Travelling the Dalmatian Coast from Dubrovnik to Split with my daughter Shoshi could hardly be considered Slow Travel. Or could it? Weighing in on the plus side is the fact that in the week we spent in Croatia we focused on one relatively small area, the 163 kilometer (101 miles) stretch from Dubrovnik to Split. Although we considered driving to the world famous Plitvice Lakes, a mere eight hours from Dubrovnik, and almost went to it’s smaller and less famous sister the Krka National Park, we bagged them both and decided to slowly enjoy the drive. What might seem to indicate that this trip was less than Slow Travel was the fact that Shoshi kept me on the move and we slept in a total of six different beds in the seven nights that we spent in Croatia.
While 163 kilometers, or 101 miles may seem a paltry amount, the road that borders this most picturesque of coastlines is a narrow, two lane highway, following the winding contours of the coastline where the mountains abruptly drop off to the sea. The 60 km speed limit, along with the temptation to make frequent stops at the quaint fishing villages meant that it took us two days to drive up the coast and another two days to drive back. But more on that later.
Let’s start at the beginning. Shoshi and I decided on Croatia rather last minute, after we found inexpensive charter flights to and from Dubrovnik, allowing us a full week to explore. I had recently enjoyed being in Slovenia with Mike (see my report on Slow Slovenia), and was eager to continue exploring this region of the world. That coupled with the fact that the flight was direct (2.5 hours from Tel Aviv) and inexpensive made it an easy decision indeed.
We arrived in the middle of the night (who says charters fly at convenient times??) at the Dubrovnik airport, located actually 20 km outside of Dubrovnik near a charming seaside village called Cavtas. We booked a room in Cavtas, and after picking up our rental car, and examining it for scratches with the proprieter by the light of a cellphone (I guess that’s how they do it in Croatia), we made it without incident and with the help of the indefatigable Waze, to our first bed of the trip. When we awoke in the morning we were pleasantly surprised to note that if we craned our necks at a 90 degree angle we could get a view of the Adriatic Sea. Clearly we would not be staying in the apartment any longer than necessary. It had served its purpose.
We set out to explore Cavtas, and after a quick cup of coffee and granola bar (remember this isn’t quite the slow travel we have been accustomed to…) we drove to the center of town with Cavtas spread out in front of us, and the sparkling blue of the Adriatic beckoning. We found the bike rental store and procured the last bikes available. We set out on the recommended 45 km adventure in the hills above Cavtas and fortunately the higher elevations provided cooler weather, and we even got drenched in a quick but fierce rainshower. Unfortunately I left my camera behind that day so we have no photos of the quiet churchyard where we stopped for a picnic lunch or the ancient flour mill we came across with running water streams, and two lovely restaurants shaded by large, leafy trees, placed directly over the running streams. We of course stopped for a drink and not only was our thirst quenched but all of our senses were refreshed as the result of this lovely stop. We resumed our ride and made it back to Cavtas by 6 PM, allowing enough time for a stroll around the inlet, and our first dip in the Adriatic.
It turns out that the Adriatic beaches are all rocky, no sand to be found. In Cavtas they have built cement decks to allow for easy entry, and we happily took advantage of the ladders leading into the water. The water. Ahh, the water. The Adriatic is absolutely amazing. Clear to the bottom, soft and gentle, salty, and cool but not cold. Actually, as perfect a body of water as I could possibly imagine. Our swim that evening cooled off our sweat drenched bods whereupon we set out to find a place to rest our heads for the night. We found a room for rent with a fabulous porch overlooking the sea and enjoyed our picnic dinner with this world class view.
Day two dawned bright and early, as we set out for our road trip. Destination: Omis, a town about 30 kilometers from Split. We slowly wound our way up the coast, and to a rafting adventure on the Cetina River.
The Cetina was perfectly clear, clean and refreshing, due to the lack of industry in Croatia which has preserved the rivers, lakes and the sea as well. While this may not be good for Croatia, it is wonderful for us tourists. We continued to Omis after a wonderful trip down the river, and after finding a tiny room with air conditioning that worked only if you paid for it (gulp!) we enjoyed the sunset, a swim and the general ambiance of a vacation village on the Adriatic.
The next day took us to Split, second largest city in Croatia, and home to a temple of the Roman Emperor Diocletian from the third century CE. We had booked a Jewish tour of Split with a wonderful young tour guide, Lea, and we explored the palace finding menoras carved into the castle walls, indicating the presence of Jews in this far flung province of the Roman empire as early as the third century.
We got an insider’s view of the little used but beautifully maintained synagogue of Split. There are Friday night social gatherings during the year, that are suspended during summer time, and there are services for the high holy days. We found the inscription above the bima, “hineh ma tov uma naim shevet achim gam yachad,” most unusual and interesting, possibly the result of the melding of ashkenazi and sefardi communities into one.
After visiting the synagogue we made our way up to the old Jewish cemetery. When we got there we found this:
It turns out that the Jewish community decided that in order to raise funds they would rent out the funeral home adjacent to the old cemetery neither of which was still in use. They added one proviso to the rental contract. The renters were not allowed to cover over the Hebrew inscription, and thus, this must be the only bar in the world that has the inscription, Tziduk Hadin (follow the link for more info). We drank a le’chaim with this bird’s eye view of the city, and prayed that all the neshamot (souls) buried hear would have an “iluy”(uplifting).
We began the return trip on the Coastal Road, and even though we were retracing our steps, each turn in the road brought a beautiful new vistas into view.
We arrived in the town of Brella as the sun was beginning its descent, and after checking into our room, we quickly made our way down at least 100 steps to the sea, where we caught our daily dip. Have I told you how refreshing the water was? As we shook the drops of water off of us, we walked down the boardwalk, and found what turned out to be our evening adventure. A ferry was departing in five minutes time to the nearby beach town of Makarska where a local festival was underway. Without a second thought, we signed on figuring that we would find some clothes in Makarska. We enjoyed the beautiful sunset from the boat, and then spent two hourse wandering Makarska, enjoying the crowds and the festival. And oh yes, we found some clothes!
Finding a place to stay for Shabbat, the following day, proved a bit more challenging than we expected. We wanted to stay somewhere off the beaten track and decided that Braca was the place. We held our breath as we drove 2 kilometers on a narrow road bordered by water on both sides until we reached Braca. Thank God we did not meet any cars coming in the other direction.
Unfortunately there were no rooms to be had, and so we had to make the return trip on the same 2 kilometer road. Again, we were fortunate not to meet any other cars.
Eventually we struck paydirt and found a place 30 minutes away also on the Peljesac Peninsula, at an isolated cove in a town called Kabli,consisting of about 4 houses. We were hosted by Ivica who farms mussels and clams, and supplements his income with renting out his house which is a stone’s throw from the water’s edge. He took us out in his boat to show us his “farm,” and was disappointed that we did not want to partake in his treasures. We assured him they looked delicious and loved the boat ride and insider’s view of life in a Croatian fishing village.
Kabbalat shabbat on the porch overlooking the water was memorable, and the entire shabbat was relaxing allowing us to catch up on sleep, eat good food, and chat with Ivica and some other guests from Poland.
Sunday brought us to Dubrovnik, but that deserves a post all of its own, and this is getting awfully long, so here is just a quick preview to keep you interested: