Had you asked me about travel in Croatia before this year of visiting countries around the world, I’d have given you a blank look. Aside from briefly memorizing the open-jaw jigsaw puzzle piece shape to pass my junior high geography course, I didn’t carry much context for the Croatian landscape, food culture, or travel scene.
Ask me now, after spending a week and a half renting an apartment in Croatia on the shoreline of the Adriatic, and I’ll tell you how this beautiful little country hugs the water, grows fresh vegetables, serves up tasty fish, and caters to travelers seeking peace and calm and beachfront hideaways (provided they know to come before tourism season kicks into full swing!).
Thanks to Landing Standing and their Lewis-and-Clark style scouting party a few weeks prior, we received a heads up and an invitation to join them at a sweet spot in Dalmatia, the lower region of Croatia’s seaside stretch.
Achingly long transportation legs (Days 137 &138 in the Daily Travel Journal) moved us from resting in Sirmione to taking the rails southward to Ancona, Italy, across the Adriatic on an overnight ferry (sleeping on the floor in sleeping bags!), arriving in at the port town of Split, hopping a southbound bus to Makarska and riding the final stretch with our landlord’s brother and father who were kind enough to pick us up at the station and look past our road worn appearance.
The end of the 24 hour travel session found us collapsed in a heap in our new little Croatian apartment, just steps away from the water in the sleepy 200-person town of Drasnice. The really amazing bit? Clothespins, chandelier, kitchen for cooking from scratch, wifi, blazing sunsets, and a pub/cafe directly down the flight of concrete stairs: eighteen euros a night during the quiet months.
The trick to finding discount stays in coastal Croatian cities: visit before tourist season kicks in and stay put for an extended period of time.
Our late spring stay: perfectly timed. Tony, Meg, Ted and I were the only four tourists most days, and the others who visited were a handful of Eastern European families bringing their kids to the coastline for a little sunny play. I’d imagine the scene changes entirely when the calm town swells from 200 to 2,000 during high summer, but in the meantime, we found a slice of peace and calm.
The town’s central church bell clanged at all hours: morning, midday, and sunset, and other random moments, too. We never got to the bottom of the schedule or found the culprit with the bell rope, but the oddly cadenced rhythm set the tone for the passing of time: a little off kilter, a bit different from day to day, but comfortingly calm.
Sidenote: Plant geek tidbit. The Biokovo Mountain Range in the background of the picture above is none other than the place where Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’ was discovered. Turns out the evergreen species is the naturally occurring hybrid between G. dalmaticum (Dalmatia…get it?) and G. macrorrhizum… I labeled that little mat-forming groundcover countless times on planting plans when working at home in Oregon and always wondered where the name “Biokovo” originated. Now I know!
Wandering the rural streets leading up the hill and out of town, we came across little terraced gardens springing up all along western facing slopes. Hand-made, hand-tended. Our landlord’s mother even treated us to her homegrown greens a time or two.
How beautiful to see food growing with purpose, gathering life from the soil, and offering nourishment to those willing to tend the land.
The sweetest discovery in Drasnice was the glimpse of the artist’s studio perched atop the hill, overlooking the Adriatic and its Croatian islands, where palettes and paint bloomed like flowers in front of the closed shop building.
Yes, ask me now about travel in Croatia. Ask me about this little country surrounded by Slovenia, Hungary, Serbia, Bosnia, and Montenegro and about its charming seaside towns. Ask me about spending time in Dalmatia and sitting to watch the sunset on this spare and simple coastline.
Ask me, and I’ll tell you: studying in junior high geography doesn’t hold a candle to experiencing a place in person, feeling rocky beach pebbles between toes and smelling sea air, eating meals of fresh caught fish, passing Croatian kunas to the grocery store clerk, feeling the proximity of neighboring countries during local bus rides, observing people’s daily lives and backyard gardens…
The education of travel builds a vivid mental map. Shapes and letters shift to impressions and feelings; memories transcend memorization.
On this journey, again, the world comes to life.
We found our Croatian apartment rental through Tony and Meg’s recommendation. The little hideaway was our eighth Airbnb stay since using the vacation rental service on a trip to Vancouver, British Columbia back in 2010. We’ve now rented in North America, South America, Western Europe, and Eastern Europe, and I’ve already been busy perusing listings in Africa and Asia… If you haven’t yet used Airbnb, check it out! It’s great for foreign vacations and local weekend getaways. P.S. If you use this link to peruse listings and book a trip, you’ll put $25.00 into our coffee fund!
Have you been to Croatia? What are your best memories?
Which map-bound countries lives only as shapes in your head? If you could visit one this summer, which would it be?