We were SO excited to hit the road for the kids’ fall break to the much anticipated Croatia! Our trip consisted of north-central Dalmatia, which means we will just have to return for a northern-Istrian coast trip and a southern-Dubrovnik area trip someday as well! Croatia is LONG – over 1,100 miles – so it takes longer than a week to do it justice! Still, we had an amazing time and wet our whistles just enough to be very excited about returning next year!
We chose this time of year to avoid the crowds, and that is the best part about the whole trip. Every restaurant, beach, and road was pretty much all to ourselves. We had such a good time as a family exploring, and we didn’t worry about the stressors in crowds (losing a kid? Misbehaving children?) so we could just relax! The other perk was that the weather was still decent for enjoying the coast. We Mainers can handle just about any type of weather, so while Maine was enjoying its first snow storm, we were swimming and touring around in comfortable 65-70º days! We all swam every day we found a beach, and got plenty of sunshine! People may have looked at us funny sometimes in our flip flops and shorts (this time of year many people wear puffer jackets and boots regardless of the temps!) but we didn’t care!
Day 1 – Papa to Starigrad
Our original plan was to hit up two national parks on the way to the coast of Croatia and on the way home. The weather had other ideas, so we decided to nix those plans (it pays to be flexible!) and head straight to our first overnight spot, Starigrad! This is a cute tiny town nestled in the inlets on the coast of Croatia. It was almost completely deserted as we arrived, and the wind was SO strong you could lean into it and it would support our bodies! Willow was blown over a few times but it was fun to play in what felt like an upright wind tunnel! It was windy, but warm.
We found a tiny little beach that was protected, and the kids played for a while in the greenish blue waters. Most beaches in Croatia are pebble beaches, so there is never a shortage of rocks to stack, collect, or throw!
From there we walked around the town a bit, played on a playground and found a nice place (all to ourselves!) to eat dinner and watch the sunset. It was a lovely day in Starigrad!
Day 2 – Starigrad to Split
Day two took us on an exploratory road trip from Starigrad to Split, one of the more popular destinations in Croatia. We traveled south by way of Šibenik, which was a recommendation from local friends. We were glad to explore the lovely town of Šibenik, and realized it was also a destination for cruise ships to port. It was buzzing compared to Starigrad! We headed straight up to the castle to learn about the history of the area, and then made our way down to the port to park and walk around more. We ended up visiting two fortresses (for the price of one!) and then had a lovely pizza lunch and gelato on the water.
From Šibenik we made our way further south past some of the most beautiful little coastal beaches we have seen. They all looked like this:
Dragon’s Eye Lake was our next stop. It is a very small salt water lake that was formed when a cave collapsed during the most recent ice age. As its surrounded entirely by cliffs, you have to either jump off a cliff to get into the water or climb down the cliffs to enter. We did both! It is actually more picturesque and interesting to see than to actually swim in. Its located right behind a very nice marina in Primošten.
After a little dip, we headed further south to Split. We checked into our apartment at the Adriatic Queen Villa and decided to take a little walk down to the nearest pebble beach, Cox Bar Beach. The views from our apartment were gorgeous for sunsets and especially the sunrise! After a quick (chillier!) dip in the Adriatic, we worked our way into town to have sushi for dinner.
Day 3 – Split
We knew it would be a great day when we woke up to this…
After breakfast in the apartment of avocado toast (it was our go-to the entire vacation), we scored the absolute nicest uber driver ever to take us down into the old part of Split. We first explored Diocletian’s Palace and the highlight was climbing to the top of the St. Dominus Cathedral bell tower. What views! We had heard that parts of Game of Thrones were filmed in the underground of Diocletian’s Palace, so it was fun to walk around and envision where Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons were held during the Meereen scenes. The palace is one of the most well preserved and oldest Roman era fortresses, built in 305 AD.
After an a-la-carte lunch of bakery sandwiches, crepes and macarons, we headed back to our apartment to change and go for a walk to another beach. This time we wanted sand! So we went to Bacvice Super Public Bath. There we ran into the most lovely group of 4 young women who were acting students at Rutgers, studying abroad in London, and vacationing here in Split Croatia! The best part (besides their wonderful conversation and love of our children) was that one of the girls happened to know of our friend John Cariani through her work following and acting in his plays over the years. We had a great time chatting about that serendipitous connection and may just end up staying in touch. Small world! We ended the day with another positively gorgeous sunset from the tip of the peninsula of Split. What a day!
Day 4 – Split to Hvar
This was arguably our favorite day of the whole trip because we found TWO beaches – one that is quite remote that took some risky finagling to get to, and the other was more popular but picturesque. The kids LOVED exploring, climbing all over the rocks and formations, stacking, skipping and collecting rocks, swimming, and generally being wild little kids!
We started out by getting up early and getting on the Split-Hvar ferry with our van. It was a comfortable ride for around 2 hours. When we got to Hvar, we grabbed a few snacks and groceries at the store and made our way to this secret beach we learned about in our research. It was definitely worth the slow, 4km of rocky, dirt-road, cliff-side driving to get there! Once we parked, we hiked down a steep cliff and ended up at the most gorgeous beach I have ever seen. The weather was perfect, the water felt amazing, and we spent the entire afternoon there just soaking up the sun and sea!
Every single one of these photos from Bay Lučišća is my favorite. I can’t choose! So here they all are. Our favorite beach discover so far…
From Bay Lučišća, we went back towards Hvar town and stopped at Dubovica beach for another quick dip and more exploring!
After Dubovica, we went to our lovely apartment in Hvar town to relax, recoup, watch the sunset and then walk down to the town to grab dinner. Pizza again! The little town of Hvar is the quintessential Mediterranean seaside place that conjures thoughts of historic times and utter relaxation all in one. A friend described it on her visit there as the perfect combination of Rome and the Caribbean and I would concur! We happened to be there during the 150 year anniversary of tourism in Hvar, and there was a big celebration with a big concert, and the president of Croatia was there too! So we got to see him walk by us at dinner, surrounded by the media. It was interesting indeed! There was added security there because of his visit, but even with the festival it wasn’t really that busy. After another perfect Croatian sunset, dinner and delicious gelato, we walked back to our apartment singing John Denver and Queen songs!
Day 5 – Hvar
Our full day in Hvar consisted of a visit to the main fortress overlooking the town, and then a nice swim at the nearest beach to our apartment, Pokonji dol. No matter how many castles we have seen, they never seem to get old! And each beach has its own character.
Day 6 – Hvar to Zadar
Our last day with any sightseeing on the road consisted of a drive from Hvar (on the ferry to Split) to Zadar, Croatia, and then the following day from Zadar back to Pápa via Zagreb. Before we left the island of Hvar, on a tip from a friend we stopped into an abandoned town (definitely had a ghost-town feel!), Malo Grablje, that has a working “restaurant” called Konoba Stori Komin plunked right smack in the middle of it. It was the morning, and they’re only open in the evenings, so we missed our chance to eat there this time, but it looked like a very cool place to check out in the future! Of note: we discovered these spiral pastries with potato inside that are to DIE for. We ate them every single chance we got!
It was a long day, and we were pretty wiped out by the time we found ourselves in Zadar, but we did get to experience our last beautiful Croatian sunset and listen to the famed “sea organ” in Zadar that plays music as the waves activate the pipes. It was really cool! And VERY windy. The other landmark in Zadar is the “Salutations to the Sun” art instillation – a round light-up flooring by the sea that responds to your steps. Unfortunately it was under refurbishing (so often in these towns, we have found!) so we didn’t get to see it this time! Zadar was our least favorite stop, but we did really enjoy our Italian dinner at Canzona. The sunset gave us a proper send off!
This was an absolutely amazing trip – we feel so grateful to be seeing the world in this way! ‘Til next time, Croatia!