Once upon a time there lived four girls: Danielle, Jenn, Jaime & Valeda. They were friends who lived in the bustling city of Denver. The girls liked Denver, but occasionally longed to see far away places with cities and landscapes different from the high rises and mountains that they were used to. This was especially true for Danielle, who as a counselor helped people through their problems and needed to put aside their burdens for a bit and embark on an adventure of her own. One day, a friend of Danielle’s told her about a place called Croatia with castles, islands, walled cities and neverending waterfalls. She immediately knew it would be the perfect place for a fairly tale adventure. Danielle told her friends about the magical place, and it was only a matter of time before the girls got on jet planes (and a bus) and were on their way to explore Croatia!
When Danielle and Jenn’s planes landed in Croatia, Valeda was already there to meet them in a pumpkin-sized chariot just big enough for exploring, but not so big as to use much fuel or make it hard to find a parking space. They set the course for Croatia’s neighbor Slovenia, which was said to be just as beautiful as the magical land of Croatia. They arrived in the town of Ljubliana and found it all to be true. Streets of cobblestone with clocktowers and fountains were interspersed by a turquoise river with a bridge flanked with statues of dragons. A castle perched on a hilltop peered over the city once keeping watch to protect the townspeople below, but today the girls climbed up to its watchtowers just to view the city from above and croon at the still snowcapped mountains off in the distance. They found a festival of local food, wine and beer in the main square with such a vast array of choices that the girls head spun trying to decide what to try.
Once night fell and the moon rose the girls left the sparkly streets and made their way to a much darker part of town. At first glance the girls were a little scared – their destination looked more dungeon than castle, a ramshackle old warehouse covered in graffiti. Once inside the gate they found lots of people milling about and music coming from all directions. Door after door revealed live bands, DJ’s and bars, so they made friends with townspeople, watched the musicians play, and danced the night away.
Though they awoke the next morning with tired feet from dancing the night before, they had new places to explore today. So off they went, soon arriving at Lake Bled, yet another fairytale scene. A castle-like church sat atop an island plopped in the center of the lake, and a fortress stood guard on an adjacent cliff. Mountains surrounded the lake in all directions, and churchbells sounded throughout the day. They climbed to the top of a nearby park for the perfect vantage point. They then hopped in a rowboat out to the island and climbed the steps up to the clocktower to find it powered by a giant pendulum with all mechanisms exposed to marvel at the design. They rowed their boat back to shore and settled in under a restaurant’s awning with a spread of four masterfully curated soups just in time for a rainstorm to roll in. When it let up, they wandered across town for a slice of the famous Krema Rezina, a layered custard cake the town was famous for. With their bellies and hearts full, they said goodbye to storybook Bled and crossed the border back into Croatia, welcomed by a vibrant double rainbow stretching across the horizon. They rendezvoused with Jaime in Zagreb and explored the town at night, finding first a jam packed beer festival and then a street with bars each catering to whatever each Croatian man & woman’s heart desired.
Every good storybook has love and heartbreak, so the next day the girls went out to explore Old Town Zagreb, eventually stepping into the “Museum of Broken Relationships”. The museum exhibited a collection of relics memorializing relationships past, each donated by an individual with an accompanying writeup. Rather than make the girls depressed, they agreed that they left with a sense of empathy and connection acknowledging a life event and the emotions that everyone of us has experienced. They then shared a strukli, the baked cottage-cheese dish Zagreb is famous for, prepared either sweet or savory and always decadent.
It was then time for the girls to hit the road again, so they emerged from the city streets and onto the country roads, eventually finding themselves in the quaint river-side town of Rastoke. Here the river and the town intertwined with one another with knee to waist high sized waterfalls cascading left and right around the stone buildings. They proceed to have perhaps the most memorable dinner of the trip, consisting of three whole pan seared fish and a serving of spit-fired pig split between the four of them, first served overlooking a set of cascades, then relocating in front of a wood fire as the night cooled. Their unabashed elation must have been very apparent to their server Iva, because at the end of the night the check came with a gift of four women’s tank tops bearing the restaurant name. The girls wore them proudly, and from then on throughout their travels in Croatia lovingly referred to themselves as “three fish and a pig”, all titles up for grabs between the four of them!
There was no time for delay – the next morning they were up with the sun and off to Plitvice Lakes. This instagram-famous spot was no secret, so they hoped their early arrival would put them ahead of the inevitable rush of other tourists eager to see the sight for themselves. They entered the park and within no more than a 5 minute walk were face to face with a jaw dropping view of 4-plus-layers of waterfalls. It was a waterfall-theme park as far as the eye could see, except this theme park was brought to you by none other than Mother Nature herself. They walked for miles, and corner after corner revealed another system of lakes spilling over their banks in magnificent fashion. The girls decided they’d had enough spectacular waterfalls for the day and drove south to the cost to Split. They dropped off the car as they’d be travelling by sea for the rest of the trip. They found a delicious meal of black cuttlefish risotto, beef with homemade tortellini and figs, roasted eggplant and peppers, and a plate of pan seared whole sea bream and sea bass. Although it was a Monday, the town was popping with activity. They tried the local beers and spirits with mixed reviews and soon 3 of the 4 of them were dancing on the beach until sunrise.
There was still a few hours left to explore Split, so after breakfast the girls perused around Diocletians’s palace, a vast walled complex built in the 3rd century AD and intended as a retirement home. Diocletian lived in it for only a few years before he died, and it remained mostly vacant until the 7th century with squatters moved in, fleeing invading Croats; townspeople continued to live there, set up shops and thrived in the palace basement and within the walls to this day. They took a peek at the lavish 7th century cathedral, the oldest standing cathedral in existence in its original form. They then climbed the precarious steps up to the belltower, taking in the view of the surrounding city and the Adriatic sea. Then they set sail on the sea themselves off to the island of Hvar!
The girls arrived to a perfect seaside village flanked by yet another castle atop the hillside above the city. They admired the view of the adjacent islands during the day and soaked in the timelessness of the cobblestone alleyways at night.
The next day the girls rented a little 8-horsepower motorboat and buzzed from one of the adjacent islets to another, docking at one for a view from the lighthouse steps and another for a lunch of figs, cured meats and cheeses, strawberries and fresh baked bread. They rolled into port just as a storm rolled in, but the torrential downpour wouldn’t wash away the smiles on their faces no matter how hard it might try!
A new day brought another boat ride and another island for the girls, this time Korkula! And so the fairy tale continues – they hopped on bikes, ascending and descending the green hills, rolling by vineyards, through ancient towns, past expansive views of the sea and coastline, and arriving at a small sandy beach just in time to take a dip in the cool but not frigid sea. They popped into a few of the island’s wineries and experienced truly authentic connections from the vitners, ranging from the grandfather in the corner who said nothing about the wines and very little of anything else as he contemplated his newspaper crossword puzzle, to the mother and son exchanging rolled eyes while preparing our tasting, to the owner’s best friend exchanging banter with us with whatever connections he could come up with. But the clock was ticking and sunset wouldn’t wait, so the girls scooted back to Korcula town and ascended the ladder to the lookout of the walled city’s tower, now occupied by a cocktail bar, where they took in the technicolor sunset around them.
It was time for the girls to leave the idyllic island of Korkula and sail back to the mainland, docking at the base of the walled city of Dubrovnik. It was a sight to behold, with the perverbial icing on the fortress walls being that they’d be staying in an apartment with a window that opened up directly to the wall walkway, in true princess style. They left only to watch sunset at a bar perched on a cliff accessed through a hole in the city wall famous for its cliff diving options, alas the girls were not dressed accordingly to take part. The girls then followed their ears to guide their night and first ended up at a DJ with an accompanying saxaphone playing an opening party for one of the bars in the main square. Then they followed the numerous reccommendations to go to a club in a fortress just outside the city gate. They too had a live musician, this time an electric violinist playing along to the music. They danced all night an left only once their walk home was lit by the glow of dawn.
Late nights dancing didn’t keep the girls from adventuring the next day, and they rented kayaks to circumnavigate the adjacent island and stop into a cave or two, one complete with a sandy beach. After returning the kayaks they met up with Iris, who would provide them with a historical walking tour of the city. They then headed to the cable car to whisked them to the top of the Dubrovnik Fortress and take in a magnificent sunset, a goodbye gift from the city on their last night in town. They, unlike the sun, did not sleep while the sun did and after another night of dancing were still up to greet it from the city walls at dawn, giving thanks to their 10 days of magic. The morning was a call back to reality for 3 of the 4 girls, but the fairy tale was not one they would soon forget.
• Many photo credits to Jamie and Jenn; I couldn’t include Dani’s AMAZING photos so check out her posts on Facebook here and here!