Croatia: an Adriatic escape

After experiencing the spectacular beauty of Slovenia, Croatia was the 2nd stop on our family road trip through the Balkans. The last time I was in Croatia was 8 years ago. I remember it quite fondly, and naturally, I had high hopes for this visit as well. While this time around, the trip was quite different (most likely due to no longer having the energy of a 23 year old) it was still a relaxing 9 days filled with beach time, a lot of family dinners, and plenty of relaxation…

Hvar, Dalmatia

Since we all fancied a bit of beach time, the eternally sunny Hvar island on the Dalmatian Cost was our destination of choice. While Hvar is known for being somewhat of a hedonistic party island, we sought it out instead for the gorgeous landscapes and very laid back seaside villages. We took the ferry over from the large port town of Split and settled in the Northern part of the island: the sleepy yet quaint village of Vbroska.

Vbroska Marina
The cute Vbroska Marina where we stayed

Vbroska

Compared to the tourist hub of Hvar town (more to come below) Vbroska feels much more authentic. What it lacks in souvenir shops and day clubs, it makes up for with a relaxed, family-friendly vibe: local kids running playing, families enjoying enjoying a stroll along the marina, or a choir of men performing off their boat in the evening. Our spacious Airbnb was right in town, and our host – Toni – was a very helpful guide. The time spent here was blissfully unplanned: we spent much of our time relaxing at home, going on jogs along the beach, and enjoying dinners next to the water.

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Every evening, men of Vbroska would gather on a boat and perform songs, drawing quite the crowd!

Secret beaches

Croatian beaches are definitely not the white sandy beaches you might be imagining. Since the country is rocky, the beaches themselves are rocky and jagged as well. This doesn’t mean they aren’t beautiful…just that investing in a pair of water shoes isn’t a bad idea! Since we didn’t want to share the beach with fellow vacationers, we frequently set out to discover the secret beaches of Hvar. Using Google Earth to seek out secluded coves on the island, we found a beautiful private beach somewhere between the towns of Ivan Dolac and Zavala. After a pretty treacherous hike that seemingly led to nowhere, we landed on this beauty (below). Truth be told: a paddle-boarding nudist had already discovered it before us, but he eventually left and then the beach was all ours to enjoy!

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Secret cove somewhere between the towns of Ivan Dolac and Zavala
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Getting there was a hike. I also caused a mini rockslide when I was making my way done. I was left mostly unscathed.

Hvar Town

The last time I was on this island, Hvar town was where I preferred to spend my time. Touted as the “Saint Tropez of the Adriatic Coast”, Hvar Town is certainly looks the part, with a large port playing host to many super-yachts, as well as waterfront clubs enjoyed by young vacationers (23-year-old me included!) This time around, we came to enjoy walking around the white-washed, Venetian-style town, have some lunch, and pick up a couple souvenirs. It’s a lovely town, but with a group of 8 adults and 2 small kids, we were glad to have chosen the smaller enclave of Vbroska for our time on the island.

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Hvar Town main square
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The famous Hvar Marina

Zlatni Rat, Brač

For my birthday, G surprised me with a visit to one of the Dalmatian Coast’s most famous beaches: Zlatni Rat on the neighboring island of Brač. This beach is sometimes referred to as the Golden Cape because it aggressively protrudes out into the ocean. To get there, we took a very rough and windy boat ride over from Hvar. I got completely soaked, and was happy to be back on dry land when we docked. Because it was a weekend, the beach was very crowded…so the idyllic cape from the image below was far from what we experienced.

Zlatni Rat is a kite boarding mecca, and on this day the windy conditions caused some of the boarders to go something like 20 feet in the air, which was super cool to watch! Unfortunately, not everyone benefitted from the wind: specifically a beached sailboat we discovered on the Eastern side of the cape. The wind and current were so strong that the crew was unable to get it back out to sea. Finally, a group of ~15 bystanders worked together to push it back out, and all of the beachgoers applauded!

Despite the crowds, I was really happy to spend my birthday there. The beach was so unique and definitely worth a visit.

Aerial view of Zlatni Rat beach on the island of Brac
An aerial view of Zlatni Rat beach on the island of Brac, c/o Adobe Stock Photo (since we don’t own a drone)

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Dubrovnik

After two weeks together, it was time to say goodbye to G’s family and take a bus down to Dubrovnik. Now, if Hvar is the “Saint Tropez of the Adriatic Coast”, then Dubrovnik would have to be the Disneyland.

Both due to it’s growing status as a cruise destination and Game of Thrones mania, visitors to this gorgeous town have been increasing in droves. So much that the city has seriously clamped down on people entering the old city walls. I can’t say we noticed these efforts as we were surrounded by massive tour groups, companies hawking GOT-themed tours, and a ridiculous amount of souvenir paraphernalia.

We tried our best to beat the crowds by exploring the small side streets, going on a kayak excursion to the nearby Lokrum island, and checking out the sights outside the city walls. But after 2 days, we were really excited to be moving on. Fortunately, Dubrovnik is incredibly photogenic, and we got some great photos of our short time there!

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The walls of Dubrovnik as seen from our morning jog
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Kayaking back to town after our excursion to Lokrum island
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We witnessed an intense seaside soccer game right along the city walls

Now that our trip through Croatia is over, it’s fun to reflect on our experience. Overall, the Dalmatian Coast was a great time, here’s our final review:

Things we loved:

  • The locals are super friendly and helpful people.
  • Easy to get around: there is a huge network of ferries that take you from the mainland to the islands. But if you have a car, make sure to arrive ~2 hours early even for the 8AM ferry (we learned this the hard way).
  • The August weather was perfect: sunny, but not too hot.
  • The laid-back vibe on the islands was a welcome contrast to the beaches of France and Italy.
  • The architectural beauty of Dubrovnik is really stunning – it’s no wonder they film scenes from Game of Thrones there.

Things that weren’t that great:

  • Dining out left a lot to be desired, and the restaurants were touristy no matter where we went. I can honestly say that the only dining out experience we considered a highlight was Nishta, a vegetarian restaurant in Dubrovnik.
  • Seafood – especially on Hvar – was hard to come by when cooking at home, which was weird for an island filled with fishing villages!
  • The crowds in Dubrovnik were relentless. We recommend going in the off season, and heard from locals that October is a really great time to go.
  • The public beaches are not great. In addition to being rocky, we found some floating poop in the water at the kid-friendly beach one day, ew.
  • Confusing traffic laws. I got my first-ever international traffic ticket on our first day in Croatia: apparently unless you’re passing, you’re not allowed to drive in the left lane on the freeway!?
  • Too dry. This is clearly a matter of personal preference, but the Croatian coastline is not very lush, which was a hard adjustment coming from green Slovenia.

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