Dubrovnik: Pearl of the Adriatic
The scenic rugged coastline running along the length of Croatia offers innumerable dipping points into the Adriatic Sea. For a tourist on a short visit, it's best to set sail from Dubrovnik on the placid waters of the Adriatic on a day-tour of Kolocep, Sipan and Lokud – the three inhabited islands of the Elaphiti Islands archipelago. The air is crisp, the sun is shining on your back and the water, blue-green, calm and inviting, all tell you that you have made an excellent choice. Dubrovnik Port itself is very pretty – lots of white and blue boats with masts and sails.
As you glide over the placid sea, the dolomite hills of the Dalmatian coast rise to your right, and on your left, lush green islands dot the seascape. Your mind frantically yells 'photo, photo!', every direction you look, so be sure to carry along a good power bank, especially if you believe in uploading your pictures on social media. Strangely enough, you catch a strong mobile network signal in the middle of the sea!
Your first port of call is the sleepy fishing village of Kolocep. A winding uphill path right from the cove through the quiet village brings you to village folk selling local produce of herbs, candied juicy orange rind, virgin olive oil, locally produced honey and a host of exotic preserves. The goods here are better than at the stores in Dubrovnik, so do stock up. The smokvenjac - a rich cake of dried figs, almonds, herbs and the locally popular fruit brandy Rakija, also known as the "peasants' bread" helps restore energy after a hard day's work, and is not to be missed.
The exchange rate for paying in Euros instead of the official currency Kuna is also better here than at Dubrovnik, so it makes eminent sense to pay in Euros. The change is returned in the local currency Kuna though. It's a small car-free island, with many pathways and marvelous views of the sea beyond the brilliantly coloured flowering lantanas and bougainvillea.
The next stop is the larger island of Sipan. It's renowned for the family-run establishments that make wines and olive oil from the local produce. A short walk into the island brings you to the family homes where you can buy these to carry back home as great gifts for your friends and family. A remarkable sight is the forest of rosemary shrubs growing all over the hedges of these homes. Don't resist the urge to run your palm over the leaves for the lingering and intoxicating smell on your fingers for quite some time! There is something peculiar about the island though. While sitting on a bench on the roadside, you hear the sound of your breathing; so silent is the island. If you have the time, dally a bit and pick up a locally-made fruit liqueur. I would recommend the cherry liqueur.
Back in the boat, they have already started serving lunch on board. Croatia is known for its seafood. You can't go wrong with the fish. It's fresh, grilled to perfection, delicious and leaves you with a rather full feeling. Vegetarians have no cause for alarm, though. An excellent dish of grilled aubergines and other seasonal veggies on a bed of greens would leave them happy too. Local wine is also served to wash down your meal.
And then, sail on to Lopud. As you enter the port, you wonder at a typically medieval Italian building at the mouth of the port, till your captain informs you that it's an old Franciscan Monastery built in the 15th century, and abandoned during the French occupation under Napoleon Bonaparte. It has now been restored and is used as an art gallery. Long ago, the island had a large number of monasteries, churches and palaces of noblemen. Lopud has a chequered history with the French, English and Austrians successively controlling this strategically located island. Perhaps you can even hear the sounds of its history in your mind, as you wander silently around the ruins.
A delightful promenade leads you from the port to Lopud village, where you chance upon golf buggies to transport you to the Sunja public beach on the other side of the island. You could pay the 20 Kuna per person fare, or decide to walk. If you can walk up the hill ( with a 10-minute climb, the last part a steepish incline), I would recommend that, because after all the huffing and puffing, there is a trekking route downhill to the beach from the top of the hill. The walking path takes you through a forest of chirping birds, with large red and white mushrooms springing from the forest undergrowth all along. And then all of a sudden, you reach the beach. But the cool blue water lapping at the sandy shore has to wait because you need to get into your swimsuit first.
A tip: There aren't any places to change, although there are lots of beach chairs and beach shacks serving your favorite poison, so come dressed to swim under your regular clothes.
The water is clear and shallow for quite a distance, so it's safe for beginner swimmers as well. The water is not too cold even in October when the milling holiday crowds have dispersed. You can swim leisurely in this vast swimming pool without bumping into fellow swimmers, with the far mainland hills distinctly visible. It's then that the realization dawns on you in between dips while lying under the bright sun on the beach chair and gazing up at the brilliantly blue sky – this is the life to live. You don't want to get back home to the usual humdrum routine.
But you have to, right? But by now you would have the bragging rights of having swum in the Adriatic.