Croatia travel diary

Day One

Our journey begins as so many trips do with a bright and early start, assuming bright and early means 2:45am. So it wasn’t bright but it was damn sure early.

We were departing from London’s least favourite airport, shout out to Luton, for a 7:30 flight to Zadar. I’d like to say this bit was exciting but it was Easy Jet so…

It’s an easy 2 hour flight over and went pretty much without hitch, except for a small delay on the runway which threatened to put a dampener on proceedings but thankfully didn’t. We landed, collected our suitcases, and took a surprisingly short 3 minute walk to the car hire area just outside arrivals. We were due to pick up the worlds smallest car; the mighty and impressive, VW UP, but when offered a €35 upgrade to a Polo, we felt that it may make sense to have a car that actually fits a second passenger and possibly more than one bag!

Our first task in this new country with our ferocious steed was a surprisingly gentle 90 minute drive to our first destination; a small town just outside Split called Stobrec. We were staying in a beautiful apartment complex you can find here called the Ark Apartments, and having arrived a little earlier than planned (around 1:30), the owner came and collected our luggage, took us poolside and told us a little bit about the place. Sadly I can’t remember what he said as the view of the Adriatic was so distracting words felt a little pointless for the first few minutes.

Now because we were both dieting during this trip we knew that getting enough protein could prove difficult for us but this isn’t too hard to work around. We just needed to pop to a supermarket for some lean meat most days and made sure we packed a fair few protein bars in the luggage. As a result we thought we’d have a little walk around Stobrec, collect our rations and generally get our bearings.

Other than that, the main aim of our first day was simply to get here, relax, learn a few basic Croatian phrases and double check that our itinerary was solid and made sense for the coming days.

That was the plan but on our walk we discovered there wasn’t really a supermarket in Stobrec, there was a building that offered a glimpse of hope but that quickly turned out to be a butchers that offered a surprising amount of cheese. So instead we took advantage of the Adriatic beside us and enjoyed a great seafood lunch before heading back to our Apartment.

Once we’d checked in we did what any normal people who’ve arrived on a holiday do. We went for a jog. And in no way did during this jog did I take us down a road that led to nowhere, have to do a U-turn and hope Joey didn’t hit me on the way back. For the record I beat her but I’m pretty sure this was primarily motivated by fear for the safety of the back of my head.

I write that because I realise how odd and funny it is that one of the first things we did on a holiday was exercise. It may sound strange and it kind of is, but we’re both prepping and we needed to get more steps and activity into our day than we’d managed with all the travel. So even though we really fancied nothing more than laying down in the Sun or jumping straight into the pool, we knew we had to get some work in.

And to be honest the thought of jumping into a pool after the jog felt even more refreshing, so off we went. And sure enough that first dive in was pretty great. I mean the dive itself was definitely not, I’m pretty sure it was half a belly flop but the feeling of the cool water was great!

Then we took a good couple of hours to tan by the pool and stick our faces into a book or two. Holiday reading is one of those great simple joys that for one reason or another I just don’t really do when not on holiday. And you know what, on reflection, I don’t feel the need to change that, I’m quite happy keeping the fiction for lounging in the Sun.

In the evening we took our ferocious Polo for a little drive to a supermarket (not butchers) that we’d seen just outside nearby Split and stocked up. Packets of ham, tins of tuna, protein shakes, fruit and rice cakes were our chosen easy to carry travel staples that allowed us to keep moving forwards while away.

As a side note when travelling and dieting, look for places to stay that have a fridge at the very least. If you’re looking to stay in shape it’s about looking ahead and planning for events. Fail to prepare and all that.

After our little shop we popped back into town and ate Dinner right next to Stobrec harbour. We kept things pretty simple food wise for the whole trip – fresh fish or meat with salad and veggies. I tended to pop a little more carbohydrate because my caloric needs are greater than Joanne’s.

Day 2

This was the day I was looking forwards to the most as it involved speedboats, caves, sunshine, swimming, snorkelling and adventure.

We had booked an excursion you can find here called the Blue Cave & Six Island Tour that started from the port of Split.

So at 8am we rocked up to Split harbour and jumped into our little group of around 10 people and set off travelling at high (read awesome) speed in a larger convoy of speedboats towards the first stop, the Blue Cave. Interestingly as we left the harbour our captain thought the moment would be improved with the addition of the Titanic soundtrack, and so we spent the first 5 minutes crashing through waves to Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On. This was followed by a full run through of her greatest hits. It is to our great shame that I think we knew every song!

Anyway the first part of the boat trip is longer than you may think and took about an hour and a half. If you suffer with bad seasickness this may not be the trip for you, but if you want to feel like James Bond or Xena Warrior Princess (if she had a speedboat) then it most definitely is.

And so we arrived at the island that is home to the Blue Cave. You will end up relaxing here for around 30-60 minutes while your guide picks up your tickets. There is a bar here, plenty of ice cream, coffee and snacks. There’s toilets and quite a nice view so after the hour on the boat it’s quite a enjoyable little break.

The reason for the queuing is because you have to take a much smaller boat into the cave itself. It’s a quick 2 minute trip to the entrance, and because I’m a child I enjoyed the fact it’s so small that everyone on the boat has to duck right down to fit through.

The Blue Grotto or Modra Spilja, if you fancy trying to say that is always rated as one of the best natural beauty spots in the Adriatic and once inside you realise almost immediately why, the water glows an ethereal, other worldly blue that has to be seen to be believed. Originally a slightly crazy guy called Baron Eugen von Ransonet found it by swimming through an underwater passage in the late 1800’s. He later had an entrance built for boats to pass through so we could see it without having to swim through a crazy cave. Apparently the best time of day to see the colour is between 11-12 and for you fans of cave dimensions, it’s about 24 metres long, 10-12 metres deep and 15 metres high.

Honestly we loved this one, it genuinely makes you stop what you’re doing and pay attention, unless you’re a Make Up Fairy in which case you stop what you’re doing and think “What an incredible selfie opportunity”.

Back to the speedboat for a short trip that arrives at an isolated beach set within a collapsed cove, created by a large section of cliff falling off, leaving this remote paradise. There’s quite a few people here on excursions or on their private boats but the water is beautiful and if you’ve got some snorkelling gear with you, you can really explore the underwater world around the edges of the cliff faces. This was a short stop at around 30 minutes and I mainly spent it diving off our boat and generally trying to be a human dolphin. I regret nothing.

Sadly the next part of the trip called the Green Cave, wasn’t accessible and we weren’t really given a reason why. I don’t think either our guide or our boat skipper quite knew why. But it looked like the area had been sectioned off with some rope, which was a shame as if it was anything like the blue cave it would’ve been really memorable.

So instead of staying there we set off for about another 30 minutes to arrive at Carpe Diem Beach Bar, a small island apposite the town of Hvar. This place is awesome, at night it turns into a party that can only be reached by sea taxi’s that leave Hvar every 15 minutes. If you like your Moet flowing, this is the place to be. It’s beautifully laid out, and during the day at least has a very chilled vibe. The location is just spectacular and the food was great to. Jo had a Tuna tartare and I went for some fresh Sea Bream that was delicious, light and surprisingly well priced.

The final stop was to pop over to old town of Hvar. We had an hour and a half to explore the small streets of this iconic Croatian town. I have to say that of all the places we went to in Croatia, this might have been my favourite. We both agreed that we’d like to have spent a couple of days here to really get to know it and it will most definitely be on our to do list in the future.

The old fortress at the top makes for a great 30 minute hike with a heady view of the town and the islands below it. You can easily imagine that in its day it would have been quite the powerhouse. I imagined men having to carry a King up the winding steps towards the fortress. Of course that’s because I like to imagine Game Of Thrones at every given opportunity so that might just be me. Also the harbour here will make you feel poor, it features an incredible row of yachts that will remind you that some people have more money than God. I feel we should all befriend them so we can go on their yachts. They really are amazing to look at (and dream of owning).

After Hvar, it’s an hours boat trip back to Split. The skipper really opened the boat up on the way back, sending our bodies bouncing around the boat, especially if you sat right up on the nose of the boat. Those of you who remember Joanne Dune Bashing in Dubai may well remember that she gets a little queasy at times and so this boat ride started pushing the limits of her stomach. But being the stubborn Fairy that she is, she gritted her teeth and stuck it out. I think I even saw her grinning and enjoying it at times.

Once back to Split, we got our land legs underneath us and walked back to the fearsome Polo, jumped in and set off to our next location; the town of Bol on the island of Brac.

Having just spent the day on a boat, we thought “Sure, let’s get another one”, this time a car ferry for 50 minutes from Split to Brac. It costs around €10 each way and goes pretty much every hour. A 45 minute winding drive followed that took us over the top and around the cliffs of the island of Brac towards our accommodation for our time in Bol, the beautiful Villa Nera.

Day 3

Our first full day in Bol, home of the famous Zlatni Rat beach. Now in English this doesn’t sound great but it translates to the Golden Horn, which sounds better, if a little randy.  Thankfully this horn happily lives up to the name.

A pointed tip of a beach the likes of which I promise you’ve never seen before. My inner geek wanted to know how it’s made because…reasons.

So it’s actually made up from pebbles that have fallen down from the Vidova Gora (the highest peak in all the Adriatic islands) and the currents have then shaped into this tongue like beach. It’s shape constantly changes depending on said currents, which apparently sometimes even curl it completely round and attach it back to the shoreline creating a small lake in the middle. This is cool and if you disagree you’re probably related to Bin Laden.

The only downside to the beach is that, as suggested above, it’s stoney. And because we have pathetic soft western feet, we longed for the sand between our toes. But putting that aside, it’s a pretty busy beach with plenty of activities and vendors along the shoreline. You can get almost anything down here, from protein shakes (damn right) to goggles (got those too) and even inflatable swans (should you wish to hire a locker for the day).

The water sports are an obvious choice – it’s actually a famous windsurfing spot, seriously  there will be more windsurfers than you’ve ever seen! Whether you want to jet-ski, banana boat, parasail, tube behind a speedboat, stand up paddle-board, go dolphin watching or even submarine like a young James Cameron, there isn’t a water sport here that you can’t do. Except for the notable exception of the most famous one of all of them – surfing! The winds here make the windsurfing renowned but it doesn’t have the waves to surf.

Anyway, back to us – this was where we found the gym for our trip, within the Blue Sun Hotel Elephusa. It was surprisingly well kitted out, if you consider that most hotel gyms consist of a Swiss Ball and a vague smell of damp, this one was positively awesome. I even got to Incline Bench. The free weights went up to 22kg DB’s, a BB and plates and a bunch of standard gym machines. In other words, more than enough for us to get a solid whole body work out in. One of the most difficult things about traveling if you’re dieting or training for something is finding somewhere to continue your workouts. Planning ahead and looking for places with decent gyms is a great and important strategy for this.

As always we found some time to lay by the pool, tan, swim and read. We also discovered that the room fridge here wasn’t as up to the task as the previous ones seeing as the yoghurt into cheese! However this was more than made up for when we discovered that they have some awesome Ice-creams – the Raspberry Panna-Cotta Magnum (well like a magnum anyway) I found for only 223 calories kicked ass. Joey found a Fruit Pastille (style) lolly that was only 54 calories but far creamier than the Fruit Pastille lolly. I may also have eaten one of those, and by one I mean 3. I regret nothing.

Dinner at the end of Day 3 was in a place called Vendetta right in the harbour of Bol. The food here was incredible, some of the best we’ve had while travelling in Europe. An extensive fresh menu full of character and flavour without being too heavy. The location is just perfect for this venue too. Though my inner child kept imagining Romans, Pirates and ner-do-wells that must’ve come aboard places like this through the years on some dangerous and important mission. Of course that may just be me and the fact I want to carry a sword, a plan that is made entirely redundant by the fact that I have less skill than a one-eyed blind man with no legs and constant diarrhoea, and as a result would be skewered like a cheap kebab by any of these imaginary pirate men.

Day 4

The following days in Bol were much the same as the first; lots of incredible healthy, fresh food, lots of great weather, lots of walking and most importantly, lots of fun.

When travelling with someone you quickly learn to adjust to each others moods and needs. Even though we both love to do things, I enjoy a little more quiet time than Joey. These are things you only learn when spending lots of time with someone and, other than the old squabble (she thought I didn’t want to spend time with her, not true I was just balls deep into Jon Snow’s latest adventure) we travel really well together. Travelling is one of those things that forces you to learn a great deal about each other really quickly. Joanne has now learnt that I can get a little stressed and short when I’m running late for something for example…sorry about that there!

This day also contained something I’d only ever seen before in films or TV shows. There was a fire in the woodland shrub less than a mile from the Zlatni Rat beach that took two planes and about an hour to control. The smoke blew down across the town of Bol and you could taste it in the air. It was thick, dusty and everywhere. The best part was watching the way it was dealt with. The two planes flew down just above the waves, scooped up an enormous amount of water, circled back around to the fire and dropped it onto and just ahead of the fire before returning back to the sea, refilling and going again and again. This all happened right above us and my inner nerd loved it. Seeing the control the pilots had over those planes was so cool. I could go off on a tangent here about imagining being James Bond on a secret MI6 mission to thwart the Ruskies but well, I’ll let you fill that one in.

The other highlight of the day was Tubing. For about €10 each you can jump on the back of a bunch of different inflatable tubes (I don’t know why they’re called this as they don’t really look like a tube to me) while you’re towed behind a speedboat whose driver takes it as a personal challenge to send you to a watery grave. I’m pretty sure I lost an eye to the saltwater and that Joanne was upside down! Our tube involved us laying on our front and holding on to a couple of handles to stay attached to our watery steed. By the end my forearms had a pump that would have made Popeye jealous. Both of us thought it was great fun and would really happily do it again. Just remember to be prepared for salt water filled eyeballs, you can make a game of trying to be heard while going around. Trust me this is more challenging than it should be.

Oh, and for the record he totally didn’t get us off and send us to a watery grave so I guess you could say we’re basically heroes.

Day 5

Our final morning in Bol meant our last chance for a decent workout before coming home so we got up early, headed down and lightly smashed a 45 minute whole body workout before breakfast.

I really wanted to hike the Vidova Gora, the highest point in the Adriatic islands, but we were running late and the hike there and back is around 6 hours, so we opted to be lazy and pathetic and drove it instead. It’s an entirely different route but I’d still say it’s worth it as the view is incredible. However, I think one of the things that makes a view special is the work you put into achieving it. It just doesn’t mean as much if you don’t have to work for it. The satisfaction of an incredible view is half in the reflection of the conquest, and driving up in a Polo doesn’t feel very Veni, Vidi, Vici does it!?

Then we headed back to the car ferry back to take us to Split for our penultimate night. Our host came and met us at the car ferry to take us to our apartment. We were staying in the old town and it’s difficult to park around so they arranged a guy to stand in an open space for 20 minutes while we turned up!

It needs to be said that every single one of the people we dealt with for any of our accommodation really went out of their way to make sure we were looked after, and this is just one example of that and the generally friendly nature of Croatians. Except for the people in the post office stands – they were asshats. But the rest were courteous, friendly, funny and helpful.

We parked up, met our guy and wheeled our cases down the narrow cobbled roads towards our apartment. Once we’d dropped our luggage we set off for a little explore of the old town of Split, in particular the Diocletian Palace. It dates back to the emperor Diocletian in the 4th century and includes a whole raft of different buildings including a pretty impressive family palace that dated back to the 13th century, had a Gothic remodel in the 15th century and was then finally restored in the 21st. Inside most of these buildings are shops, streets, people and a sense that, if you shut your eyes and reopened them, you just might go back in time and experience something very different.

Now in the old town you can’t fail to notice a rather large bell tower dominating the surrounding harbour, offering a potentially great view of the city. So of course, continuing with our sense of conquest we scrambled up it, squeezed through narrow gaps, climbed up more steps, dodged tourists and the odd crying child and eventually got to the top, looking out over the harbour, the city and the surrounding countryside. It’s a good view but having been spoilt earlier in the day with the Vidova Gora this wasn’t as great as I’d hoped. The main downside to this otherwise pretty cool place was the number of people up here. It made it difficult to take footage and frankly that broke a bloggers heart (a vacuous complaint).

So back to the apartment we went and as we were running seriously low on energy at this point and needed supplies we popped into our now familiar ‘Tommy’s’ supermarket, and of course grabbed more fruit, packed meat, protein shakes and a couple of ice creams. Damn right it was the Panna Cotta one. We knew the following day was going to be a long one and so we made sure we had the right supplies with us.

A quick nap later (in the apartment not the supermarket) we got ready for dinner. I googled the best places to eat in Split and a place called Dvor kept coming up, so off we trotted (trusting Trip Advisor) as it was only a 20 minute walk away.

As we walked however the City seemed to go from beautiful old limestone bricks to slightly shit newsagent quite quickly. We persevered nonetheless, but sadly the place we wanted to go for dinner was full. This only other place we could see nearby had also turned up a few times and so we tried our luck at Konoba Nevera. We went in and happily had some really great seafood, the inside was reminiscent of a rustic harbour serving sailors and sharing tales of the high seas. That said the location we had to walk to to get here left us feeling that we should have gone in the other direction and spent more time in the Old Town. If there is one thing we would stress to you about our time in Split it’s that if we were we to do it again, we would go in that direction!

Day 6

Another early morning start saw us leave Split and drive an hour and a half up to Zadar ahead of one of the highlights of our trip; an excursion to Plitvice National Park.

As another side note – the guy looking after the apartment we had for the night was super helpful, he even sent us pictures of the route we came in on and where to go to find free parking for the day because we were arriving earlier.

We then took a brisk 10 minute walk from the car to the meeting point for one of Joey’s least favourite parts of anything ever – a bus ride! Despite everything I learned in school about the cool kids sitting at the back of the bus, we sat literally on the front seats, to the point that we could only have been closer if Joanne decided to drive the bus. Yes, you may judge us for that. It’s about a 90 minute ride from Zadar to Plitvice which was spent being regaled with tales that varied from occasionally interesting to the slightly funny silence of a failed joke. Sadly it was more of the latter than the former.

Our tour guide was pleasant enough but insisted the group called her “The Mother”, I found this weird considering she was only in her late 20’s and that most of the group we were with would have been 30+ but hey ho. I thought perhaps it’s because it’s a word that is easily understood in English and when you’re talking to a variety of nationalities from Croatia to Japan that may be useful. Well, almost as useful as a first name. So unless her first name was Xhldfjkslt, then I’m still not sure The Mother makes sense. As a result of this Joanne decided to ignore her for the entire trip! And other than the odd bit of information, such as Milka chocolate being named after a Croatian Opera singer, I don’t think that massively diminished the tour.

I personally really like a tour guide as I love hearing the stories that make up the history of a place but if we were to do this again, I’d do some more research and try to find a tour provider that has lots of kick ass reviews. Or look towards a private guide, which though more expensive, I think gets you more out of the experience.

As for Plitvice itself, it’s worth every moment of the journey. Quite unlike anywhere we’ve ever seen, it’s countless streams congregate into a dancing water world that pictures don’t quite describe. The waterfalls are everywhere and depending on the time of year there can be more than a thousand ranging from tiny dribbling brooks to gushing marauding white water.

Now we said plenty about the colour of the Adriatic. But honestly the lakes here are basically just showing off. There are 16 that are called the upper and lower lakes and they range in colour from shimmering blue to deep green and a whole bunch of nuanced  variations of those. Apparently this is due to the mineral content of the water, the limestone bed and the angle of the sunlight. There’s a variety of different walks and hikes you can take depending on whether you’ve gone by yourself or gone with a tour. So whether you want a short 3 hour hike or an all day 10 hour wander, there’s something here to appease you.

Our tour was about 4 hours long and involved a couple of boat trips across the main lower lake, a lunch break and lots of little stops to take photos. We were in the park itself for about 6 hours and it did pass pretty quickly.

The only complaint I can really have about the place is that it can get pretty busy. Apparently around 15,000 people pass through here each day in the height of summer. It seemed pretty busy to us when we were there and we were told that there was only around 8000 that day. When you also consider that most of the walking is done on these narrow winding wooden walkways that traverse the lakeside, it can get a little squashed.

Oh, and you’re not allowed to swim in the lakes as the suncream and bacteria we have on our skin would pollute the water and kill a lot of the fish, which I suppose is fair, if a little disappointing. Well I mean you can go in but there’s a €1000 fine if you do. So if you’ve got what can only be described as “Fuck You” money then it’d make one hell of a photo!

All in all, this shouldn’t be missed if you’re anywhere near the place, it really is pristinely kept and visually stunning.

On the drive back we stopped at a restaurant that has a couple of pet bears outside. The story and circumstances behind how it ended up with two bears left us a little confused with how we felt about it, so I’ll just tell the story we were told and let you make your mind up.

One night while driving along some of the winding roads that meander through Plitvice National Park, a car hit and killed a Bear crossing the road. This isn’t all that uncommon considering the sheer volume of wildlife in the area. Sadly though, this bear had a couple of cubs with her, and though she died they had managed to avoid being hit. The Croatian government at the time didn’t have the money or resources to care for these bears and they were simply too young to be left to survive in the wild, there’s no way they would have survived without their mother.

It looked pretty hopeless for these bears, but as luck would have it a slightly eccentric restaurant owner nearby happened to have a lot of cash and a big love of animals. So he took these cubs in, made an enclosure for them and fed and nursed them to maturity before letting them go back into the wild a few years later.

Or at least that was the plan. They came back within 48 hours of release and hung around the restaurant pilfering food and sleeping outside their old home. They tried to chase them off but they kept coming back. And so when it came hibernation time they did so at the restaurant. The owner thought, next time we’ll release them further away. Which they did, and as I’m sure you’ve guessed by now they came back, again.

We were told that they’d tried to release them a fair few times now and that they just kept on coming back. So I guess they must be quite happy where they are. There is free food after all.

With that said, when you look at the pen they have, it isn’t the prettiest nor the largest. Perhaps the size of a 5-a-side football pitch above ground with the same size again underneath the pen for them to roam around in.

They want for nothing but we couldn’t help but think it felt small and a little wrong at the same time. Now I think this thought must be tempered by the fact that neither of us know anything about bears or how they live so it’s not really our place to judge one way or the other.

But either way, bears are awesome and it was cool to see them up close, though the main thought I had was, damn you could rip my face off.

It was then back to Zadar for, sadly, our final night in Croatia.

Zadar is home to what Alfred Hitchcock described as the best sunset he had ever seen, and that seems pretty high praise. We were told that it happens at around 8:30, and the best place to see it is by the Greetings To The Sun installation and the Sea Organ, both were happily less than a 5 minute walk from our harbour-side apartment.

All things were moving smoothly but at this point nature thought otherwise and served us up a cloudy sky for the first time since we landed here. However it did make up for it by turning that cloudy sky into a giant lightning storm that included the loudest thunder either of us had ever heard. It was so loud I actually thought someone had pissed on Zeus’ cornflakes. So sadly, we cannot tell you whether the sunset claim lives up to its billing, but we can say that the thunder storm was awesome! According to our waiter they have around 4 of those a year in the summer months.

We had dinner in a beautiful restaurant and decided this meal would be the one of the whole holiday where we could go over our calories and simply enjoy it. We didn’t drink but we did go for the full 3 courses of glory. We shared 3 starters simply because we’d heard about some famous cheese from the island of Pag. Why world famous I hear you ask? Well, apparently the shrubbery the sheep eat isn’t grass but herbs, which gives the cheese a rich, herb based flavour.

I must also pay tribute to the recommendation of a fig and marscapone based dessert that I don’t think I can describe effectively but made the decision to have dessert here and not get gelato elsewhere, totally worthwhile.

Our apartment here was my favourite outside of Villa Nera, the location, style and comfort was great and our contact really went the extra mile to make us feel at home. So finally, we packed up our stuff, clambered into bed and reflected on what was a truly wonderful holiday.

Croatia is a beautiful destination that we can’t wait to go back to, the whole of the Dalmatian Coast is stunning with the best Sea either of us have ever seen, and that is pretty high praise. The people are friendly, the price is reasonable and the weather is phenomenal. Put all that together and consider that it’s only a two and half hour flight away and you’ve got one of the best destinations in Europe that isn’t yet as appreciated as it’s more famous counterparts Italy and Spain. All in all this holiday really surpassed expectations and we can’t recommend enough that you go. Right now. Seriously, go and book it. We’ll wait. Just tell us when you do!