Last September I had the good fortune to accompany my friend Karen to her apartment on the Croatian island of Milna. She insisted on doing all the driving, about 1,200 kilometres or 750 miles. I felt like chauffeured royalty.
En route we detoured to Varenna along Lake Como in northern Italy for a two-day break. (See a previous post, “Bellissimo Lago di Como,” with many photos of the stunning area.)
Serenity on the Dalmatian coast
The journey from Varenna to Milna was long. We waited in a line of cars for almost two hours to cross the border from Slovenia into Croatia. When we reached Split after a day and half of driving from Varenna, my dedicated driver finally had a rest. We boarded our first ferry for the trip to her island.
Sunset on the Adriatic
Ferries, all sizes, are the mode of transport among the Croatian islands. The country claims more than 1,000 islands, but most are small and uninhabited. Some ferries transport cars and people. Some are for passengers only. Backpackers, families with kids and dogs in tow, old and young – all aboard. We rode many during our week’s stay.
Karen’s apartment sits atop a hill not far from the ferry stop in Milna. This was her last visit. She had recently sold the apartment which she had owned for 13 years. The long trips to reach Milna were getting to be too much.
During our stay we visited other islands, swam in sparkling waters at idyllic beaches, and ate very well. Croatia is paradise for fish and seafood lovers. We savored monk fish with truffle sauce, black risotto with shrimp, fettucine with seafood, mussels, calamari, and scrumptious seafood platters.
I was keen to visit Dubrovnik where I had been many, many years ago on assignment for the newspaper Stars and Stripes. I remembered those monumental city walls.
Instead of staying in the city, we splurged on a luxurious coastal hotel. A bus took us to town where we joined numerous other visitors to walk atop the walls which are considered one of the best-preserved medieval fortification systems in Europe. Wall statistics: 1,940 meters long encompassing five forts, 16 towers and bastions. And steps: 1,080.
More steps, a grand total of 4,343, are within the city perimeter. And cats. Everywhere. As a cat lover, I was thrilled and spent too much time trying to get the perfect feline photo. The kitties are accustomed to all the attention and seem to pose for photos as they lounge in the middle of plazas, take a cat nap on restaurant chairs, curl up in flower pots, saunter through cobbled alleys.
Dubrovnik cats are considered its oldest citizens. Their ancestors helped fight the bubonic plague carried by rats. The plague ravaged the city in the 14th century when Dubrovnik, known as Ragusa, was a main trading hub between Europe and the Ottoman Empire. Trading boats, coming from all around the Mediterranean, brought goods to the city, ship cats who disembarked — and the plague. The cats were welcomed and treated well for their help in fighting the disease.
Even more cats wander freely in Kotor, a coastal town in neighboring Montenegro. I had read about the country’s spectacular coast and wanted to visit since it was so close We set off to Kotor with scenery photo opps the entire way. Those travel articles did not exaggerate. Kotor, like Dubrovnik, has a medieval old town, lively squares and twisty streets.
The Kotor cat is a symbol of good luck. As in Dubrovnik, cats originally arrived via ships. They helped control the rat population, as well as snakes and other nasty critters from nearby mountains. Today the cat also contributes to the Kotor economy. Cat shops selling feline souvenirs and cat paraphernalia are popular. There is a cat museum. As one blogger wrote, Kotor is for “cat-o-holics” (me).
Before we returned to Milna, we spent a day lounging at our hotel, marveling at the beauty of the surroundings, swimming in the clear water, and taking too many photos. We did not want to leave.
I loved swimming in these waters, but was too chicken to jump from the rocks.
Croatia rates three Michelin stars plus – definitely “worth a visit.” Croatians are friendly folk, and English is widely spoken.
Thank you, Karen, guide extraordinaire, for sharing your swansong journey with me.
More photos follow.
More on Hungary coming: FOOD.
If not a Tales and Travel follower, please sign up here. Don’t miss future posts.