The road to Dubrovnik, along the high-cliffed Adriatic coastline, is reminiscent of the Corniche along the French Riviera. The city itself, on a jag of land jutting out into the sea, is your classic medieval heart-stopper, ancient walls gathering up a fairy tale array of spires and orange-tiled roofs.
Jill Schensul, The Record Online, 31st December 2000
A spokeswoman for the Croatian Tourist board said “Croatia is what the Greek islands were 30 years ago before mass tourism. British people still think of it as a war zone, but that was ten years ago and little of the place was touched.” After the war the Italians and Germans flocked back – plus celebs such as Naomi Campbell and Sting – attracted by the uncrowded beaches, clean seas and uninhabited islands.
The Times, December 30th 2000
Hvar, at least at the end of the season, has the feel of a languid idyll. It appears as that rare thing: an exquisite place devoid of pretension…Hvar is the belle of the island of the same name, while the venerable statesman is Stari Grad.
Thomas Swick, Sun Sentinel, 5th December 2000
The article: A Life In Stone
The night was too beautiful to waste it sleeping. The limestone bricks of the Old City, polished by years of foot traffic, shimmered like marble in the moonlight…It was a mid-September night in Dubrovnik, Croatia, and it was perfectly Mediterranean — neither balmy nor cool. I had just two days to spend in this magical place, and I wanted each moment to count.
Jackie Crosby, Star Tribune, 19th November 2000
The article: Dubrovnik: Croatia’s jewel city makes glorious comeback (link no longer works)
A Warm Welcome: Fed up with indifferent service and rip-off prices? Once a destination takes its tourists for granted, prices go up and enjoyment goes down. Instead, try countries trying to rebuild a visitor base. At the moment Croatia and the Dalmatian Coast – one of the unspoilt beauties of Europe – represent a bargain.
The Sunday Times Good Deal Guide, 15th October 2000
The streets and squares of the ancient cities are paved with marble; marble balustrades and kerbs mark out the boundaries of the piers; the seaside promenades and cafes are shaded by pollarded mulberry trees or huge palms. On the scarps, aromatic alpine shrublets perfume the air; at sea-level, roses are swagged with jasmines and honeysuckles; cordylines and agaves punctuate the lushness, and at night in the starry pinewoods the air is loud with nightingales. A great place for a holiday, you might think, but it is not that simple.
Germaine Greer, Daily Telegraph, 26th August 2000
The article: Croatia: The last resort
Dubrovnik is a fairytale city every bit as magical as Bruges or Venice. The old town looks like a giant Bastille, surrounded by ramparts 2km long and up to 25m high. There is no motorised transport beyond the main entrance, the Pile gate, just a warren of baroque churches and stone houses with honey-coloured roofs.
Guy Mansell, The Guardian, 12th August 2000
The article: Dalmation hotspots [sic]
The Sunday Times has done it again: “Low on tourists, high on sights…six island idylls from the cream of Dalmatia’s gorgeous coast…not a coastline in the Mediterranean that can compare with it.”
Jonathan Futrell, The Sunday Times, 30th July 2000
If you want to go somewhere different this summer, away from the tourist hordes, then Croatia’s capital city offers ancient buildings, quiet boulevards… and excellent fruit brandy.
Cathy Packe, The Independent, 1st July 2000
The article: 48 Hours in Zagreb
Istria, the bit of Croatia that dangles like a heart pendant in the Adriatic Sea, plays to a wide range of tastes. In the fall and spring, life runs more nearly true to the old maritime-agricultural rhythms. These are good times to enjoy the countryside and its food and excellent wines. If you’re partial to stone and mortar, there are some impressive Byzantine and Roman monuments, too, including an amphitheater in Pula that’s still very much in the business of spectacles.
Daniel Lewis, New York Times, 21st May 2000
The article: Adriatic Abundance
It’s official: George Clooney’s replacement in ER is drop-dead gorgeous. [This series] has had a transfusion of new blood in the form of Goran Visnjic, a Croatian doctor who saves battered wives for a living and has a soft spot for pregnant nurses. Not only is luscious Luca causing palpitations every Wednesday night, however: my female friends agree that he could single-handedly resuscitate their interest in Croatia as a holiday hot spot.
Lucy Gillmore, The Independent, 15h April 2000
Croatia is a country of great natural beauty and charm. Steep mountains plunge downwards into tranquil valleys, and the seas are so clear as to be almost translucent…..The people are some of the friendliest and most accommodating of any country. A walk through a Croatian city is always accompanied by smiles and a feeling of goodwill permeates throughout.
Saga Magazine, February 2000
Situated in the southernmost part of Croatia, Dubrovnik is rich in cultural and historical monuments. In my opinion, this city is on the verge of becoming the next South of France – a playground for those of us who live for the unspoiled treasures of a true Mediterranean landscape.
Ivana Trump, Cruise Magazine, February 2000
Istria in the north…has undergone substantial hotel renovation and the sailing around its coastline is among the best in Europe: last year demand outstripped availability by some distance.
The Express, 1st January 2000
Alka Festival, Croatia
“Srida!” shout the children, stomping their feet.
From the end of the road, a horse appears, hurtling towards us. The rider is dressed in 18th-century costume, eyes wide, focused. He raises a long lance and aims at a small metal ring hung from a rope 12ft above the ground. The lance hits dead centre, ripping the ring away. “Srida!” shouts the crowd. Far above on the hill, a cannon booms. Forget football, basketball and tennis – Croatia’s usual obsessions – medieval tilting is the lifeblood of the small town of Sinj, 40km inland from Split. Every first weekend in August, the town stops for the three-day Alka festival, a tradition dating back to 1715.
The term alka comes from the Turkish halka meaning metal ring, in this instance a round metal stirrup plundered by Croatian soldiers at the battle of Sinj in 1715, when 700 Croats defeated 60,000 Turkish soldiers (or so the victors calculated). To celebrate, the Croatian cavalry competed to lance the centre of the Turkish stirrup. This year will see the 285th festival, when the
tiny town (population 13,000) will be overrun. Friday’s bara and Saturday’s coja contests are free, but Sunday’s Alka is all-ticket (about £5-£l0), and it’s necessary to reserve well
On Friday evening, we thronged the wooden seating along a flank of thick chestnut trees. A trumpet announced the first bara horseman. “He needs a clear eye and a courageous heart,” whispered my neighbour. He wasn’t joking. The horses hurtle along at 45mph. The bull’s-eye is barely an inch across. Yet the alkari hit it with their lances. Often. Three points are given for a centre hit, two for the top space and one for the two bottom spaces.
Following the two-hour contest, everyone packs the street cafes to predict the next day’s champion. There’s folkdancing, banjos and general partying in the pretty, Mediterranean-style streets. Around midnight, I almost got wrapped in a huge Croatian flag, a fitting symbol of how this small country welcomes its visitors.
On Sunday, Alka day, I was woken at 6am by a cannon booming. I joined the crowds climbing the hill to the site of the famous victory, where a mass is held, the linking of church and military that continues throughout the Balkans today. Then came the main competition. Speeches were made, the alka squires appeared, followed by the alkari themselves. Their uniforms (worn only on Sunday) are regal – embroidered greatcoats, silver- and gold-encrusted waistcoats and sable fur hats crowned with heron plumes. But this pomp evidently affected the knights. Seven riders missed the ring in the first round. Eventually, the winner of the past two years, Ognjen Preost, won again. The cannon boomed, everyone went wild. Then we went off to eat and drink once more.
The winner gets £3,000, but has to spend it all on his victory party, wining and dining most of the town until dawn. Chivalry might be dead. But men with lances still walk tall in Croatia.
Jim Keeble travelled with Croatia Airlines
THIS YEAR’S DATES: August 4-6.
GETTING THERE: Croatia Airlines (0181-563 0022; www.ctn.tel.hr/ctn/ [now www.croatiaairlines.com]) flies to Split, 40km from Sinj, once a week; from £219 plus taxes.
In Sinj, stay at the Hotel Alka (00 385 21-824474); half-board from £25pp per night.
MORE INFORMATION: Croatian National Tourist Board (0181-563 7979).
WEBSITE: visit www.htz.hr/culturalevents.htm [now at www.croatia.hr] for a listing of festivals and practical travel advice.
The Sunday Times, January 2000