By Eilene Lyon
After spending two relaxing days in the old city of Dubrovnik, we took a cab on Sunday afternoon to the harbor at nearby Gruž to board our home for the coming week, the Harmonia. The ship is family built/owned and under contract to the German company, Inselhüpfen (Island Hopping).
Though many Harmonia cruises are conducted in German, the guests on this trip all spoke English. One couple from Switzerland spoke German as a first language, but finding themselves surrounded by Americans, Kiwis, Brits, and Canadians, they gamely brushed up on their English. Our two cycling guides, Mihael and Karlo – both Croatian, also spoke excellent English.
As part of our package, we were given an official tour of Dubroknik that evening, then back to the boat for dinner. We sailed out of the harbor after breakfast the next morning, heading for our first Dalmatian island stop on Šipan. We took a short ride across this small island to get a feel for the bikes.
Two serious riders from Colorado did every ride on a regular bike – they were monsters! We ordinary folk opted for e-bikes, and were glad of it. All the rides had serious climbs – these islands are not flat!
The lunches and dinners on board were served family style and there was plenty to eat. It was not gourmet fare, but very homey. Breakfast was a typical European buffet.
Our second island, Mljet, is considered the most forested of the Mediterranean area islands. Homer claimed it was the home of the Nymph Calypso, who captivated Odysseus for seven years. We rode primarily through a Croatian National Park on the west end of the island.
On Lastovo, we rode from Pasadur to the town of Lastovo. This village was unique for being situated in the mountains, not on the coast. The island has a history of being a base for military operations. Because it was off-limits to civilians during much of its recent history, there is little infrastructure for tourism.
Next we sailed to the stunning city of Korčula on the island of the same name. This was probably the most scenic island stop on the itinerary. We were given a tour of the walled city and then were on our own for dinner. There are many restaurants along the city wall with views of the sea.
The following morning, we biked across the island, making a stop for coffee just as the clouds opened up for a nice soaker. That was just a preview, though. When we boarded the Harmonia in Vela Luka, we appreciated the protected harbor. A major storm slashed into town after we finished dinner. Zeus flung buckets at the boat and soon the decks were awash and the scuppers overflowing. It was quite a spectacle.
Since the weather forecast for the following day was for more rain (which didn’t happen), our itinerary changed and we did not stop at Hvar on the island of that name, but headed to the protected port of Stari Grad and did a shorter ride to Jelsa and back.
Our final island was close to our destination of Split. Brač is known particularly for its limestone, which was used to build Diocletian’s palace in Split and the White House in Washington, D.C. We did a short, late afternoon ride before dinner. The next day, we took our final ride to Pučišća for one of the highlights of the trip.
This town is home to a school for stonemasons, generally of high school age. There are three- and four-year programs. Our guide was one of the students, who hailed from Bosnia, and who spoke fabulous English with a great sense of humor. (He said he learned the language by watching the Disney Channel.)
There were many works in progress to ooh and aah at. Some take many years to complete. Students do the work with traditional hand tools. Some pieces they work on are contracted for replacing damaged parts in historic structures.
We spent our final night on board Harmonia in the port of Split. We were treated to an official tour of Diocletian’s Palace, built around 305 CE. This Roman Emperor was known for his cruelty to Christians. Long after his death, the Catholics claimed the palace, removed his remains from his tomb, and tossed them into the sea. They turned the palace interior into apartments and shops, and it remains the heart of the old city of Split today.
Feature image: View of the port of Gruž just north of Dubrovnik, with the Dalmatian Islands in the background.
Lonely Planet: Croatia 9th ed.