The Oyster of Eastern Europe
The lush gardens amongst the white sandstone fortress unveiled themselves with such beauty that I yearned for more – the episode of “Game of Thrones” ended and my quest began – where was this exotic locale?
The fantasy series “Game of Thrones” has been shot extensively in Croatia and so enchanted is the global audience with its virgin beauty that they will continue to shoot the next two seasons there. The serial unlocked a new world for the avid traveler in me. Untouched by commercialisation, it was the pearl that opened the oyster of Eastern Europe.
A cluster of small islands, each with its own cultural flavour, cuisine and life, Croatia is set amidst crystal blue waters ideal for water sports, snorkeling and simply enjoying the languid waters of a cove in a luxury private yacht.
Split, Korcula, Hvar and Dubrovnik are the cities to visit.
The Croatians, I must say, are very hospitable and friendly. Though they have been caught up in war for almost 5 years, the spirit of the people is far from dampened, they live life for today. “There are many beautiful places but here you will see beautiful hearts.”
Split’s main attraction was its old town with the Palace of the Diocletian. We walked towards it across the Riva – the promenade on its South side. Lined with cafes and gelato parlours, their hostesses wishing us with warm smiles and the huge white canopies screening the outdoor seating against the bright sun, I was glad that I had picked up a lovely hat from the stalls bordering the promenade.
The Palace of the Diocletian had the old world charm of the bygone Roman Era and gave a romantic vibe to the small lanes crisscrossing the entire area inside the fort. I was more than happy to be captured by the Roman soldiers as I adjusted the lens of my Nikon – a perfect photo-op for me.
Tiny shops displayed their wares in small windows with local designer clothes and jewelry so tasteful that it was hard to resist. They were interspersed with many restaurants with a variety of ambiances – from the small library bars to gelato delights, from cafes to specialised fish eateries. The Lvxor Kavana and Restorante was my favourite – to be able to sit under the grand arches of the Diocletian’s private chambers, over a bottle of the finest red wine, pangrilled seabass and truffle risotto ending the dance of my taste buds with a delightful tiramisu… Oh! What a night! Serenaded by local artists under the moonlight, the waft of breeze carrying the essence of tranquil lavender put me in another zone…. I wished the night would never end.
And it didn’t… The next stop was the club Tropics where we walked in post-midnight. There was a sea of beautiful people rocking to thumping music till the wee hours of the morning. Who said Split ever went to sleep early?
The next morning, the warm and friendly staff at our hotel wished us goodbye as we set across the waters to Korcula…
It was as if God had said, “Let there be spring” – the colourful blooms welcomed us as we set foot on this small island. Probably the smallest of the lot, it was a delight for gourmet lovers – lined across the promenade that circled the island were tiny restaurants serving fresh delicacies sprayed generously with the finest olive oil. It’s here that we learnt that Croatia’s Korcula was home to Marco Polo. Why would he ever want to leave an island so serene was a question only he would have an answer to.
After an afternoon of jet skiing, trampoline jumping, and kayaking we had whetted up quite an appetite. As our yacht neared Hvar we were famished. Nothing could have been more spectacular than having a sunset dinner at the Restaurant Divino – an open air fine dining restaurant skirting the blue waters, giving us a breath taking view of the shimmering waves, soft music and impeccable service. Back on the yacht, we dressed ourselves to rock the night at Carpe diem, a bustling night club next door that rocked with the greatest all-time hits and even played us some amazing bhangra music (nothing connects to an Indian as perfectly as the beat of the dhol). So as to not disrupt the tranquil town, come midnight, we were ferried across to an island that extended the party for the revellers until dawn. Piping hot margarita pizzas and crepes were our early breakfast feast.
As we slunk into a deep slumber in the comfort of our beds on the yacht, it set sail to our last stop – Dubrovnik, a city that has faced many vagaries of nature and war but still stands today as one of the most beautiful and romantic cities I have visited. The white limestone that defines the central street, the cobbled pathways – the liveliness of it all got me floored. Our guide showed us the magnificence of the church, the town hall and museum that was rebuilt and repaired after the bombing. There was no sadness, only exuberance in her voice that showed the spirit of its people for whom the bullet marks on these walls of their heritage structures are the imprints of war. The zesty vibe of the bars and restaurants that all have their signature dishes are equally praiseworthy to that of the fine dining option at 360*. With the private yacht companies having better access, it was thankfully easier for us to get a booking at the restaurant which is perpetually full being a celebrity hangout. I completely understood why when the first morsel of the asparagus risotto melted into my mouth as we sat overlooking the clear blue waters watching the 9pm sunset. It was an evening of romance.
The next day got over before I even knew it and as we took off I looked down upon the red rooftops of the city that had caught my heart and I knew that I left wanting more… my love affair with Croatia had just begun.
About the author
Bhagyashree is best known for her spectacular Bollywood debut in Maine Pyaar Kiya opposite Salman Khan. However, very few know that she is an avid traveller. Having been around the world she has penned down few of her memoirs. She took a break from the silver screen to spend more time with her children who were growing up and recently returned with the television serial in 2014.