ADRIATIC COAST: DAY 13- HVAR, CROATIA

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It is not often I’m up and about to photograph a sunrise, but I happened to catch this one rising over the island of Hvar, a beautiful playground for the rich and famous.  On any given day, twenty luxury private yachts belonging to famous (and wealthy!) people can be seen in the harbor during the high season.  Those are just the largest yachts.  There are plenty of other high-end sailboats zigzagging about as well.

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The movie, “Mama Mia 2” was filmed on this island also known for its fruit orchards, ancient olive trees, and fields of lavender.  Our local guide explained how lavender is processed for its oil, something she is intimately familiar with, because she has a business doing just that.  Her potpourri sachets are packaged with small vials of lavender oil into pretty little ribbon-tied packages and sold at the farmers market and gift shops throughout the island.

Our guide explained that it takes thirty kilograms (66 pounds) of lavender flowers to make one ounce of pure lavender oil, and the flowers are all harvested by hand.  During its best production years, ten percent of the world’s lavender came from Hvar; however, that is not the case today.  Production levels are down, because the younger people of Hvar prefer working in tourism rather than lavender production or in the fruit orchards.

Our walking tour was interesting as we learned about the town’s history and saw ancient architecture, in addition to passing by contemporary artisanal bakeries, restaurants, and galleries.  We also visited the 17th century Monastery of the Benedictine Nuns of St. John the Baptist & St. Anthony the Abbot of Hvar—a long name!  It is rarely opened to the public; however, our group was able to get a private tour and see the amazing display of antique lace made by the nuns over a period of 120 years.  The thread used for the lace is made from stripped down agave plant, and a 6-inch lace takes 3-4 months to make.  Unfortunately, there are now only seven nuns at the monastery making the lace.

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Following our walking tour, we saw more of the island by bus, taking in gorgeous views of the Adriatic Sea along the way.  Our next stop was Stari Grad Plain, a UNESCO World Heritage Site town that was established in 384 BC.  A picturesque place, the stone walkways are narrow and winding, and surround the quaint harbor.  We took a walking tour of the town, and then had time to explore on our own.  It was lovely!

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After returning to the main harbor of Hvar, we were brought back to La Perla by our tender for an afternoon of swimming and enjoying the good life on board.

I couldn’t wait to dive in!  Our days were filled with a lot of walking; however, my body and mind were craving a good swim workout.  The current was strong enough that I was able to do “laps” by just swimming back and forth along the length of La Perla.  Forty hard strokes up against the current, and twenty-nine easy strokes back.  It was fun, especially swimming butterfly!  At the same time, it felt strange being so buoyant in the very salty water of the Adriatic.  It felt like somebody was pulling me up by the back of my suit when I swam breaststroke!

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While Sinisa looks on, Bruce is taking a picture of me…

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…while I take a picture of him!

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Back on board, we enjoyed a wonderful happy hour (drinks are included with the cruise) and soaked in the last of the beautiful views before sunset.  Ante carved up prosciutto and I enjoyed a delicious local lemon-flavored beer in a quirky can with the label printed upside down.  I guess the idea of it is that others can read the label when it’s bottoms up!

What a fabulous way to end the day!

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A patchwork of vineyards on the hillside

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ADRIATIC COAST: DAY 12- SPLIT, CROATIA

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Leaving Sibenik

Our morning cruise from Sibenik to Split was lovely.  I was able to get in a yoga session on deck, stopping from time-to-time to take in the views and snap a picture.  What a fabulous way to start the day!

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Andrea, one of the crew

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Another crew member, Stipe

Cruising aboard La Perla combines the best of ocean cruising and river cruising.  You have the fresh ocean sea air, the beautiful scenery, soothing sound of the water like you would on a cruise ship, but the quaintness of a riverboat.  Actually, with only 24 passengers on board, it was even better!

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It was wonderful to be able to watch the coastline as we cruised closer in than a ship would.  Having a window in our cabin also allowed us to take advantage of the views while getting ready for dinner.  The balcony was an extra bonus, making it convenient to pop out for a quick picture or sit out and enjoy the scenery while the other was in the shower.

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At 115-feet long, the yacht was big enough for us all to have our own space, but small enough to make a quick pit stop in the cabin or run down to grab my camera for a sunset shot.  In a word, FABULOUS!

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Split

Our time off La Perla exploring each destination was fantastic, too.  We saw so many wonderful sites, including Split, one of the oldest cities in the region.  Upon our arrival, a local guide met us at La Perla for a walking tour of Diocletian’s Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The tour took us through the lower level passages of this massive fortress-like complex that was built in preparation for the Roman emperor’s retirement in 305 AD.

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An artist’s rendition of Diocletian’s Palace

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If you have ever watched Game of Thrones (I have not), the fourth season was filmed at the palace.  What a setting!  Looking around the enormous stone passageways, I was in awe.  How the heck did they build that amazing complex—and, in only ten years?!

 

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The four-feet-thick ceiling was constructed with compressed rocks, and no mortar was used.  Vaulted openings were built for air ventilation, and holes were made in the living quarter floor for sewage to be dumped.  The walls of the palace are five-feet thick!

Within the complex, pillars were constructed to support the living quarters above.  (Otherwise, they would have been underwater at high tide.)  Half of the complex was for Diocletian’s personal use, and the rest housed the military garrison.

Today, there are restaurants, shops, and some homes within the walls of the palace.

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This Wisteria is 150 years old!

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In the foreground are original walls of the palace.

 

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Exploring the palace was fascinating, and roaming the streets within the walls was quite enjoyable.  At one point, we came across a group of klapa singers and listened to their beautiful voices in the amazing acoustics of the stone walls and high open-air ceiling.

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While Bruce took an afternoon siesta, I opted to spend more time walking Split on my own.  Croatia is a very safe country, and I felt completely comfortable as a solo woman walking around Split and other places I ventured out to explore.  The two Canadian women on our tour often split up to sight see and had the same experience.  I highly recommend Croatia as a safe place for a solo woman to travel.

 

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The view from La Perla at night.

ADRIATIC COAST: DAY 11- Kirka National Park, Primosten Burnji, & Sibenik, Croatia

What a full and fabulous day this was!  It has been a challenge editing my photos, because we saw so much beauty in just one day!

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Krka National Park was our first stop and one I had been looking forward to with great anticipation, after seeing gorgeous photos of the waterfalls shot on a bright, sunny day.  Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t quite so cooperative when we visited the park; however, the scenery was still breathtaking.

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In addition to a guided walk on the scenic trails, we had free time to explore on our own; so, I hiked up the falls to seek out some different photographic vantage points.  The falls were amazing!

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If I had to narrow down the highlights of Croatia, this would definitely land on my list of must-see destinations!

During our boat ride from the falls to Skradin, it started raining lightly, and we were thankful we were able to experience the park and waterfalls before the weather turned.  Just after we boarded our bus, the skies opened up!

Thankfully, the skies cleared up by the time we arrived at Pimosten Burnji, a quaint Dalmation village that made our entire group perk up with excitement.  It was love at first sight!

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The village priest welcomed us with local brandy and figs from his tree.  As we enjoyed the treats, my eyes lit up as I looked overhead and saw gourds and grapes growing all around us!  Pots of flowers lined the steps where a cat curled up in the sun, and a woman sewed lace.  Just beyond, I could hear and see a donkey.  It was almost like being in one of those staged open-air museums, except this was for real.  This is how the locals have chosen to live, preserving this 16th-century village for themselves, their families, and future generations to enjoy.  The priest has worked hard at preserving the local history and traditions, and it was as if time stood still!  They open their community to visitors; however, our group of 24 had it all to ourselves to enjoy.

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In one of the 16th century stone houses, the village women prepared a light lunch of soup, cheese, sausage, and bread for us.  For dessert, I enjoyed grapes from the vines just outside!

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We were in no hurry to leave, because it felt so good just being there; however, Sibenik was still on the agenda for the remainder of the afternoon.  We took a walking tour through the old town where we saw the Cathedral of St. James,  15th century stone houses, stone streets dating back to the 16th century, a 17th century fortress, and colorful 18th century plaster houses.  In the city walls, there were built-in water dishes for their beloved dogs to drink from.  “Amor D. Cani” translates to “love of dog.”

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It was interesting to learn that in Sibenik no weddings take place in the month of May.  In the old days, many people died in May as the weather got warmer and disease spread.  The tradition held, even as a cure for those diseases was discovered.

Back on La Perla, we enjoyed dinner with our two Canadian passengers, Louise and Danielle, reflecting back on all we had seen and done.

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ADRIATIC COAST: DAY 10 (Part 2), LOVELY LA PERLA

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Formerly a fishing boat, Ante Bubalo and his son, Luka purchased the 115-foot-long retired boat ten years ago, had it stripped it to its shell, and completely restored at a cost of two million Euros.  It took three years to renovate and rebuild, a better option than purchasing a new boat, since the hull was of much better quality and thicker than the hulls on new boats.

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It was Luka’s dream to make La Perla a reality, after earning an economics degree at university.  Working with a boat designer to carry out his vision, they gave new life to the old fishing boat by creating a luxury yacht for tourists.  Luka’s wife did the interior decorating, and together, they made La Perla into a comfortable cruising yacht perfect for enjoying the Adriatic Coast.

Although now retired from his business of selling prosciutto to stores and restaurants throughout Croatia, Ante assists Luka with his charters that are booked eight months of the year.  Luka is usually on board La Perla for each charter; however, for our cruise, Ante stepped in to cover for Luka.

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Ante Bubalo

Ante’s favorite task of each day was going shopping, picking up needed provisions as well as treats for the passengers.  Each day there was a new surprise—a special cheese, local chocolates, cookies, or other tasty snacks he placed out in the lounge for us to nibble on throughout the day and evening.

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La Perla was wonderful!  Our cabin was surprisingly spacious, well-designed, and had more storage space than we needed.  Suitcases fit perfectly in the bed platform cabinet, so we were able to stow them away and out of site.  The bed was very comfortable, and we were amazed at how smartly designed the bathroom was for a yacht of its size.  We also enjoyed our cozy balcony!

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Open-seating meals were always enjoyable with the other twenty-two passengers.  There was never a shortage of conversation!  We also never left hungry.  The variety of food on the buffet for breakfast and lunch was terrific, and the chef also prepared dishes to order.  Dinner was white-glove service with multiple courses and plenty of wine, which was included in the cost of the cruise.  I especially enjoyed the octopus we had one evening as well as the wonderful views of the sunset we enjoyed during dinners.  A couple of times, a few of us grabbed our cameras and made a beeline to the aft deck to capture some photos!

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The galley was tiny!

 

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The dining room

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Breakfast buffet

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While we were cruising, the indoor and two outdoor lounge areas were very comfortable to relax at and enjoy conversation with the other passengers.  There were also plenty of lounges for sunbathing, and I even found some deck space by the spa to do my Theraband exercises and yoga.  (Try balancing in a yoga pose on a moving yacht; it was a fun challenge!)

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There was also a (very!) small gym; however, we opted to do a LOT of walking in each port and take in a couple of swim sessions when La Perla was anchored.  (More on that in a future post.)

The most memorable part of La Perla was Ante and his staff of nine.  They were always friendly and eager to please, and we enjoyed getting to know them while on board.  There were plenty of laughs and good times!

If you are considering a trip to the Adriatic Coast of Croatia, cruising aboard La Perla is a great way to go. Not only was the boat able to travel much closer to the coast, but we were also able to spend a day on the island of Korcula, which is inaccessible to large cruise ships.  Considering it was a highlight of the cruise, it was a great decision to go small!

As you will see in later blog posts, La Perla also had the advantage of being able to anchor in coves, so we could enjoy swimming off the platform, kayaking in their tandem ‘yak, and circling a small island aboard their tender.  Besides, we got to know all twenty-two of the other passengers as well as the crew.  Try that on a cruise ship!

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The other “Ante” (no relation) was our bartender/ waiter.

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Now, for a shameless commercial, even though I am in no way affiliated with the company:  Book La Perla through Vantage Travel.  This was my fourth trip with Vantage (and Bruce’s second), and we loved it!  Call (888) 756-6677, give them my name and number (Elaine Krugman 2569087), and you each (if you are traveling with a companion) will receive $50 travel credit.

Stay tuned for more adventures aboard La Perla as we cruise south along the Adriatic Coast!  Meanwhile, check out this video from Vantage.