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Four Jewels of the Adriatic Coast

In this article by Steve McKenna, discover these four charming Adriatic stops before everyone else does.

Discover these four charming Adriatic stops before everyone else does. Words by Steve McKenna.

While the likes of Spain’s Costa del Sol and France’s Cote d’Azur have long attracted hordes of holidaymakers, the Adriatic Coast has remained comparatively off the mass tourism radar. However, word is beginning to spread about this region east of Italy and north of Greece, with its picturesque towns, cultural treasures, rustic islands, sapphire seas and emerald-hued mountains. Historic yet humming with life, these four destinations act as gateways to the region’s still-unspoiled charms.


Travellers usually fall for Montenegro’s most photogenic town at first sight –especially if they arrive by sea. Spread along Europe’s southernmost fjord, Kotor is dwarfed by forested mountains laced with lofty fortifications built over many centuries by ancient Illyrians, Byzantines and Venetians. Hugging the Bay of Kotor is the beautifully preserved old quarter. 
buildings lit on side of montenegro bay
More quaint delights and numerous beaches await in nearby Budva, which, in summer, draws hedonists from across the Balkans and Russia –they call it the “Montenegrin Miami”. Dotting the coast and hidden in the mountains are family-run restaurants offering grilled fish and seafood platters, while smokehouses tempt with flavoursome meats and cheeses.


Wanderlustful English poet Lord Byron declared this Croatian port the “Pearl of the Adriatic” and it’s hard to disagree, particularly when you’re roaming the chunky walls that frame the harbourside old town. Gazing over a raft of orange-tiled roofs, spires and towers that soar from palaces, monasteries and churches flaunting Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles, Dubrovnik’s chequered past is explained by knowledgeable local guides.
Aerial view of Dubrovnik city, Croatia
Despite its postcard-perfect appearance with the Adriatic Sea a sparkling backdrop, this UNESCO World Heritage site has twice been reconstructed –initially after being damaged in a 1667 earthquake and again after the 1990s Balkans conflict. For spectacular vistas over Dubrovnik out to sea and east towards the hills of Montenegro and Bosnia, take a cable car to the top of Mount SrÄ‘, which, at 415 metres, lords over the city.


It’s a contender for the title of Croatia’s most enchanting island, despite having plenty of competition with more than 1000 isles anchored off the country’s coastline. Walled Korcula Town boasts the moniker “Little Dubrovnik” and its wander-friendly streets are punctuated with medieval squares, churches and houses. One highlight is the Cathedral of St Mark, crafted by 15th-century Italian and local artisans using Korcula limestone. 
Ancient village set along the waters edge, Croatia
Another heritage building is the alleged family home of Marco Polo (the story goes that the legendary explorer was born here, and not in Venice, as widely believed). About half the size of Corfu, Korcula has abundant natural beauty, with kayak-friendly bays, dense forests and fertile slopes laden with olives and vines.


The largest city on the Adriatic coast and the biggest in Croatia after Zagreb, Split has a thriving waterfront core, with sleek shops, cafes, bars and restaurants surrounding the ancient, sprawling Diocletian’s Palace. It’s a treat to explore this fortress-like UNESCO-listed site, a mixture of ruins and restored structures, which was built at the beginning of the 4th century for a Roman emperor. As well as a palm-lined promenade, Split has striking coastal surrounds, with the mountain-fringed Split Riviera lined with a necklace of seductive villages.
Aerial view of Trogir city and water
Nearby Trogir, close to the Pantan wetlands and near the sea, is a pleasant place to while away an afternoon. The wetlands are a haven for birdwatchers, while at its spruced-up watermill restaurant in town you can enjoy local fish and meat, ice-cold beer, wine and live folk music.
Immerse yourself in coastal scenes on our 14-Day Croatia and Montenegro In Depth and uncover the heritage and culture of these Adriatic cities and towns.


Images courtesy of Ken Welsh/ Universal Images Group, Dreamer4787, Witold Ryka