By Jackie Humphries Smith
IT WAS AS IF DIAMONDS WERE DANCING…
across the surface of the sea that August Sunday. From our location just off the coast of Croatia, the Adriatic Sea was nothing short of dazzling in the afternoon sunlight. Passing sail boats, ferries, windsurfers and paddle boarders provided a maritime matinee that we watched from the pool deck of our 112-passenger yacht. It was a memorable introduction to this northernmost arm of the Mediterranean Sea.
A TRAVELER’S AMUSE-BOUCHE
We’d set sail from Dubrovnik, on the southernmost tip of Croatia, on a cruise to Venice, Italy to sample the culture and cuisine to be found along this ages-old waterway. A week-long journey would allow us an amuse-bouche-sized taste of the islands and mainland ports we would visit. But just as the culinary amuse-bouche is designed to awaken the palate preparing it for the more substantial meal to come, this cruise’s taster-sized portions would prepare us for future return visits when we’d partake of larger servings of favorite places.
THE ADRIATIC SEA
The Adriatic Sea, at 800 kilometers (about 500 miles) in length and an average width of 160 Kilometers (99 miles), separates the Italian Peninsula from the Balkans. It has played an important role through the centuries in the development of Mediterranean Europe. It is home to more than 1,000 islands and islets, with the majority located in Croatia, one of the six countries bordering this sea. The others are Italy, Albania, Montenegro, Slovenia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
While Dubrovnik is known as ‘the Pearl of the Adriatic’, the islands of Croatia may well be the gemstones of this sea. We were repeatedly struck by how much of the area’s history remains visible, open to the elements, and accessible to visitors. We literally stepped into history as we entered Dubrovnik’s old town through portals in the ancient stone walls that surround the city; defensive walls that were first built in the 9th century and fortified in later centuries.
A stroll around the city atop these walls provides unforgettable views of the sea and the city. In our next port of call we joined overflow Sunday morning worshippers outside St. Mark’s Cathedral. Built of local limestone and completed in the 15th century, this Gothic-Renaissance-style building is the centerpiece of Korcula island’s old town. The following day, on the island of Hvar, and in the town of the same name, we escaped tourist crowds by visiting the Franciscan Monastery Museum and viewed The Last Supper, a wall-sized painting by Venetian artist Matteo Ingoli, dating back to the early 17th century. The next morning, we found ourselves outside the 16th century Venetian Castle (Komuna), the centerpiece of the harbor in Komiza town on the island of Vis.
Our time travel back into history continued in mainland Croatian ports of call, Sibenik and Rovinj. Construction began in 1431 and was completed a century later, on the towering St. James Cathedral in Sibenik, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is said to be the world’s largest church built completely of stone without brick or wooden supports. The old town of Rovinj – considered one of the Mediterranean’s last true fishing ports – offered a treasure chest of history as we followed its maze of narrow twisting, turning cobbled streets, the surface of the stones made slick from centuries of use.
A STOP IN SLOVENIA
Koper, also known by its Italian name Capodistria, the fifth largest Slovenian city, is but five kilometers (3.1 miles) from the Italian border. We sipped cappuccinos outside a modern restaurant on the side of Titov Trg, or Tito Square, the vibrant hub of Koper’s old town. The square is bordered by the Venetian Gothic 15th century Praetorian Palace and Loggia, the 12th century Carmine Rotunda Church and the Cathedral of St. Nazarius with its 14th century tower.
Istria is considered Croatia’s truffle capital and both black and white truffles proliferate municipal market displays. While Slovenia also offers white and black truffles, it has been known for centuries for its sea salt production. Hvar, Croatia is home to the country’s lavender fields and the lavender makes up the largest selection of tourist gifts.
A TASTE OF THE ADRIATIC
In each port we searched out public markets, selling locally grown produce and fresh caught fish. Then we’d visit wine and specialty product shops. Croatia is one of the oldest wine producing regions in the world. Today it has more than 300 defined wine regions, 66 designated appellations and more than 130 indigenous grape varietals. Slovenia’s 28,000 wineries produce some 80 – 90 million liters annually.
AND THEN CAME VENICE
After our week-long introduction to the architectural, cultural, and historical influences of the Venetians along the Adriatic, it seemed fitting to end the cruise in that island city at the northwestern tip of the Adriatic. In the quiet of the early morning as we entered Venice, sailing up the Grand Canal, past the famous landmarks — St. Mark’s Square and Doge’s Palace – as well as the not-so-famous but charming buildings along this scenic waterway we can understand why it is still considered one of the greatest seaports on the Adriatic.
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