MONTENEGRO– Wild Beauty (UNESCO: Kotor)
It takes a few flight connections to get to some of the wonderful, newly formed countries of the former Yugoslavia along the Adriatic coast, but it most certainly is worth the trip! We started in gorgeous Montenegro where we overcame our jet lag at the sleek and luxurious Regent Porto Montenegro overlooking some of the largest private yachts in the world! Our first wonderful meals of the trip were enjoyed here – the freshest seafood, lovely produce, spectacular wines, and delicious olive oils!
Budva is considered to be one of the oldest settlements in the Balkans. This ancient town lies on a little island that was linked to land by a sandbar and in time became a peninsula. We kicked off our first day with a walk around the 15th century ramparts and medieval fortifications. Inside the walls, we found a combination of narrow streets and little squares, with superb monuments of the different Mediterranean cultures. Later, we visited Kotor, home-town of the famous sailors and traders of Boka Bay. Kotor’s architecture, a post-modern mix of the various epochs and its position at the bottom of the sharp cliffs of the Lovcen Mountain, makes it different from any other Mediterranean town. The Old City is a well preserved urbanization typical of the Middle Ages, built between the 12th and 14th century. Highlights included the Cathedral of St. Trifun and the Maritime Museum where visitors admire portraits of the famous captains, models of old galleys and sail boats and other artifacts from rich heritage of Kotor.
DUBROVNIK – Pearl of Mediterranean (UNESCO)
We continued on with our driver to the absolutely stunning walled-city of Dubrovnik and were lucky enough to check in to the charming Villa Dubrovnik!
Today we met up with our expert guide Yelena for a fabulous walking tour of Dubrovnik, one of the most beautiful stone-built cities in the world. An important maritime port and a one-time state, it has always been a cultural metropolis. As one of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Dubrovnik owes its special charm to the historic monuments which testify to its rich history. Some highlights included the Franciscan monastery of the “Order of Friars Minors” that preserves one of the three oldest pharmacies in Europe, the Orlando Column, the Sponza Palace, the Church of St. Blasius, the patron-saint of the town, the Rector’s Palace, the magnificent structure of the dukes of Dubrovnik, and the Cathedral of the Virgin Mary with a treasury containing the originals by Tiziano and Rafaelo.
One thing that I hear consistently from clients of Resort to Laura Madrid is how fabulous our private guides are – many become life long friends to our clients! They certainly enliven the local experience for them whilst traveling! Here are a few of our special guides in Croatia:
Dubrovnik is worth three nights for sure. This would allow time to walk the length of the city walls, kayak over to one of the islands, and to take the funicular to the top!
Today we depart with Yelena for Ston to taste the freshest and most incredible oysters I have ever had anywhere, anytime in the world! With our fun guide Yelena, we were met where we board a local man’s boat and travel to his family’s private island for a very special surprise!
After departing Ston Bay, we stopped for a visit to the incredible walled fortress of Ston town and the salt mines. Ston’s famous 5 kilometer Medieval stone defensive walls are the largest in Europe and protected the precious salt pans that contributed to Dubrovnik Republic’s wealth. The history of the salt works in Ston goes back for more than 4,000 years. It is the oldest salt mine in Europe and one of the the oldest still working mines in the world!
HVAR – The Sunniest Place in Europe
After quite a long day of driving, a ferry and another car ride, we arrived to the charming but lively island of Hvar.
The best way to get to and from the islands is on a private boat. Here we are departing Hvar for our 90 minute ride to Split.
SPLIT – 1700 Years of a Living Monument (UNESCO)
The first inhabitant of Split was the Roman emperor Diocletian who started to build his palace in this friendly bay around 293 AD. After his abdication he withdrew to this luxurious palace to enjoy the rest of his days. The following turbulent centuries made the palace into a town first populated by the citizens of the nearby Salona, fleeing before Avars and Slavs. The town overgrew the walls of the palace and its authorities kept changing – from Croatian kings, Hungarian and Venetian administration, to French rulers and Austro- Hungarian monarchy.
We walked with our guide through this living monument and all its magnificent sights – the basement halls, the main square of the Palace, the Cathedral of St. Domnius, and the temples of the Palaces with its many monuments from antiquity, to the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Baroque periods.
We drove to the outside of Split where we had stunning views of the inlets where many pirates hid before and after attacking large ships. We headed to the small village of Gata to enjoy a special lunch in the home of a lovely local lady named Anka.
Back to Split for the night, and where to stay but in Diocletian’s Palace at the 7 room Hotel Vestibul Palace! Each room is unique and below the court yard where breakfast is served.
Plitvice National Park – Beauty Unspoilt
Croatia has stunning national parks, lakes and waterfalls. It takes some driving to get there but truly beautiful. Here are are at Plitvice National Park. The oldest and largest National Park in Croatia, Plitvice is located in Central Croatia close to the border with Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The Istrian Peninsula – Mystical Land of Gastronomy
This region has always attracted those who consider gastronomy as one of the most important reasons for traveling – namely me! The alluring gastronomic character of Istria consists not only of the exquisite Mediterranean seafood of the coast but also of the products of the inland’s gardens, orchards, and vineyards.
As you drive through the rugged and hilly terrain you will come to the village of Livade, one of the most important centers of truffle farming in Europe. Until recently the Istrian white truffle was unknown on the world’s stage of luxury gastronomy. Only those who are the true connoisseurs of this magical fungus come to visit the small corner of the world from which this delicacy originates.
We continued towards the charming village of Momjan for a private wine tasting at Kabola Winery. Throughout the past, Momjan area was known as one of the most productive wine regions in Istria. It even provided the Austro-Hungarian aristocracy with wine. We tasted many of these famous wines made with the grapes muscat, malmsey, and teran.
We enjoyed a private truffle hunting demonstration with the truffle hunter and his dogs – this may have been Isabella’s favorite day!
One of the most important restaurants for truffles is Restaurant Zigante. It’s a must for those wanting every course made with the local delicacy!
After the truffle hunting demonstration we went to the medieval ruins of the town of Motovun to taste some local products made with truffles.
Meanwhile back in Rovijn, this is the charming and special authentic city where we stayed while touring the Istrian Peninsula.
We stayed in a very modern, largish luxury hotel – not what I would normally select, but this actually is the perfect spot to unwind after several days of touring, staying in quaint boutique hotels, and moving from place to place. Hotel Lone and Monte Mullini are terrific for the large modern rooms and bathrooms (the kind you just won’t find while staying in a palace dating to 200 AD)! The beach, spa, gym and modern conveniences were all much appreciated, and better yet, the old town Rovijn is just a short walk along the beach! Enjoy the bars, restaurants, and village life of one of our favorite towns of the trip!
Now on to Southern Italy!