Dubrovnik & Dalmatian Coast: Introduction

  • © Karli98, marcopolo.de

    © Karli98, marcopolo.de


Imagine the following: 1,777 kilometres (1,100 miles) of coastline, along which there are a total of 1184 islands. There are large ones such as Brač and tiny ones such as Lokrum, inhabited ones and inhospitable rocky reefs, lavishly green ones and ones only suitable for sheep grazing. Some are given a jagged appearance by their countless bays, while others are lined by beaches. An absolute dream destination!

Most of the islands lie directly off the Dalmatian coast in the Adriatic. It is not surprising that this coastline is one of Europe’s most beautiful sailing spots and a holiday landscape whose diverse appeals, changing moods, ruggedness and charm will create lasting memories. The peaks of the Dinaric Alps, which reach an altitude of 1,700 metres (1,860 yd), create a dramatic barrier to inland Croatia.

Squeezed between the mountains and the sea are coastal towns, while grapes, oranges, olives and palm trees flourish, sheltered from the wind by the mountains. This unusual landscape is still quite young. The coastal range was only flooded after the most recent ice age; the peaks were transformed into islands, the valleys into straits. When travelling by coastal ferry, this process of formation is particularly visible on the trip through the archipelago of Zadar: the islands of Ugljan and Dugi otok lie on either side, and in between is the small island of Iž. 

The people’s lives are oriented towards the sea

About the coastal ferry in general: complete at least one day-leg, as there is no nicer way to get to know this coastline, where the boundary between water and land seems to disappear. On a boat trip it also becomes very evident how all the people here live facing the sea. The many little ports, characterized by Venetian influences, seem to have been constructed following a single principle: the most beautiful side is to be seen from the water.

The wide open expanse, faraway places and the longing to depart to different shores are constantly present here. This sentiment is reflected most beautifully in Dalmatian music, the traditional songs of the klapa choirs. The sentiment can also be felt in the pop-music versions by Tomislav Bralić, probably the most popular interpreter of modern Dalmatian music. Sadly, his versions often turn out to be pure schmaltz.

Deep gorges and gurgling rivers

Many legends are told about the formation of the Dalmatian coast, of God’s wonderful creation in this otherwise incredibly harsh landscape. Did He really cry on the bare rocks, whereupon His tears turned into islands?

In any case, He was also generous to the land behind the mountain ridge: there are deep gorges with rivers winding their way through them, such as in Paklenica National Park and Cetina Gorge, in Krka National Park, where the Krka River gurgles over limestone steps, and in the enchanting landscape of Plitvice Lakes National Park, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you like hiking and climbing, getting out into the hills on a mountain bike or going kayaking, then this nature reserve and the others will be just the thing. 



In the past the Dalmatians were great seafarers. They sailed all the way to America in their boats. These days they are still equipping oil platforms with small, agile lifeboats. In the shipyards they convert fishing boats into leisure craft. The great era of shipbuilding is over, however. Croatia’s economy, particularly the industrial sector, has experienced a dramatic nose-dive since the country separated from Yugoslavia; it has proved a real struggle for the economy to get back on its feet.


Employment, Family Life and the EU

Unemployment is high, particularly among young people. Tourism, however, is booming, which makes Dalmatia one of the richest regions in the country, if not the richest. What do the Croatians dream of? Family, work, security: in this they are no different from most other Europeans. Croatia had to spend a long time working on goals such as getting stronger, being recognized in Europe and joining the EU. It was not the country’s unknown culture, or the ailing economy, that caused Croatia to be excluded from the EU for so long. Instead it was ugly terms such as ‘corruption’ and ‘war crimes’.

The entanglement between politics, the justice system and business was an inheritance of the communist multi-ethnic state of Yugoslavia. Only in the last ten years has cutting this Gordian knot been a major goal. The story is similar when it comes to dealing with Croatian war crimes that took place during the Yugoslav war. It was not until the highly decorated general Ante Gotovina was handed over to the tribunal in The Hague in 2005 that the world saw that Croatia was serious about this issue.

2000 years of history in a small space

It is not just the past 25 years that have been eventful. Dalmatia’s history has been eventful right from the start. In the colonnaded courtyard in Diocletian’s Palace in Split, you are intimately surrounded by nearly two thousand years of history, in the columns and arches of a Roman palace, and in a pre-Romanesque stone relief in the baptistery, evidence of an era during which Croatia was an independent kingdom and during which it opened up to Christianity. You can see its history also in the Gothic carvings on church doors, which were made when Venice subjugated almost the whole of Dalmatia, and the Baroque frenzy of the cathedral’s interior, which celebrates Dalmatia’s golden age. The modern era is also represented here. The people of Split like to while away an hour in the pleasant Café Luxor, enjoying an espresso and reading the paper.

Only the ancient Greeks failed to immortalize themselves here, but they left their mark elsewhere. On the sea floor, for example, where hundreds of amphorae from sunken merchant vessels provide special motifs for divers in addition to the already biodiverse underwater world. The ancient Greeks also left their mark on the island of Hvar, or, to be precise, on Stari Grad Plain, where the farmers have, for the past 2000 years, continuously used the boundaries set by the Greek colonists in around 400 BC. Stari Grad Plain is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as is Diocletian’s Palace in Split, the wonderful Šibenik Cathedral, the Romanesque old town of Trogir and the old town of Dubrovnik.

As the Republic of Ragusa, the city managed to withstand the Venetians and the Turks alike, usually through cunning and skilled negotiation. Today Dubrovnik has to withstand the crowds of people that flood in through its old city wall every summer from aeroplanes and cruise ships, because the city is one of the top destinations in Europe and a must for all globetrotters. The city and its people put up with this patiently and elegantly, like the inhabitants of Hvar. The romantic little town on the island of lavender is up at the top of the to-do list of celebs and starlets, popularly compared to Marbella and Ibiza.

The insatiable desire to celebrate every occasion

The Croats have invented all sorts of things: torpedoes, biros and ties, and if anyone deserves credit for inventing hospitality, then it ought to be this nation with its open arms and hearts. Being helpful and open and having infinite energy to celebrate any event, never mind how small, are characteristics all visitors will see plenty of evidence of. A Croatian encounter, which naturally also includes a lavish meal, usually starts and ends with a glass of schnapps – something that those from more northerly climes don’t always cope well with in warm temperatures. But join in anyway, you only have to have a few sips! Go on a journey of discovery! The tranquil and often harsh beauty of the islands and bays, the crystal-clear water, the romantic backdrop of medieval ports, fancy restaurants behind rustic walls and finally a beach lounge lit by flares: all these things await.


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