For the latest advice regarding coronavirus, please click here.

A cruising guide to Croatia and the Adriatic

Destination Reviews
By

Stretching from the strait of Otranto, between the heel of Italy and rugged Albania, to the northern pearl of Venice, La Serenissima, the shimmering Adriatic lies between the low-lying coastline of eastern Italy and the bold and rocky shores, islands and fjords of the Balkans: Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia.

There are over a thousand islands in the Adriatic, 66 of which are inhabited, whilst on the mainland, lofty mountains often fall directly to the sea. Visitors to this most beautiful of seas will be struck by the wealth of towns and cities to visit on either side, and wealth is of course the operative word.

For hundreds of years merchants have plied their trade in these waters, sailing to and from busy, bustling cosmopolitan Venice. Early Etruscan, Illyrian and Greek settlers gave way to the Romans and later to the Byzantine Empire, the Republic of Venice, the Habsburg Monarchy and the Ottoman Empire.

Roman theatre in Pula, Croatia

Dozens of marine protected areas in the Adriatic reveal the sea's karst habitats and biodiversity. The sea is abundant in flora and fauna: more than 7,000 species are identified as native to the Adriatic, many of them endemic, rare and threatened. Tourism is key to the area, and it is hardly possible in one short article to mention all the notable ports of call in the region.

On the Italian coast, visitors are captivated by the haunting city of Trieste as they explore its huddled streets and Jugendstil grandeur, or travel inland to Slovenia and the lovely Lake Bled. In Ravenna the early Christian Byzantine mosaics take your breath away - catch it again lounging in the endless seaside resort of Rimini. In bustling Ancona the 11th-century Romanesque cathedral of Saint Ciriaco offers views across the busy port.

Canal Grande in Trieste, Italy

The jewel of the coastline is of course lovely Venice, rising serene and magical from the lagoon, a treasure trove of museums, galleries, churches and palazzos, criss-crossed with canals and exuding mystery and romance.

To the east coast and the lovely medieval centre of Koper, Venetian Gothic Piran, and the pretty fishing port of Rovinj introduce an area rich in commerce, history, architecture, and fishing. The lavish rococo villas of Opatija speak of fashionable elegance, the playgrounds of Austrian aristocracy.

Tartini Square, Piran, Slovenia

The Dalmatian islands, redolent of lavender and honey, jasmine and sage, boast ancient waterfronts, marble paved piazzas, cool monasteries and clifftop fortifications, all of which bear witness to centuries of visitors, both welcome and unwelcome, and influences from many lands.

Visit sunny Hvar and the walled palaces of Split, medieval Sibenik and Trogir with its fishbone street layout, confusing for pirates. Badly damaged during the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s, lovely walled Dubrovnik has been beautifully restored and is once more thronging with tourists.

Trogir city gate, Croatia

Visitors by sea are overwhelmed by the magical journey into Montenegro, the land of the black mountain, along sinuous fjord-like channels to Venetian Kotor where you can climb the walls above the city to the fortress of St John for magnificent views across the bay. And when you reach Albania, across the water from Corfu, you will be captivated by the abandoned ruins of Butrint.

View over the old town of Kotor, Montenegro

Seafood and local wines, juicy cherries and a friendly welcome, combine to make the magical Adriatic one of our favourite holiday destinations, especially by ship.

Edwina Lonsdale
Meet the author

Edwina Lonsdale is Managing Director and, together with husband Matthew, owner of Mundy Cruising.

More about Edwina

Get your free subscription to Cruise News

The UK's most authoritative magazine about the world of luxury cruising. New ships, new destinations, new experiences and new offers. Be more informed, every two months, with Cruise News.

Order your copy