It is another lovely warm Mediterranean day and I am standing at the prow of the small ship that Jill Worrall tours has chartered for a week. Brand new and with a decor styled with good taste and functionality in mind it is very exciting and the stunning coastline is mesmerising!! We are being thoroughly spoilt with a four course dinner last night and then a great nights sleep in the comfy cabins where good design has packed in all the modern conveniences in a generous space on our 50m ship. The islands of Croatia have a rugged beauty with the wind blowing through twisted pine trees and transluscent water seemingly lit from below as the white rock glows with an irridescent light. The people are warm as is common in small communities and they are grateful for the tourist dollar. Arriving into small ports we are tied up alongside yachts and other pleasure crafts. Small fishing boats weave their way through to the small harbour, offloading the days catch to feed hungry travellers.
In late May I was lucky enough to join one of Jill Worrall's Tours to sunny Croatia where we spent time on both the mainland and sailing through the islands on our own chartered, small ship. There were 32 of us and it was certainly one of those life experiences that makes you pinch yourself. The scenery was stunning and Jill's Tour certainly delivered with experiences that most travellers would not find on their own. We had magical meals accompanied by local musicians, the most memorable on our last evening in Dubrovnik, high in the hills at a small farm where they prided themselves on being totally self-sufficient.
By far the biggest surprise, however was the wild beauty of Bosnia and Slovenia. Lake Bled in particular with it's hilltop monastery and a church set on a small island. We biked all the way around the lake on a misty morning and the atmospheric mountains rising behind the lake swathed in light cloud only added to the other-worldly beauty.
It was the first time I had travelled on an organised tour and I have to say that it made for a very relaxed trip. There were no stresses and your every need was taken care of. The City guides were enthusiastic and it was a real insight into their culture to hear about their home from someone with inside knowledge.
Croatia was a revelation with historic walled towns, food similar to Italy and a sophistication that belies it's troubled history. The effects of the war of 20 years ago are evident but it is that fighting spirit that has allowed them to rebuild so quickly and get back to the enviable life they lead.
Croatia is very easy to navigate even with it's winding roads and very good airports make internal flights very simple. Zagreb in the north is the main airport to fly into and is well worth a visit for three or four days. Stunning buildings, a lively old town centre and amazing galleries and museums make this an appealing destination.
On the cruise portion of the tour we start with the island of Mljet, which is not far from Dubrovnik but feels a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of the touristy alleys of this stunning city. There is a small enclave of white houses tumbling down the hill and a few sleepy restaurants and cafes. Several people rent put bikes to those wanting some exercise which is a good idea after all the delicious food we have eaten. After a group visit to the salt water lakes on the island I hire a bike and take to the hills It is hot and fairly hard work but it is great to blow out the cobwebs and cycle through small villages where window boxes of geraniums and small courtyards delight the eye. Despite the hills the time passes quickly and I am soon back at the port and a swim in the warm sea is refreshing and scours away the dust from the ride.
We sail past the island of Korcula and stunning Hvar where we will have the afternoon to explore. A fascinating place full of history and the nicest of people. Everybody smiles in Croatia but it is easy to see why. Visits to Split and other stunning places opens up the world of the Croatian Islands and gives you a taste of the blessed lefe they lead.
The mainland too offers breathtaking places to visit with the bridge a Mostar a real hit. Here the young men of the village take turns to jump from the bridge which soars in a stunning arch over the river that winds it's way through the town. With our hearts in our mouths we watch them take the plunge into the emerald waters below.
Above is a photo of Ravinj, a very dramatic seaside town nicknamed the mini Venice and it i certainly evocative of that. We had an interesting one hour tour to learn about it's history and then we were left to our own devices. That is the beauty of being part of a tour as you have the benefit of organisation and then you can have time to yourself.
I thoroughly recommend tours as a way to have a relaxed time but to have a full itinerary so there is never a dull moment and the company when you choose to have it is nice too. Of course sharing experiences is one of the best parts of travel.