Latin and slavonic
Situated at the crossroads of the Mediterranean and Central Europe, Croatia is an ancient nation, although a relatively young independent country. It goes without saying that it came into being amidst much suffering but its horseshoe shape has been like a talisman for the passing traveller lucky enough to discover it by chance.
In its time, Roman, Byzantine, Venetian, peppered with Hungarian and Habsburg influences in the north, Croatia is a mosaic of
Latin and slavoniccultures whose cities are reminiscent of Venice, Vienna and Constantinople (Istanbul).
Folklore and gastronomy are also affected by this duo of cultures: it is quite common in Split to hear songs by Dalmatian sailors which are remarkably like the Corsican polyphonies. Here they cook with olive oil, the ham is similar to that of Parma and the sausages are easily as tasty as Hungarian salami, whereas the sweet flavours of the local honey are very like what you might find in Istanbul.
One of the most populated regions in the Mediterranean in Roman times,
Dalmatiahas left us a valuable legacy of palaces, ancient villas, fine wine and the Latin alphabet. From the time of the first Venetians (11th to 18th centuries) a fine heritage of art and architecture has been preserved along the Dalmatian coast and on the islands, which are a triumphant and conquering symbol of the Renaissance. So at Korcula, Trogir and Sibenik, the Lion of St Mark seems to watch over a great preserved heritage.
• Dubrovnik: the ancient city of Ragusa is a fine introduction to our voyage: monasteries, palaces and Renaissance fountain are all equally charming inside the medieval city walls which remind us how often this coveted maritime power had to fight for its independence.
• Split: the largest town in Dalmatia, attracts visitors mainly because of its palace where Diocletian, a simple soldier who became emperor, chose to end his days after his abdication in 305 AD.
• Sibenik: this pleasant town is ideally located facing the Kornati Islands and is graced with a special aura, thanks to the wonderful Cathedral of St James with its unique skeletal stone construction.
• The islands: the Dalmatian coastline is stretched out between a mountainous mass and a myriad of islands – little splashes of green colour in the middle of a sea so blue that it seems to have come out of a painter’s palette.
• At Vis: time seems to have stood still, and for good reason: from 1945 until 1989, the island furthermost from the mainland and the closest to the territorial waters of Italy, served as the naval base for the Yugoslavian navy. Access to the island was forbidden to foreigners and its inhabitants, forced to be self-sufficient, kept the old ways of life of their grandparents, ie fishing and cultivating vines.
• In spring, the island of Hvar is covered in lavender. The town of Hvar for its part was built around a charming port and has managed to preserve its medieval structure, although in the height of summer, it is very much like St Tropez: the terraces and promenades are where one goes to see and be seen.
• A gentle wind penetrates the alleyways of Kor?ula; the climate here favours the cultivation of vines on the hillsides surrounding the town…it seems so serene and peaceful that we can hardly believe the troubles in the past: the eternal conflict between the Christians and the Turks, from which the islanders have created a fascinating sabre dance called the Moreska.
• According to legend, on his return from the Trojan Wars, Ulysses was enchanted by the nymph Calypso and remained for seven years on the island of Mljet. Today, the charm is still very much in evidence: in the middle of the Mljet National Park, on the island of St Mary which looks like it is floating in the middle of the Great Lake (Veliko Jezero), the Benedictine monks constructed a beautiful monastery, with very pure and simple lines, nestling in the heart of lush vegetation.
• “This town is dear to me because it resembles a ship. One bridge connects it to the mainland and another to the island of Ciovo. Three belltowers which stand high and proud make it look exactly like a frigate.” These are the words of the writer A T Serstevens when he described Trogir, an architectural jewel which takes visitors straight back some 300 years in time.
A Pôrt of call at Montenegro: kotor
Navigating in the bays of Kotor is an unexpected delight: it is almost like getting lost in some fjords and yet it is the Adriatic Sea that flows here, forming many vast stretches of calm, clear waters into which the cliffs tumble. Kotor, coiled round the end of a bay, possess the charm of all southern and Balkan cities: here it is recommended to wander in the shady alleyways, or bury oneself in history by taking a detour to the Maritime Museum or Roman cathedral. Fortified since the Middle Ages, the town was one of the most influential of the Dalmatian city-states during this period, before falling first to Bulgaria then to Serbia. Due in no small part to its merchant fleet and to profitable deals that the town had with Dubrovnik and Venice, Kotor spread out and managed to acquire many palaces that are still around to this day.