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story and images Frank Greco The Travel Guy
Imagine a country with almost 1,800 km of coastline, more than 1,185 islands nestled in a glistening blue sea with inland bursts of rolling hills that tower over the horizon. Croatia is located to the east of Italy, bordered by Slovenia to the north, Bosnia & Herzegovina to the south, Hungary and Serbia to the east and a playground called the Adriatic sea to the west.
Croatia is overshadowed by the larger tourist destinations, but once you visit you will be smitten. Who would ever think that this central European country makes a fantastic and unforgettable travel destination? Upon my arrival, I quickly learned how important Croatia has been to the world.
One of the most recognised men’s accessories, the neck tie was created in Croatia (by a woman no less) and the fountain and ball point pens were invented by a man named Penkala (ever wonder how the pen got its name?) The parachute, the airship that later became known as the Zeppelin, and national health insurance were also invented here.
One of the most picturesque and adorned cities is Dubrovnik (pronounced: Du-brov-nick) - specifically the old town. Monumental fortified walls measuring six metres thick at points surround the city and date back to the 10th century. For a small fee, tourists can climb to the top and walk around the 2 km stretch of wall that encircles Dubrovnik.
The views from the wall are simply amazing - like the old city streets, the buildings with red coloured roofs (many of which are centuries old), the dramatic drop-off and cliffside views down to the crashing water below. Inside, the old town takes one back to the middle ages. The main street is constructed of marble and gets very busy. Alleyways unfold their many specialty boutiques and restaurants. Tourists are everywhere - snapping pictures of the various churches, fountains and buildings.
For an exciting journey, take one of the local ferry ships departing from Dubrovnik’s port for a short sail to the Elaphite Islands (pronounced: El-a-fight), a group of 8 islands and 5 islets, but only three are inhabited (Kolocep, Lopud and Sipan). It seems that time has stood still on these islands. Walking around any one of the islands you will witness beautiful flowers and plants, very rejuvenating fresh smells, small cafés, very shy locals greeting visitors with a smile while going about their every day chores, nice beaches and fishermen jumping in knee deep water to catch octopus with their bare hands. If you stick around long enough, you will be given a taste of freshly grilled octopus. It tastes great.
Driving in Croatia is quite an experience. The main coast road is winding, hugs the coastline and weaves in, out and around every mountain along the way. The views on either side as you drive are phenomenal. Here I learned another important lesson: No matter how long you think your drive time will be, add at least an extra hour. The road is slow moving at times because of many hairpin turns that seem to sneak up on you and the long stretches of one lane road. About 60 km northwest of Dubrovnik are two small towns called Ston and Mali Ston.
These towns produce one of Croatia’s most popular resources - Ston salt. Both towns are surrounded and joined by a huge wall stretching about 6 km. This wall is reputed to be the second largest wall next to the Great Wall of China, and it looks very similar too. The expression of people, when they spot the wall, is one of amazement.
The wall was constructed to protect the salt mines from invasions. Today, Ston salt is known the world over. The walk up to the centre point of the wall is all uphill where a lookout tower awaits. Once at the top, have your camera ready because you get an unbelievable view of the area’s natural beauty with the saltpans in between beautiful lush mountains and striking, red roofed homes of the town below. This is a "must-see" locale.
An island that must be visited is Korcula (pronounced: Core-chew-la), part of the Dalmatian islands, north of Dubrovnik. Once on the island, locals will tell you of their native son, world famous explorer Marco Polo believed to be born in the 12th Century in the town named after the island, Korcula. Just to keep the record straight, Venice, Italy also claims that Marco Polo was born there, but neither has any real proof of this (no birth certificate exists).
So for now, both lay claim as his birthplace and can prove his family had homes in both locations. The Polo home is a now museum, the doors are very short, the rooms small and a climb up to the tower lookout provides a magnificent view of the harbour where the Polo family anchored their ships and kept an eye on their holdings.
The island of Korcula is one of the greenest islands in the Adriatic Sea and one of the most popular travel destinations in Croatia. The town of Korcula has truly kept its Medieval and Renaissance appearance. The tiny streets and buildings have retained their original glamour and structure and of course, the cafés and restaurants blend right in.
The town is also known for its long standing art and cultural traditions, especially the performances of the world famous Moreska sword dance. This dance dates back to the 12th Century and was very common throughout the Mediterranean.
Briefly, the dance follows the conflict between the “Red” King (actually referred to as the “White” King who is the good guy) versus the “Black” King and his soldiers (who are the bad guys). In short, the Black army captures the Red King’s fiancé. A battle starts which is re-enacted through the performance of seven difference dances.
The Black King is conquered and the fiancé is returned and they all live happily ever after (except for the Black King). The Moreska is a very colourful and entertaining drama/dance and, today, Korcula is the only place in the world where this dance is still performed. Regular ferry services from Dubrovnik or from various other coastal cities in Croatia will get you to Korcula.
Croatia can be described as the mother of Invention, a country of outstanding natural beauty with medieval charm, but no matter how it's described, Croatia is one of the best kept European secrets. GL
extraordinary view of the new city of Dubrovnik from the fortified
wall surrounding the old city. No matter where you turn, dramatic
visuals will take your breath away.
A view of the main street in historic Dubrovnik taken while strolling the surrounding fortification wall. The main street is made of marble. It's beautiful, but very slippery when wet.
The home of Marco Polo (or the Polo family) is located in the old city section of Korcula and is identifi ed by the large green ceramic plaque affixed next to the front door. The local tourism office holds regular tours.
A Beautiful harbour view of the west coast of Korcula where visitors can experience the dramatic vista created by the sky, land, seas and medieval walled city.
A local group performs the Moreska, a traditional sword dance and drama that dates back to the 12th and 13th century. Today, Korcula is the only place in the world where this dance is performed.
The local ferry at sunset is a treat to sail to the Elaphite Isles.