Imagine the perfect trip that provides a breathtaking snapshot of Europe’s natural splendors. One day, you explore one of the world’s best-preserved medieval cities with sweeping views of the glittering sea. Later, you ferry along a rugged shore dotted with more than 1,000 islands. A forested, mountainside wonderland is next, fed by a lush and soothing network of lakes and rivers. These mountains are just a prelude to the soaring Alps that you’ll soon encounter, a snow-capped ring overlooking a pristine, picture-perfect lake. And it’s all a sublime setting for some of the continent’s most enchanting and historic cultures.
There are few places in Europe that encompass such a wide range of natural beauty in such a compact area. But Croatia and Slovenia do—huddled along the Adriatic Sea and brimming with magnificent vistas that have long lured emperors and kings. Discovery Tours is eager to introduce you this spellbinding corner of Europe.
Dalmatia’s Dreamy Seascapes
The red-roofed medieval city of Dubrovnik is a wonder to behold. But half of its beauty can be credited to its spectacular setting on the blue Adriatic. The remarkably preserved enclave juts into the sea on a limestone promontory; temperamental waves lash at its rocky coast and ancient walls. Just 2,000 feet offshore, the long, green island of Lokrum rests like an apostrophe. Its one-third-square-mile expanse hides a lovely Botanical Garden that’s home to a lush gathering of Mediterranean flora.
North of Dubrovnik, the stunning island of Korcula lies off Croatia’s coast. Once you lay your eyes on its lovely medieval town and its stunning Adriatic setting, you have to wonder why Marco Polo wanted to leave his home island to embark upon a quarter-century of globe-trotting. But leave it he did.
There is a lot to savor on Korcula, including Renaissance palaces and the resplendent St. Mark’s Cathedral. Stonemasons, shipbuilders, and sea merchants all helped put this island on the map, injecting money and glory into its buildings and institutions. Aside from its rich culture of architecture and maritime endeavors, Korcula and its surrounding islands also boast a proud musical heritage. Its Klape singers, who indulge in a style of a cappella singing, carry tunes that date back to the 1800s.
Hvar is another enchanting island outpost. The island once served as a crossroads for trade between the Adriatic and Mediterranean. Its Old Town and cozy marina are a delight to explore, and its striking beauty of karst landscape, fertile plains, vast vineyards and sprawling fields of lavender has helped earn it a place as one of the world’s most gorgeous islands.
One of Hvar’s neighboring archipelagos, the Pakleni Islands, offers crystalline waters ideal for snorkeling. The islands’ name is typically translated as “Hell’s Islands.” But they are more likely named for “paklina,” the pine-resin tar that was once harvested from their shores to seal the hulls of ships. No matter what you might call them, don’t be fooled: this is a stunningly beautiful series of heaven-sent islets.
Croatia’s Mainland Marvels
Another spectacular locale lies inland. The Plitvice Lakes are among the world’s most magnificent natural wonders. Sixteen lakes terrace their way down a hillside high in the Dinaric Mountains, each one connected to the last via cascading waterfalls, caves, springs and chutes. The highest falls tumble some 230 feet. The string of lakes is almost five miles long, and over their lush course the waters fall a total of 430 feet. They vary in color from one terrace to the next—waters might flow from a turquoise lake into a green-hued pool, then into a gray basin. This phenomenon—created by the angle of the sun and the minerals and organisms in the water—lends a magical air to any visit. Raised wooden footpaths lead you through this astonishing wonderland.
Speaking of magical, Croatia’s Istrian Peninsula is one of Europe’s most delightful secrets. To be sure, the main draw of this wedge-shaped chunk of land is its magnificent coastline, hugged by cities whose architecture seems to speak more Venetian than Croatian. Here and there, a classic campanile – or bell tower – pierces the briny sea air, calling to mind Venice’s St. Mark’s Square. Even inland, amidst rolling vineyards and villages perched on hilltops, you would be forgiven if you suddenly believed you had unknowingly stumbled upon Tuscany.
Remnants of past civilizations are everywhere here, from Pula’s incredible 2,000-year-old amphitheater to Rovinj’s Venetian-style cityscape. And in Opatija, lavishly reclining along Adriatic shores near the tip of the Gulf of Kvarner, a seaside promenade tempts you into long strolls with spectacular views.
Beyond the Tuscan-like landscapes of the Istrian Peninsula, Croatia’s terrain rises into Slovenia and the dramatic heights of the magnificent, snow-capped Julian Alps. Here lies what is perhaps Slovenia’s most splendid vista: Lake Bled. This alpine lake with a glass-like, azure surface enchants. A tiny island rests at its center, crowned by the lovely Assumption of Mary church with its wonderful collection of frescoes. A belfry tower houses the 16th-century “wishing bell,” often rung by freshly-wed couples after the groom has carried his bride up the stairs.
On the lake’s shores, the 11th-century Bled Castle overlooks the waters from a dramatic rocky perch, as moody and stunning as any fairytale abode. Nearby, the resort town of Bohinj serves as a launching pad for alpine treks and other outdoor activities. It is said that when invading Turks arrived at Bohinj, the region looked so primeval that they turned around for fear that they had reached the edge of the world. Not to worry—the dense woodlands and stunning landscapes are endlessly inviting and its farm-fresh cheeses are sublime.
Europe’s most beautiful vistas and most tantalizing medieval cities seem encapsulated in Croatia and Slovenia. And our Discovery Tours small group lets you experience them to their fullest. We invite you join us and discover them for yourself!