“Croatia is a country of contrasts,” Caroline began. Whether it’s the turquoise water of the Adriatic contrasting the white limestone and red roofs of the coastal buildings or even the traces of Croatia’s Homeland Conflict in the midst of the beautifully-restored Old Town of Dubrovnik, a Vacation in Croatia seems to surround travelers with pleasantly divergent sights and themes. It certainly sounds like one of the most enticing European Destinations.
VBT Owner, Caroline Marston, recently returned from our Croatia Vacation and I was lucky enough to chat with her about how it went. She had all kinds of great stories about her travels, as well as an infectious enthusiasm for this Mediterranean destination. (I use the word infectious because after speaking with Caroline, Croatia is now at the top of my list of Places to go in Europe!)
First on Caroline’s large collection of highlights is our Pre-trip Extension in Dubrovnik. She did her research, and came to Croatia with a bit of background on this “stunning part of the world.” However, she found that taking part in the optional, full-day tour around Dubrovnik gave her so much more than she expected. “It was culturally inspirational. The Old Town of Dubrovnik was beautifully preserved because the people brought it back.”
Again, Caroline was struck by enchanting contrasts. The perfectly balanced blend of ancient and modern history seemed to stand side-by-side in the city. With a background in geology, Caroline also found herself to be quite taken with all of the intricate stone work. The limestone was so white and dense it almost appeared to be marble, and the attention to detail in the sculptures, fountains and even footpaths supplied a bit of foreshadowing for another exciting Croatian experience.
When it comes to Croatian Cuisine, it seems that “Fresh” is the key word. We’re talking about a place where capers grow wildly on white walls like ivy and where each region takes great pride in their approach to cultivating their local wines, olive oils and figs. Each restaurant that Caroline ate at had an abundance of incredibly fresh seafood (caught that very day!), and while every dining experience was a good one, the family-run konobe or taverns provided delicious, unique food and great local experiences.
The standout meal was a Croatian specialty, a baked dish cooked in a wood-fired oven within a dome-like metal contraption known as peka. The dish is slow-cooked, over 5 to 6 hours and the ingredients, meat, roasted vegetables and even octopus, are heated by hot coals that are on the top and underneath the pot it is cooked in.
I’ll admit that when I first heard, “Octopus,” I certainly had my doubts, but after Caroline provided an extensive discourse on the aromas and flavors that came out of this dish, it sounds like Dalmatian peka is the meal to sample while Traveling Croatia. Though I still think that the daily gelato the group enjoyed would be my personal highlight in the food department.
The local experiences kept on coming, too, like on the fourth day of Caroline’s Croatian Vacation, when the group stopped in on a local stonemason school. It’s one of the last schools in the world dedicated to the discipline, and it’s also the spot where the master stone cutters, who are largely responsible for revamping Dubrovnik’s Old Town, first trained. Though only adolescents, the students of the Stonemasonry School in Pucisca take their work very seriously – and they should. It seems as though the entire world has a close eye on their work as Puciscan limestone has made its way into the fountains of Venice and even the columns of our very own Whitehouse!
The day was capped off by an in-home cooking demonstration where the group learned a bit more about everyday life in Croatia, from local schools and modern-day politics to preparing authentic Croatian Food.
Though this vacation is certainly a Biking Vacation, it sounds like cycling and swimming went hand-in-hand. Most days on the bike offered stunning views, invigorating climbs and rewarding descents that ended at the bright blue shores of the Adriatic. Not to mention many spins past fields of aromatic lavender.
Caroline filled me in on one of her favorite rides. The optional extended route on Day 7 from Velika Stiniva was a real treat. It was a bit of climb, but eventually Caroline and her group cruised down to a beach that our Trip Leaders, Matej and Vanja, refer to as, “paradise.” Apparently, they were right. As the ride came to an end, the path opened up to a small pristine beach, nestled in a cut-out between two giant rock formations.
As residents of Croatia, Matej and Vanja know a thing or two about great views and beautiful beaches. If this secluded little spot is a standout for them, then it has to be amazing!
All in all, Caroline’s first trip to Croatia was an incredible Travel Experience. Her stories have certainly convinced me that Croatia is a premier European Destination. And by the sounds of it, this won’t be her last Croatian Vacation.
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