It’s always a big thrill to visit a country for the first time and my debut trip to Croatia came courtesy of Viking Orion’s first port of call on leaving Venice.
Sibenik is the oldest Croatian city on the Dalmatian Coast and a UNESCO World Heritage site. We sailed through the narrow channel separating the destination from the Adriatic Sea and pulled up alongside the dock that sits just outside the city.
Viking offers a comprehensive and varied assortment of optional shore excursions so I signed up to visit the Krka National Park, with its abundance of waterfalls and more than 1,000 species of native flora and fauna.
Krka is one of eight national parks in Croatia and covers more than 100 square kilometres, so locals recommend you take at least a couple of days to explore the whole thing. Sadly, I only had a couple of hours but these provided a delightful distraction as our tour group wandered around the boardwalk trail.
Here you’ll spot figs, blue dragonflies and trout – to name but a few. The park does get crowded, however, with some 10,000 people allowed in a day, so avoid the peak holiday season of June to August if you want to go swimming in peace.
The second stop on our morning excursion was the delightful little town of Skradin, which received global exposure recently following the patronage of one very famous tourist. This small enclave of just under 4,000 people at the mouth of the Krka River now comes highly recommended by Microsoft owner Bill Gates, who apparently holidayed here in total anonymity and fell in love with the place.
I could see why Skradin would appeal to Mr Gates as he could wander the tiny streets, stop for a coffee or lunch at one of the many little bars and restaurants, and simply watch the world go by…or count his billions. Either way, it’s well worth a visit if you ever find yourself in these parts.
Refreshed and rejuvenated after lunch onboard Orion, I wandered into Sibenik and toured the old part of town, which houses the World Heritage listed Cathedral of St James, described as the most important Renaissance structure in Croatia. Sadly I can’t tell you what it’s like inside as there’s a strict rule on long trousers being worn, but in 35 degree heat that was a bit of an ask, even for you, dear reader.
Dress codes notwithstanding, Sibenik also has a restaurant called Pelegrini’s, which I am reliably informed has been repeatedly lauded for having the best food in Croatia. Fans of the TV series Game of Thrones will also be delighted to learn that various locations around the city have been featured in previous episodes.
But even if you’re not a gourmand or a ‘Thronie’, the city has plenty of charming cobblestone streets, churches and historic buildings to explore, a great way to cap off my first experience of an emerging and popular destination.
The 930-passenger Orion is the fifth ocean vessel launched by Viking and the eight-day ‘Italian Sojourn’ tour encompasses Venice and Croatia, calling at Bari, Sicily and Naples before ending in Rome. She will initially sail in the Mediterranean before heading east to sail in Asia and Alaska, arriving in Australia in December.