Seascape escapes

The allure of the Adriatic

Hvar, Croatia

I fastened the buckle of my life jacket, said a small prayer, and jumped off the yacht into the sapphire blue waters of the Adriatic. Despite the sun blazing overhead, the water was icy cold. A broad smile spread on my face, as my head surfaced out of the water and I caught my breath. I am no expert swimmer, but we were in Croatia, and this trip was all about pushing boundaries.

We were a group of eight adults travelling together, and for some of us, it was travelling without kids for the first time. With a long coastline dotted with a multitude of idyllic islands, and blessed with the perfect Mediterranean climate, Croatia has everything going for it. Born when former Yugoslavia broke up, what put the new country on most people’s wish list is the extremely popular Game Of Thrones series, filmed extensively in Dubrovnik.

Sunny escapes

We started our trip with Hvar, an island accessible by a two-hour boat ride from the city of Split on the mainland. Said to be the sunniest spot in Europe, with over 2,500 hours of sunshine a year, Hvar often finds a mention in ‘the best islands of the world’ lists, and it’s easy to see why. The town with its oatmeal-coloured buildings topped with sloping terracotta roofs curls along a harbour packed with charming sailboats and gleaming yachts. On a bright sunny day, we walked past rows of cafes and restaurants filled with sun-kissed visitors to St. Stephen’s Square, around which lie most of the town’s historic attractions. Lavender grows abundantly on the island and the small town centre was saturated with a heady fragrance wafting from the makeshift stalls selling lavender-based souvenirs.

The 16th-century baroque of St. Stephen’s Cathedral dominates the square that has a visitor’s centre and a museum showcasing lace made by the nuns of the nearby Benedictine convent. Wandering through the by-lanes, we made our way up a flight of steps, followed by a winding tree-lined road to the well-kept remains of the Hvar fortress. Built on the site of an ancient Illyrian settlement, the present day remains date back to the 13th century. History aside, it’s the magnificent views of Hvar and Pakleni islands that made all the effort trudging up worth it. Come evening, the spot that many make a beeline for is Hula Hula, a beachside bar where unbeatable sunsets and dancing on tables are both a given.

After a couple of days in Hvar, we made our way back to Split, and then drove to Dubrovnik on a road hugging the southern Dalmatian coast. Touted to be one of the 10 best drives in the world, we had sweeping ocean views and the gorgeous Dinaric Alps for company. We drove past small towns with secluded beaches, through the verdant Neretva river valley, where we stopped to buy succulent fruits and golden honey. From there, we made our way to the Peljesac Peninsula known for its olive and fig groves, wine and oysters.

Near the town of Ston, local farmers demonstrate how they farm oysters and let you taste them for a small fee. My friends lost no time taking oysters barely seconds after they were pulled out of the water, squeezing some lime and sliding them into their mouths, shaking their heads vigorously after vouching that indeed, these were some of the best ever.

It was not the oysters but salt that brought Ston under the spotlight. Part of the Republic of Dubrovnik, Ston was a coveted salt-producing town and to protect it, a 5.5 km-long wall was constructed in 1333. The wall stands till date and is open to visitors to explore.

Sailing in the blue

The distance from Split to Dubrovnik can be covered in three hours, but it had taken us almost the entire day, given the many stops we made. Later, as we sailed around the Elaphiti islands, we followed the same routine, stopping every now and then to soak in Croatia’s unbelievably beautiful waters, said to be some of the cleanest in the world, and its forest-covered islands. With a small yacht all to ourselves, complete with a captain and an assistant, we spent four magical days sailing on the shimmering waters of the Adriatic, and felt like small-time royalty.

Mornings would start with a scrumptious breakfast on the yacht, followed by swimming and snorkelling. By lunchtime, we would dock at an island where we would walk around small villages or explore tiny towns, and find the best spot for a meal served with fabulous ocean views. Closer to evening, we would again go swimming, paddleboarding and kayaking. It was at night when darkness cloaked everything in its strong embrace that Croatia truly put on its best spectacle for us. Lying on the deck of the yacht under a sprinkling of stars, watching shooting star after shooting star zoom past into nothingness, life seemed perfect.

Dubrovnik, Croatia
Dubrovnik, Croatia

The one day when this cycle was disrupted, and for good reason, was when we docked at Mljet, an island home to the stunning Mljet National Park. Covered in pine forests and with two cobalt blue lakes, Mljet attracts adventure seekers from all around. The best way to explore the island is on a bike.

Our sail ended at Croatia’s crown jewel, Dubrovnik. Battered by war as recently as 1991, the city has bounced back in no time. While scars of its turbulent past are still fresh, locals are eager to move ahead, and tourism is the trump card with which they hope to shape their future for the better. We joined the crowds exploring the many museums, palaces, restaurants and shops all tucked into the narrow marble-lined streets within the historic walls of the old city. While Dubrovnik is straight out of a picture postcard, it surprisingly failed to captivate me. I think I had lost my heart well before I got there. I suspect it had floated away somewhere into the depths of the Adriatic, the first time I jumped into its cerulean waters.

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