Let me share with you some of the experiences from my latest trip to Italy and Croatia, bringing alive some of the special moments uncovered along the way. My travel companion for a good part of the journey was Joanna Meinhold, a Senior Consultant from our team. The good thing about travelling together is that we are both zealous explorers with noses that may not look like a beagle’s but still work a treat in uncovering some amazing jewels along the way.
We started the Italian part of our itinerary in Naples, travelling south to Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast where we planned to walk the roads where Romans and other great civilisations had walked before. While in the Naples region we dined on pizza, claimed to be the best in Italy, and sampled the limoncello that is offered as an aperitif wherever you go.
The tour escorts and local guides were worth their weight in gold: arranging pickups, walks and sharing experiences while getting us from A to B. A day trip to Vesuvius and Pompeii was amazing: the area is well preserved, giving you a real feeling for what life must have been like during Roman times. We also spent several days in Sorrento where our adventures included travelling along the “Mamma Mia” highway on the Amalfi Coast, and accidentally ending up on a gondola seat travelling to the top of Capri! I was literally shaking in my chair while managing to peek at the spectacular views.
For the next part of our itinerary from Rome we took an extended wine tour through Tuscany, visiting local wineries. Getting to sample the Chianti Classico and eating freshly picked Sangiovese grapes was superb. Our visit to Cinque Terre was not long enough; the vertical villages are amazing and my favourite moment was in Monterosso al Mare where I dipped my toes into the Mediterranean.
Our Italy leg ended in Venice where the highlights included a gondola ride along the Grand Canal, walking through impressive Piazza San Marco and crossing the Rialto Bridge to a pleasant little wine bar with a view of the canal. It was the perfect place to enjoy a Spritz Veneziano, a wine-based local aperitivo (cocktail). We also found time to stop and admire shops selling Venetian masks and Murano glass. I would also like to point out to those of you who have heard that Italy has great leather goods, that it is true. There is an abundance of leather handbag shops, particularly in Florence and Venice. My advice here is that if you want to buy genuine Italian-crafted articles you should look for old-established businesses and reap the rewards.
It was now time to depart to Croatia and our choice of transport was high-speed catamaran. Travelling from Venice across the Adriatic Sea we arrived in less than three hours at the popular summer resort of Poreč on Croatia’s “clean and green” Istrian Peninsula. After spending two weeks in the hustle and bustle of Italy, arriving at Poreč was like a breath of fresh air: the locals are friendly and the pace of tourism is far more leisurely, but the natural surroundings and history still astound you. One of the landmarks in the historic Old Town is the sixth-century Euphrasian Basilica, famous for its gemstudded Byzantine mosaics. It is one of Croatia’s seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites and is a must-see.
The Istria region of Croatia is also famous for its magnificent truffles. The biggest one in the world was discovered in the oak forests below the hilltop village of Motovun and it was fitting that our first meal in Istria was a memorable lunch of traditional Istrian Fuži pasta paired with Malvazija, the signature white wine of the region. They say that truffles have an aphrodisiacal effect but I believe it’s the local wine that’s magical.
With time moving quickly we travelled inland to Croatia’s capital city of Zagreb, which is rich in beautiful parks and the best markets in Croatia. It is a fantastic place to buy original artefacts. From Zagreb I boarded my Croatia Airlines flight and flew south on my own to Dubrovnik in southern Dalmatia. Having conquered my fear of heights in Capri, here I enjoyed the cable car ride up to Srđ Mountain. The mountaintop offers the best view of Dubrovnik’s famous Old Town with the stunning Elaphiti islands right ahead and the Pelješac Peninsula and Mljet Island to the right. The mountain top also has a war museum and an outdoor restaurant with panoramic views.
For the two hundred-kilometre journey north up the coast to Split I chose to go by catamaran again. It’s a very scenic trip that allows you to see the islands of Mljet, Korčula, Hvar and Brač on the way.
Meeting up again over a journey’s-end dinner with Joanna in Split we pondered the many influences of the Byzantine, Greek, Roman and Ottoman empires on Croatia and agreed that it offers travellers a marvellous blend of history and natural heritage. With a country of more than 1,200 islands, we left with still much to see and explore. So, Doviđenja (goodbye for now) till we meet again.
Have you ever been to these beautiful Mediterranean destinations? Tell us your highlights in the comment section below.