As we made our way from Plitvice Lakes National Parks, we found ourselves travelling in an enormous valley, with amazing peaks dominating the views in the horizon. I was truly taken aback, as my foolish mind had only thought about beaches and islands in Croatia, not these rather loft peaks. As I had feared, we had to cross that range to get back to the Dalmatian Coast!
It was dark when we arrived at our campsite for the night, so it wasn’t until early in the morning that I had realised that we’d actually spent the night next to something quite pretty. There was a small island in the calm waters of a large bay, and on this island stood a small, stout stone church. It’s been a while since I was woken by such radiant sunshine, and since it was a novelty, I got up to enjoy the sights – for a short period, then went back to bed. It was interesting reading about this small church. It was built by some fishermen that swore an oath that they would build a church if they survived the storm. They washed up ashore on this beach, and to their word they built this church. The bell is placed in the tower once a year, and a big festival of boats fill the bay, praying for safety of fishermen at sea.
It wasn’t far from our campsite to the town of Zadar, but after reading about it again in our guidebooks, we didn’t find a compelling reason to visit. Instead, we continued south towards Split, and enjoyed the views of rural Croatia under the roasting Mediterranean sunshine. Thankfully by following the coast as much as possible, we were able to avoid most of the hills, which still came as a surprise to me.
Just north of Split lay this tiny old city that occupied an even smaller island. The sun was shining, and temperatures were on the upper limits of comfort. It’s been some time since we’ve experienced the warmth of the sun on our skin. Even the annoyance of putting on sunscreen was a slight novelty. Having grown up under the oppressive Queensland sun, it’s such a nice novelty to have sun that doesn’t instantly burn my skin.
We crossed the small bridge into town, past hundreds of yachts, bobbing lazily under the warm, cloudless sky. It was idyllic, and we made our way into town with a relaxed, slightly excited mood.
We firstly made our way around the island, following the wide palm-lined footpath. At first glance, the town was beautiful, however, that lustre quickly faded as we realised there wasn’t much to see here in such a small little town, and it was also surprisingly busy!
We poked around the small cobbled lanes, and tried to get lost as best we could. They were pleasant enough, but before too long, we realised that we’d had enough and were ready to see other places before the sun set.
On the map, it wasn’t very far from where we were in Trogir to this dramatic hilltop fortress. However, it wasn’t so simple getting between these two places, and this combined with late afternoon traffic meant that we’d barely made it before sun set!
But, what a view it was! We were perched on a defensive rocky outcrop, with views of Split and the islands surrounding, with the inland seas glowing all the shades of crimson you could imagine. It was glorious.
We attempted to visit the fortress, however, it was 15-minutes before the gates closed for the evening, so we decided to enjoy the final glow of the day, and save our visit for tomorrow. Thankfully we were able to freely camp the night in the car park!
It was yet another stunning day, with hot clear skies, and sunshine that was the right mix of warmth, and not frying your skin. By the time we completed our usual morning routines, the car park was filling up, and there was a slow trickle of tourists coming to visit.
I would say that the majority of the tourists were like us, and this only came onto our RADAR due to it being a filming location of Game of Thrones. Some of the other tourists were clearly big fans, wearing t-shirts from different houses from the show. I enjoy the books/show, but I’m not ready for that level of commitment.
In case you haven’t been able to guess where this was in the show, that’s OK, even being here it wasn’t obvious at all for me. It was used as the base of the slave city of Meereen, though extensively modified in post-production with giant pyramids and more. I’m guessing that many of the fans that come here to experience a set from the show are also slightly at a loss pin-pointing where scenes were filmed, so thankfully they had a small exhibition set up, showing some of the scenes.
It seems that there has been decent boost to tourism here thanks to the filming location. The downside is the piles of what looks like temporary construction materials used during the filming still laying about, looking untidy and out of place.
So, Game of Thrones brought us here, but the amazing views, and the sturdy walls of the fortress kept us interested long after that initial novelty wore thin. It was a labyrinth, with paths that wound through narrow gaps, perilous edges, and dead ends. I loved it, and glad that we came to visit.
Once again, we weren’t sold on visiting Split. The main reason that we ended up visiting was to catch a ferry across to Hvar Island for a bit of relaxation, however, it turned out that the ferry was going to be €200 (return) for us to visit. I truly thought about it, doing the sums in my head, but in the end, I couldn’t quite justify it – Risa was a flat-out ‘No’ anyway. I realised that there were many other beautiful places along the coastline that we could visit and relax without having to pay such a premium. But, part of me will always wonder what Hvar Island is like – call it FOMO.
Since we were now in Split, the old town looked quite interesting, so we parked by the port, and went to go explore. It was a long walk through a near endless parade of market stalls selling all sorts of things that we had zero need for, from fake sunglasses, to t-shirts and other terribly tacky souvenirs. It got so dense that it became hard to see the city through these market stalls. At least they weren’t pushy, and were happy to either chat amongst themselves, or just sit and read something on their phone or newspaper.
The main attraction of the old town is something a little odd. There was a palace here in Roman times. Over some serious amount of time, inside the walls of this palace was turned into private abodes. It wasn’t that coherent, as some serious changes have taken place over time, but occasionally you’d get a glimpse of something that showed how it must have previously been a single enormous building – seeing it from the air helped!
The renovated bell tower was beautiful, as were some of the arched colonnades surrounding the area. But, apart from that, there wasn’t much for us to love about the town. It was lively, with both tourists and locals busy eating, drinking and shopping. I shouldn’t have been too surprised that we didn’t fall for Split, since we didn’t plan to visit anyway, but now that we were here, I felt like something was wrong with us for not loving this town.
For all our whinging about the cold, and anticipation of the warmth, now that we were actually here we were feeling a little drained and ready for some shade. It’s comical, really. At least it was warm enough to want to go swimming.
We’d gone shopping in preparation of a few days relaxing by the beach on Hvar Island, but, since I’d read the prices wrong (I didn’t realise the prices online were one-way), we opted to skip a trip off the mainland. I still wanted some time in the sun by the ocean here in Croatia, so we tried to scour the coast for somewhere relaxing to spend a day or two.
And that’s how we came across this caravan park! It’s no secret, with giant signs along the motorway, and hundreds of reviews by other satisfied campers. By pure chance, we’d arrived on the first day of the low season, which meant that it was a grand total of €14/night – including electricity! We found a park right down by the water, and it was only a 15-second walk to the beach – and somehow, I failed to take a single photo of the beach itself… just this aerial shot, with Gunter in the top left corner.
It was getting late in the afternoon, so as soon as we’d parked, we got changed for the beach, grabbed all the BBQ food that we planned to consume on Hvar, and wobbled our way down the steps to the pebbled beach. While the BBQ was grilling the huge selection of meat, we went for our first swim since Sardinia!
While I stared into the blue sky, enjoying the refreshing and buoyant waters, Risa turned her attention earthward, and noticed that there was an army of sea urchins below us. They terrify me, but they are delicacies in Japan, and Risa wasn’t shy about catching a couple and cracking them open for their sweet delicacies. They weren’t quite the delicacies that she’d hoped for however. I couldn’t help being somewhere between amazed and terrified at her catching this wild food.
And, all the while, the food was grilling on the BBQ, unattended… Thankfully Risa’s sense of smell is better than mine, and she realised that it was slowly carbonising and had the sense to save dinner by flipping it over. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t a complete disaster…
Following dinner I had one more quick swim, but the temperatures were rapidly dropping with the sun. We had some amazing grilled marshmallows (who’d have thought that grilling over a mild temperature source would work better than a raging campfire…), then made our way back to the van to binge on the first four episodes of the latest season of Game of Thrones.
At the time of check in, I didn’t really plan on spending two nights here, but after an amazing afternoon yesterday, it seemed madness to leave while the weather was this good – and with food still in our refrigerator.
And, the rest of the day was more of the same – rest, relaxation, BBQs on the beach, dipping into the ocean to cool off, and reading up on where to visit south of here. Days like today make me wonder why we didn’t just have six-months of this, instead of our constant movement to take in as many sights of Europe as is possible.
After yet another spectacular sunset, on a slightly cloudier evening, we retreated back to finish the second half of Season 7 of Game of Thrones – and that feeling that there will be another year to wait for new episodes.
I’m sure it’s not always sunny on the Dalmatian Coast, but it was starting to feel that way. It was hot and clear again this morning, and not knowing when our next opportunity would be to float in these amazing waters, we got in early for a quick dip, well before the temperatures would necessitate swimming.
We paid our €28, and waved good-bye to the oceans as we steadily climbed up over the mountain range into Bosnia and Herzegovina.