Filip’s water taxi service sped us across the crystal blue waters to the tiny island of Trogir.
Founded by the Greeks in 300BC, later became part of the Roman Empire which was expanding through Dalmatia. Later ruled by Hungarian and Croatian dynasties it was claimed by the Venetian Empire until its fall in 1797.
Trogir was absorbed into the Austrian Empire until the end of the First World War when it was part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (which became Yugoslavia). In 1991 the town was part of Croatia when it declared its independence.
Munching a Pelatina (or pasty) lunch we strolled along the Riva embankment, between the palm trees and listening to clinking of the masts and rigs on the sail boats berthed at the tiny marina. Looking it up online in 2020, Captain Filip Kadric and his family now rent out a fabulous luxury charter boat, the Princess Mary, from the marina as well as offering day sailings and trips.
Trogir’s Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site, its original Medieval core boasts churches and palaces in Romanesque, Renaissance and Baroque styles.
Out of the bright sunshine and into the cool labyrinth of narrow streets, we spotted Venetian merchant houses decorated with motifs proclaiming their wealth and heraldry. The old cobblestone streets are paved with local white stone, worn slippery with the passing shoes of ages.
Flights of stones stairs lead up into the first floors of the palaces of minor dignitaries, and we peeked into tantalisingly open wooden doors at courtyards decorated with pots of bright flowers and home to sleeping cats.
Our visit was before the renovations to the gothic Cathedral of St Lawrence, so we were not able to see the intricate stone portal carved by the Master Radovan or climb its bell tower. Instead we wandered around the pretty central square gazing up at the Romanesque arched balconies of the Cipiko Palace, the ancient stone columns of the town’s Loggia, and the wide clock face on the domed bell tower.
Guarding the centre, the old town walls circle the seafront and are dominated by Fortress Karmelengo, built by the Venetians as a naval base for their forces in the13th century.
We stocked up on foodie treats at the market on the mainland, a famous cornucopia of fruit and vegetables, honeys and olive oils, wines and grappas.
Later, and perched up on our terrace above the coastal waters at Autocamp Belvedere, we tried to send a nephew a birthday video showing our fabulous surroundings. Despite recording just 20 seconds on our digital camera, we couldn’t send the message from the tiny internet connection on the ancient desktop computer staffed at reception by two cheerful girls.
They couldn’t believe we were only staying the one night, telling us that we would regret our decision to leave ‘the best camp in Croatia’. They turned out to be right. It was another early exit from a place that as older, seasoned travellers, we would have stayed longer to enjoy.
We drove north on the E65 toward Sibenik, a scenic route which hugged the Adriatic coast. Peering down we spotted a flotilla of fir tree-lined islands and wooden sailboats moored in the turquoise waters of their pretty coves.
Our destination was the Krka National Park which covers more than 100 square kilometres and two thirds of the wide, green Krka River which flows from its source in the mountain range of Dinara to empty into the Adriatic Sea.
Just 5kms from the entrance, we were waved off the road by an excited Autocamp owner and enthusiastically welcomed in to her lovely, terraced campsite by smiling Marina. We were just one of only six campers on the cosy camp.
We cycled the 5kms back along the straight road in the searing late afternoon heat. It was 4pm and 33 degrees when we paid the entry fee of 85 Kunas each (£10), at the park gates. It was a discounted price as the gates would close in three hours and the park was emptying of visitors, being ferried in small minibuses.
In 2020, the visit would cost us 200 Kunas each (£24), emblematic of Croatia’s continuing success story attracting growing numbers of travellers and tourists.
We walked the shady trails along the river’s side and across it on wooden planked bridges for more than two hours.
The park has a unique eco system and is home to many varieties of water-loving grasses and plants, as well as reptiles, thankfully we only spotted the odd darting gecko. Its highlight is the Skradinski Buk falls, a series of 17 waterfalls over rocky precipices more than 40 meters high.
The thunderous scene of crashing green water was otherwise quiet as not many people were around. It was possible for one of us to head in for a swim, the other guarding our bag of worldly goods – a camera, mobile phone, Bertha’s keys, passports and money. We were cautious but not expecting of trouble, and careful not to attract it.
The waters were silky green and cool, frothing white where they plunged down their steep drop to hiss and steam on the hot rock faces jutting up of the riverbed below. There was a strong current and the vaporous air thrummed with a loud vibrating roar. A delighted swimmer returned feeling refreshed and elated!
We returned to Camp Marina as the sun set on another hot day in central Dalmatia.
Marina had been very successful in luring campervans in to her homely site. It was now full – all 30 pitches had been taken and Marina was now busy cooking dinner for her guests on the Peka (grill).
We had a date with a plate of cevapi, inspired by the spiced finger-shaped meatballs we tucked into at Ulcinj Bay in Montenegro. In fact, it was the third time we had made, grilled and chomped them since arriving in Croatia!
That evening we talked late with our neighbours, a retired British army officer and his wife who he was taking on a tour of his active duty in Bosnia as a member of NATO’s force during the Balkan conflict.
We learned much about the violence of those times, and were touched by his memories of the rural landscape he grew to love, and the kindness of strangers.
We headed west off the mainland across the wide toll bridge, paying 35 Kunas to drive onto the island of Krk.
In 2020 the toll was abolished, in favour of a two-year investment programme by the Croatian government to reconstruct the bridge. The toll barrier was lifted for the last time at midnight on Sunday 14 June. Locals apparently welcomed the news but noted that it was during a national election campaign.
In 2011 it wasn’t one of our better decisions. We struggled to find anywhere with space for us to stay and ended up badly parked behind a thorny tree on a steep sloping campground. A windy and fractious night revealed nasty lines scored along the side of Bertha’s snub from the scratching of the tree’s branches.
We marched down to visit the island’s harbour but then hastily packed up and returned to the mainland for our last afternoon in Croatia. We had one last chance to find a way of paying the €50 parking fine issued at Omis.
Dropping down off the motorway to the clear waters of the Bay of Bakar, we had the good fortune to meet Melina, a charming and bright young tourist information officer. She told us of the history of the pretty bay town, based on copper mining, ‘bakar’ means copper in Croatian. She also let us know that it was a national holiday so the local town council offices were closed, meaning we could not pay our fine.
Seeing our dismay, Melina offered to do it for us on the following Monday. Gratefully, we exchanged email addresses and gave her €10 towards a treat of her liking.
In two days’ time in the mountains of Slovenia, we would receive a cheery email from Melina with the receipt for our paid fine and her thanks for a bouquet of flowers and a box of her favourite chocolates. It was a happy end to our Croatian adventure!