If you have never experienced an active Adriatic adventure, you have no idea what you’re missing. Having lived in Europe and as a relatively avid traveler with an appetite for new destinations and cultures, I have to admit my love for Croatia and Montenegro as two of my top travel destinations. With more than 1,200 islands along the sun-soaked Dalmatian Coast, plus rugged mountains and waterfalls inland, Croatia and Montenegro are beguiling destinations for active travelers who enjoy nature.
Explore this shockingly beautiful region by kayak and on foot in order to revel in the best scenery in the Mediterranean, including rocky headlands, sandy beaches, turquoise bays and red-roofed towns that cascade to the sea. Here is just a bit of what you can expect during your adventure tour in the Balkans:
Located in Croatia but a stone’s throw from Montenegro, the walled seaside city of Dubrovnik is so beautiful that it has been dubbed “The Pearl of the Adriatic.” The city’s stunning historic quarter has even earned it UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Founded in the 7th century, the fortified city rivaled Venice in beauty and power during the Middle Ages.
Stroll the Stradun, the marble thoroughfare of Old Town Dubrovnik, where locals and visitors gather at sidewalk cafes. Architectural treasures are everywhere, from monumental fortresses that once protected this important shipping port to the exquisite carved-stone facade of the Duke’s Palace. A walk along the stone wall that surrounds the city is a must, with views over the red-tile rooftops to the Mediterranean islands beyond. One note of caution, though—don’t try to walk the wall with flip-flops—if they break as mine did it’s a long, rough walk with bare feet!
Sea Kayaking Heaven
Did I mention the more than 1,200 islands? All of these islands are beautifully sun-soaked, with crystal clear water primed for sea kayaking, swimming and/or just soaking it all up. If you are staying in or near Dubrovnik, explore the enchanting Elaphiti Islands by kayak, just offshore from the mainland. Some of the islands are delightfully free of cars, and each is like an open-air museum of history, art and folklore. The sunny climate and subtropical flora create a verdant backdrop for many beautiful beaches. Kolocep is known for its many dramatic cliffs and caves and is pure paradise for sea kayaking.
Mljet National Park
Take an island-hopping cruise to the island of Mljet, which is still covered in original Mediterranean forest and protected as a national park. Check out the many caves on the exposed, wave-battered outer coast of Soline Bay, then savor the fresh catch of the day and other fine local dishes. Since the Middle Ages, Mljet has been known for its exceptional goat cheese, wine and namesake honey. Another option is to head inland and paddle Mljet’s saltwater lakes, stopping to visit the 12th-century Benedictine monastery of St. Mary that sits on a tiny islet in the middle of the island’s largest lake.
Island hop by ferry (or if you’re lucky, on a unique tour that includes a private catamaran) and sail to the hilly, forest-covered Korcula, one of the greenest islands in the Adriatic. Korcula Town, one of my favorites and sometimes called a “mini Dubrovnik,” is a typical medieval-walled Dalmatian city, with its defensive towers and red-roofed houses constructed in the shape of fish-bone to mitigate the effects of wind and sun. Here you can experience Korcula’s rich artistic history in multiple museums, galleries and festivals.
And in terms of fresh, locally sourced food and wine, all we can say is, “Yummm!” Here in Korcula (and most places in Croatia and Montenegro) you can experience a smaller, more local approach to wine and cuisine, which was a definite highlight for me. In fact, one of the main wine regions in the Adriatic is near Korcula.
On the island of Trstenik, you can visit the Grgic family winery for a tasting. The Grgic name may be more familiar as one of the Napa Valley’s legendary wineries, whose grapes actually originated from this very stock. You can even paddle along the Peljesac Peninsula, one of Croatia’s most famous wine regions—a bucolic hideaway of vineyards, salt and oyster farms, sleepy towns, narrow streets and hidden beaches.
Neighboring Montenegro is a much smaller country, and one of the newest officially independent countries in the world. Montenegro is arguably the most beautiful and sustainable destination you’ve never heard of.
Durmitor National Park
One of the most spectacular and wild regions in this part of the world is Durmitor National Park, up in the mountainous northwest part of Montenegro. Durmitor, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a rugged region of glacier-scoured plateaus, dense pine forests, and clear lakes traversed by wild rivers and underground streams. Durmitor National Park boasts unique native plants and the deepest gorges in Europe, including Tara River Canyon, the world’s second deepest gorge after the Grand Canyon. Durmitor is also one of the world’s last refuges for the grey wolf!
Montenegro’s Kotor Bay may be my favorite place in this entire region. If you have the chance, a must-do is a boat or kayak excursion into the bay. Once called Europe’s southernmost fjord, the bay is in fact the partially submerged mouth of the ancient Bokelj River, which used to run to the sea from the high alpine plateaus of Mount Orjen. Paddle around the picturesque Benedictine monastery that sits on a small island opposite the town of Perast, shadowed by high mountains rising above on either side. Perast offers plenty of visual riches, with 16 baroque palaces, 19 Catholic and Orthodox churches, and nine defensive towers built by the Venetian Republic ringing the old city.
Kotor itself, yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the most beautiful towns in the Adriatic. It is also a great place to explore Montenegro’s history and culture, including learning about the tiny principality’s intriguing past, where the old port was first documented in 168 B.C. The town is surrounded by an impressive Venetian wall, and the influence of medieval Venice remains dominant among its many architectural treasures.
If you are looking for a more remote and exotic European tour, complete with stunning sea to (is)land to mountains, then be sure to book an Adriatic adventure in Croatia and Montenegro.