Croatia, It's Not That Far!
Now and then, when we have a few extra days between gigs in Eastern Europe and our home in the Netherlands, we bounce down through Serbia and into Croatia, where we camp for a few days on the Island of Krk, high in the Adriatic Sea. The island has everything I want for a holiday break; 25ish degree sunny weather, remote white sand beaches, turquoise water, ancient hilltop villages, and the food and wine that go along with a Mediterranean climate. But, we only ever have a day or two to relax before we have to move on, leaving me with a strong desire to return when we can spend more time. And now, we had a couple of spare weeks.
Arthur is not one for lying about, and a beach holiday is the last thing on his “how to spend my spare time” list. But, during our past forays into Croatia, we brought along paddle-boards, and he’d purchased a mask and snorkel, and suddenly the beach became tolerable. So, I pleaded my case for discovering more of Croatia. I used words like hike, and bike, things that we both love to do, then I threw in the idea of paddle-boarding and snorkeling. Okay, let’s do it! He said. I noticed when we packed the van that there was a bin of conducting scores tucked in beside the paddle-boards. I can’t just do nothing, he said. I’ll find a shady corner to study. Well, I couldn’t argue with that logic. This was compromise in action.
And then, lunch in Milan took longer than expected, cutting our Croatia time in half. Let’s just go to Istria, I suggested thinking of the peninsula at the top of the Adriatic next to Italy, It’s not that far! I’m guessing now, that most Europeans have a fridge-magnet exclaiming, Just go to Istria, it’s not that far! Part way there I starting calling campsites. Full, full and full. Finally, I had a breakthrough, Camp Mon Paradis, noted in my camping book as a family-run 42-pitch campsite by the sea. It sounded perfect. Do you have a spot on the shore? I asked. Tomorrow. What was one more day, we had a spot! I booked it. We wild-camped for the night hidden from view on the edge of a high cliff, the water far below us. We could just stay here for our holidays, Arthur winked. I rolled my eyes and started to pack up. We pulled into the campsite before noon.
It was a strange plot. A 10-foot high, thick rock-wall clearly marked the edge of the campsite. The ocean view was partially blocked by overgrown shrubs, but there were shade trees, and we were indeed just a few feet from the shoreline. We rolled up the tent and pulled out the kitchen. I grabbed my book and headed for the beach.
The bay was crowded. Mon Paradis was hemmed in on all sides. I suspect at one time it was the only establishment on the bay, but now, to the north, one of those “professional” campsites buzzed with 3000 campers and sported a water park, and a pizza parlour. But that wasn’t the biggest problem.
As I lay on a lounger beside the shore reading my book, dipping my big toe distractedly in and out of the sea, the subtle thump, thump, thump of a techno beat somewhere in the neighbourhood filtered into my senses, and I had a sinking feeling. Studying scores does not mix well with an incessant bass thrum, and Arthur’s ability to study was my ticket to relaxing. I snuck back to the site, and sure enough, he was pacing, and grumpy.
I suggested a paddle. We pumped up the boards and launched into the bay. From there, I could see what lay on the other side of our 10-foot high wall. A public beach, with restaurant, and massive sound system. As we paddled away, the water magnified both the sound of the beat and the tension between us. If I didn’t look to the left, or right, the place was picture perfect. But even I had to admit, this isn’t what I’d been dreaming of.
The next morning, I called our favourite old campsite on Krk. Tomorrow, we’ll have a place, they confirmed. The promised plot wasn’t our usual one next to the sea, but at least we knew what we were in for. We packed up and drove across Istria. I was disappointed and thumbed through my guide book to hide my sulking. Hey! I said looking up, There’s a ferry from the east shore of Istria, to the Island of Cres, and from Cres to Krk. Let’s do that! Krk has a bridge, so getting there from the mainland is easy for Europe. Cres, on the other hand, requires the money and time commitment of ferries, something I am quite used to from growing up on Canada’s west coast, but maybe, just maybe, this extra effort has kept Europe away.
Ancient grey villages, drystone walls and olive groves dotted Cres’s landscape as we drove south on a narrow road. In front of a rocky pasture a small table was loaded with amber rounds of sheep cheese, and of course we had to stop. Okay, I eat a lot of good cheese, but this? This was remarkable. Subtly smoky and dry in just the right cheesy way, with the taste of the farm lingering on the tongue. I paid the villager our few Kuna, and he placed a large smooth round in my hands. The holiday atmosphere was returning!
Soon, we stopped again, this time to wander around the small harbour city of Cres. Narrow streets and harbour piers milled with mostly Croatian folks enjoying the warm evening. Had we done it? Had we left busy Europe behind? We drove on, to the island of Losinj, separated from Cres by a small canal, and found a seaside campsite just after dark. It was snuggled between an ancient monastery to the north, and the cozy town of Nerezine to the south. As we wandered around in the silent darkness to choose our plot, spacious, and open to the sea, I was giddy. We had arrived.
For the next few days we swam in the warm turquoise sea, sometimes together, snorkeling along the reefs, pointing out needle-fish and bright angel-fish to each other, and sometimes it was just me floating alone in the Adriatic while Arthur sat in the shade studying his scores to the sound of waves and seabirds. I sipped chilled white wine in the afternoon sunshine while I read my book and we walked to town for gelato every evening. We cycled along the shoreline, picked fresh sticky figs from the trees at the edge of the track, and paddled our boards to the tiny museum-like village of Osor, four kilometres away, and then sailed back to camp, unfurling the compact sails I’d secreted away in the van as a surprise.
Dare I say it was the perfect holiday? If we’d found the cheese-shepherd on the way back to the ferry, even Arthur might agree. But, I’m glad we didn’t, because I’m fairly sure that when I say, shall we go to Cres for our holidays? He’ll lead the way.
Hover over the images (or choose landscape and tap on mobile) to see some pics of our Adriatic adventures.