The Adriatic coast has been growing in popularity for travelers of all kinds over the past few years. Long thought to be a party destination for the young and hip, islands off the coast of Croatia offer more than just late-night discos (although you certainly can still find these bars if you want!). Croatia is a diverse country, and cruising along the coast will give you a great overview of Dalmatia - a place rich in ancient and modern history with a unique personality, cuisine and people.
Roughly 79 islands comprise the Dalmatian Coast, which runs from Rab in the north to Dubrovnik in the south. This is the southwestern portion of Croatia, which itself is shaped like the letter “C.” One feature that I was not anticipating was the incredible mountains running along the sea here: tall and ragged peaks loom just over the ancient port cities that dot the coast.
Dalmatia the region is named for the ancient people who settled here first – the Ancient Greek tribe of Illyrians. Evidence of their inhabitance can be found throughout the coast, but they were eventually replaced by the Romans and later the Croats – for whom the nation is now named. Many of the larger cities, like Split and Dubrovnik, date back to single-digit centuries. Yet, these cities also demonstrate how people continue to live uninterrupted for centuries and can offer contemporary amenities and experiences in the very same places. Any history buff will love to explore the ancient walls and structures still standing throughout these cities, while a foodie can find on-trend culinary arts.
Most of the small ship cruises in this region will begin and end in either Dubrovnik or Split, as these are the two of the four largest cities along the coast. Both are known best for their historic structures. In Split, you will wonder at the well-preserved Diocletian’s Palace – dating back to the 4th century AD! A guided city tour will orient you and bring you through the highlights. Finish the day on the promenade, watching passersby with a refreshing drink in hand. In Dubrovnik, the big attraction will be the UNESCO World Heritage site, the Old City, or Stari Grad. Covering a very smaller portion of the city overall, the Old City is enclosed by a wall, which I highly recommend walking the entire (approx.) 2 km in length. You will get not only great views of the city but also of the sea beyond. Here, you will find evidence of more modern history as well – Dubrovnik suffered great damage during the Croatia War for Independence in the 1990's, and some buildings have not been rebuilt yet.
A cruise along the coast is the perfect way to get a sense of Dalmatia - a special and seaward region. If you want to see more and get to the interior of the country, starting and ending your cruise in Split or Dubrovnik will not only offer a great opportunity to take a little more time to explore the metropolitan epicenters of Dalmatia but will also offer great access points for continued travels. Both have international airports, and Split is an excellent place to set out from if you venture to other parts of this beautiful and surprising place!