selection of mellow musical notes. The organ is at its best when the sea is choppy, but even during calm periods, the tranquil tones of the organ will be sufficient to lull you into a meditative state. It was fairly calm when we were walking along the waterfront, however, you could hear many notes emanating from the pipes and it was very relaxing!

Our last dinner was at the seafood (go figure) restaurant FoŠa in a marina in the city.

To sum up, if you are looking for something different from Italy or Greece or the South of France, Croatia should be your next destination. It has something for everyone; boating, excellent roadways for self-drive trips, so many outdoor activities, excellent wines, a seafood lovers paradise (and yes there are some four-legged options as well on the menu), and a history buff’s dream.

The MY CASABLANCA is a private charter accommodating up to 36 passengers in 18 very comfortable cabins each with ensuite facilities. Typically it is confirmed for 7-day charters. Ask me for details!

Alfred Hitchcock holidayed in Zadar in 1964 and he described the city’s sunset as the world’s best.

After the many sunsets I’ve been privy to around the world, I would have to somewhat agree …..

Živjeli (cheers!) to this amazing country.