My morning runs are a meditation of sorts. While pacing my way around the city wall of Dubrovik, passing the red roofs and pale honey stone of all the Baroque townhouses, I had reflected on how beautiful this part of Europe was and how we had really caught the Croatia bug. We wanted to see even just a little more before heading back to Sydney. I was happy to drop my original decision to spend the day in London en route, shopping and going to museums. Who wants to be in a city amongst concrete in 30 plus heat when we could squeeze in another day on the glittering blue waters of the Adriatic?
Sheira agreed, and a full day later flight to London was confirmed - so we had an extra night to play with. For someone so organised, I sometimes surprise myself with my impromptu, on the spot decisions. Our new friends and owner of seaside resort Casa Dell’Arte in Bodrum, Turkey had suggested we go to MONTENEGRO, further south. This small country, north of Albania and south of Bosnia and Herzegovina, is supposed to equal the beauty of Croatia. They recommended a really beautiful, compact island covered in quaint, medieval dwellings called SVETI STEFAN (St Stephan) that had been converted into a resort - and became a getaway spot for the wealthy in the 70s and 80s.
I was also interested in the archipelago area in the other direction further north along the coastline. I liked the look of HVAR as our possible side trip, one of the bigger islands known for its natural beauty and rural feel, with an expanse of lavender fields, vineyards and coastal olive trees as well as beaches and seaside fishing villages. It is known as one of Croatia’s more famous holiday spots.
I selected a fantastic hotel there, the ADRIANA HVAR MARINA HOTEL AND SPA. It has a blue ribbon, waterfront position right on the promenade facing the harbour. I loved the look of the outdoor seawater pool, 1960s egg shaped chairs hanging from chains, and rooftop bar with a sweeping view of the island’s cathedral and city centre.
It would be a 4-6 hr private boat trip depending on the weather, so I was really keen but worried that it could take just that little too long to get there. The days in Croatia were supposed to be chilled as a reward for the family after Istanbul and Cappadocia in Turkey, where I had them on the Jonathan Said full-steam-ahead travel program. I wanted to avoid turning the journey into a whole day traveling or I may have a revolution on my hands!
The third option was an island suggested by Nicolina, the manager of our Dubrovnik hotel, the Pucic Palace. At 2 - 4 hrs away depending on weather, KORČULA would be the closest and we would be able to stop off at a few islands along the way to swim. Her recommended hotel there, the 6-suite LESIC DIMITRI PALACE, was a fantastic size and looked charming.
We decided to stick to Croatia this time and keep our bookings in both Hvar and Korčula, deciding en route how we felt. There are plenty of speedboats available in these waterways and we booked one for 800 Euros. Boating is pricey here. In a country like Croatia with a weaker local currency, in this case the KUNA, the hotels and transportation make far more money by charging in Euros.
When we met our driver at Dubrovnik’s new port at 10am I was not happy. I had been told that our boat would be 35-ft plus, but at 25ft it’s just not big enough for going out in the open sea; let alone a single engine. It was a bit late to turn around so we hopped on board with Marco and his assistant, (2 hefty sized Eastern European men) - plus the four of us on this small boat…really not happy !
The plan was lets start and see how the water and winds were, and if things were fine we would pass Korcula and move onto Hvar. From past boating experiences I knew that if it is rough and windy, don’t be miserable: cut your losses and head for the closest port. Only 30 mins into the journey, after passing all the little waterfront holiday homes further out of Dubrovnik, we were already miserable ! When Marco our driver told us that these conditions could add another 2 1/2 hrs to our journey I ditched the idea of Hvar and the boat journey there and then. ...Pull Parachute!
I noticed a massive Radisson hotel about a mile away on shore and said to Marco …drop us off and I will find some way of getting to either Korcula or Hvar ! What was meant to be a fun boating day cruising the waters of Croatia was fast turning into a nightmare. However, I kind of for some weird reason relish these situations were I am so out of my comfort zone, know my family are relying on me to get us out of the pickle and do it with the least amount of fuss. I cope with this kind of pressure, but need some space to sort through the next steps. First step. Go to the concierge desk - the Radisson in this case. Be super polite, as we are not guests here after all, but need their help and suggestions. The young concierge convinced me to drop the idea of heading as far as Hvar, and rather drive about an hour and a half north on the mainland to Orebic, and then a 20-minute ferry ride from Orebic out to the island of Korcula. He could have a Mercedes taxi at the hotel in 15 minutes to help us continue on this adventure. Whew ! I might just have got myself out of trouble with the family! They say I always push the envelope. I do push the envelope and most times I get away with it, so when the wheels do come off only I can fix them and fast ! Zoe tends to panic when we hit the skids, she is still young and senses the insecurity. Noah and Sheira are by now veterans of travel and panic less.
A private taxi driver came to take us on the drive to Orebic, the nearest town to Korčula on the mainland peninsula. We were winding our way along the hills of this very beautiful part of the world. The astonishingly close, rugged mountains where the perfect backdrop to tiny villages, coves and sandy beaches on the clear blue Adriatic waters below.
As we made it onto the Peljesac peninsula, 15 minutes before the ferry stop, Zoe started to vomit buckets after BlackBerrying her girlfriend in Bali. We’re talking car sick - over herself, Sheira, right into the new YSL bag, the works !! Wow, the driver was so understanding considering the Mercedes had cloth seats (my worst nightmare) and of course Noah is all out gagging ! Luckily we still had umpteen bottles of mineral water that we had removed from the boat. The bottles of water were now more important to wash ourselves, rather than hydrating ourselves as had been the plan at the start of the day !
We white knuckled it to the lovely, red-roofed town of Orebic, set amongst cypress groves at the foot of the massive St Elias mountain. As we arrived at the port, I was not interested in waiting for a schedule ferry we just had to get across to Korcula as soon as we could. I ran to what looked like a sturdy wooden boat and said “how much to Korcula?”… I was prepared to pay anything, just make this journey from hell end!
The nightmare ended there, as we crossed the waters from mainland Croatia to Korcula, and called ahead to The Lesic Dimitri Hotel to say we were close by, please meet us at the port.
(By the way, we did take the scheduled ferry on the return journey - you brush up against the backpacker kids, with their groaning backpacks and big rubber mats to sleep on. I always have a respect for these young travelers because they go further and deeper into a country than almost anyone else - and I enjoy coming out of the luxury bubble to ride simple local ferries).