The historic walled city at the southernmost tip of Croatia is as exceptional from the ground as it is from the sky. Massive stone walls run high and low, encircling the Old Town of Dubrovnik and framing an uninterrupted course on the edge of the Adriatic Sea. Dotted with turrets and towers, the two kilometre-long climb reaches its peak at 25m, overlooking terracotta rooftops as far as the eye can see.
Though built during the Middle Ages, the Great Wall has been reinforced throughout its history, and remains remarkably intact. Some of its fortresses and defensive towers serve as jumping off points for bathers and are even used as bars. Having a nighttime drink on the cascading rock edge is a delightful sensory experience. It’s pitch black – just moonlight, candlelight, and the constant rhythm of the waves.
Eight kilometres of gentle pathways and wooden walking trails lead visitors through central Croatia’s Plitvička Jezera National Park. Natural dams of travertine form upper and lower levels with a total of sixteen lakes, each encircled by forest and dotted with waterfalls. Working their way down the mountain, hikers take in the waters’ shifting colours of green and azure, just one beautiful phenomenon of this lush landscape – a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site north of Zadar.
In the littoral city, families gather on a series of long marble steps along Zadar’s Nova Riva to swim and watch the sunset. While children launch themselves off the pier in convoluted dives and titanic cruise ships leave the nearby port, musical notes emanate from below the stone boardwalk in concert with the ebb and flow of the tide. Each lapping of the waves strikes lengths of pipe hidden underneath the stairs, their energy pushing an air column and emitting different chords through perforations in the ground. The resulting Sea Organ, as part of the overall design of the coastal promenade, is one of two art installations on the waterfront by Croatian architect Nikola Bašić. You can hear it here.
The other installation, immediately adjacent, is a solar art display in the form of a 22-metre diameter circle, entitled Greeting to the Sun (Istarska Obala). Embedded under glass that is flush with the stone promenade, photo-voltage solar modules absorb the sun’s energy and transform it into electrical energy, creating a dynamic play of lights. The synergy of both projects makes this urban public space even more successful when charged with its nightly performance.
Torrential rains back in October wreaked havoc on Cinque Terre, a portion of coast on the Italian Riviera famous for its walking trails. Having visited the scenic site and experienced the rugged terrain just one month before, I can only imagine the damage caused by floods and mudslides that ravaged the area.
Il Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre is made up of five medieval towns: Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare; the coastline; and, the surrounding hillsides. The territory is the product of centuries of work by peasant farmers who shaped the mountainsides, transforming them into fertile terraces to cultivate olives, lemons and grapes. The scenery is striking from all angles and, combining both natural and human interventions, it is made even more dramatic with the sea as a backdrop.
A sprinkling of brightly coloured buildings rooted in natural stone typifies each town – here is a fishing village overrun by tourists in the summer while over there another sits, surrounded by vineyards, at the top of a 100-meter high promontory that plunges to the sea. Footpaths connect the villages, as do railway lines and passenger ferries, so should you get weary from walking, you have other options (road network not so good). As a general guideline, it takes 5hrs to do the 20km trek from Riomaggiore to Monterosso, at a good click. Naturally, it’s more of a full day’s outing if you take the time to pop some grapes and fig-like fruit along the way, or stop to visit each unique village. Some hiking trails (once mule paths) slope deeply downwards and upwards, overlooking ravines, while others wind the cliffs in wide, paved pathways, the gentlest being Via dell’ Amore, an accessible route between Riomaggiore and Manarola with a sea-swept panorama.
Refreshingly, there might be a lack of visible corporate development in the area but there is a fee to hike the trails. Cinque Terre was established as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and then a National Park in order to conserve the natural environment and safeguard its cultural heritage. Tourism may be the biggest draw to this corner of the world but the olive oil and wine (and grappa, and limoncello…) production still thrives, a testimony to the strength of centuries-old traditions. Good stuff.