Journalist Debbie Selinsky sailed on a seven-day "Greece & Dalmatian Delights” cruise aboard Seabourn Odyssey. In this post, she shares her experience from her visits to Dubrovnik and Hvar, Croatia, on the Dalmatian Coast.
As the Seabourn Odyssey continues her journey from Athens to Venice, we were treated to two ports in Croatia, a country that combines the charm of Greece and the architecture of Italy. Since the end of the Yugoslav civil war in the early 1990s, Croatia has re-established its tourism offerings and become the brightest star on Mediterranean cruise itineraries. A member of the European Union since 2013 and home to eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the country is known for its friendly natives and its stunning views. (Seabourn has partnered with UNESCO to create excursions that feature the nonprofit organization's World Heritage sites.)
Passengers excited to sail along the Dalmatian Coast in smaller vessels and to take a cable car ride overlooking beautiful medieval walled city of Dubrovnik were disappointed because the rainy, windy weather made both activities impossible to do. But few who wandered through the Old Town, with its limestone buildings and narrow alleyways, could complain; historical buildings included a rector's palace, two monasteries and one of Europe's oldest pharmacies (1317).
And hip young guys from the ship -- who knew that the first ties originated in Croatia when Croat mercenaries who served in Louis XIV's army became fashionable among the French troops -- sought out the famous tie shops to add a colorful silk accessory to their wardrobe, while women admired handmade lace and crocheted goods and smelled tiny bags of rich lavender gathered in Croatia.
Despite the rain, ambitious guests walked along the top of the huge wall surrounding the city, while others enjoyed Croatia's distinctive pizza. Some drove up into the hills surrounding the city to enjoy local wines and cuisine and to see how local people live.
An overview of the city from the hilltops. Photo by Debbie Selinsky.
A view of the intricate alleyways throughout the Old Town. Photo by Debbie Selinsky.
Young men singing and playing authentic Croatian folk music in a family-owned restaurant. Photo by Debbie Selinsky.
Our arrival in Hvar (pop. 11,000), considered by many to be the prettiest Dalmatian island, was a happy one since the island is also the country's sunniest island with the longest coastline. This day did not disappoint. The town of Hvar has medieval charm in abundance with its fields of lavender, colorful gardens and red roofed stone houses.
The Old Town, or Stari Gard, was founded as a lighthouse by the ancient Greeks and named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008. St. Stephen's Cathedral looks out on the square, and a 15th century Dominican monastery contains "Pieta," an original 16th century painting by famed Italian artist Tintoretto. Nearby, visitors to Hvar hiked down steep rocky terrain to find a spot on the pebbly beaches. And after trekking up, down and around cobblestone streets in Dubrovnik the day before, we were happy to learn that there are only two -- count them, two -- steps in Hvar.
The Croatian island of Hvar. Photo by Norma Thomas
At nearby Vrisnik, we stopped at the beautiful home of vintner and cafe owner Andro Grgcevic for some of his wine, grappe, prosciutto, cheese and bread. The family business also sells lavender, its own olive oil and wines.
Our tour ended with a drive up to the Venetian palace, which was actually a military fortress in the mid-16th century, for a mind-boggling view of Hvar and its coastline.
From Hvar, we sail to Ravenna, Italy, known for its beautiful Byzantine mosaics and as gateway to Bologna and Florence, before continuing to Venice for disembarkation.
This port-intensive cruise illustrates perfectly that the largest ports and best-known cities don't necessarily offer the greatest reward. Check out some of these smaller Mediterranean gems when you yearn for sunny skies, bluer-than-blue waters and history and nature at their best.
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