Sunday, March 08, 2009

Croatia Online - Secret Dalmatia

Yesterday, we had the privilege of a day out with Alan Mandić, the visionary behind Secret Dalmatia. In the course of six short hours we realised just how much we had been missing during the six years we have already spent exploring Croatia.

"Undiscovered" is a word that has frequently been applied to Croatia over the years. Visitors to the more popular tourist resorts now may question the adjective, but you only have to go just a few kilometres inland to realise that the coastal resorts and islands are just the icing on a very special gourmet cake. We sampled just a very small slice of it yesterday but here are two of the flavours.

1. Nature
All of a sudden, the almond trees have come into full bloom and adorn the landscape with their pink and white blossoms. Just after the snows of February it's a welcome herald to the joys of springtime Croatia. That was just the prelude to some of nature's other magnificent displays. Down an unmarked track, we gained a superb view of Croatia's second highest waterfall. And not just one waterfall but a series of the Krka river's cascades leading to it. Up another track, we climbed steadily to find a parking area, café and other facilities (closed outside the season). We took a short stroll along a laid path and saw an unbeatable vista of Croatia's best islands; one after another, sprouting out of the Adriatic. Our vantage point was the recently organised viewpoint behind Lake Vrana and, after all the years of climbing up various hills to look at the view, we'd find this panorama hard to beat.
2. Ancient Cities and Historic Ruins
Tucked away inland, behind Biograd, are Ottoman inns, Roman cities and roads, Medieval ruins and traditional stone built houses, all in various stages of discovery and preservation. Most of them are up unsigned roads and tracks that you'd never find without a local expert. Once you get there, prepare to be amazed by the scale of the ruins, the range of archaelogical discoveries and the stories behind them. It needs an expert to describe them properly, and even if we had managed to find them on our own, we'd have only experienced 20% of what they have to offer.

It's not just the wealth of local knowledge and expertise that makes Secret Dalmatia so special. The business is founded on three simple commercial tenets - quality of service, reliability and value for money - Croatia does the rest, for those that really do know it well, and have a passion for showing it off at its best.

The tours are designed to provide something that you really won't be able to find on your own - the clue is in the name - and the organisation only works with tried and tested long term partners who hold the same principles. Unusually Secret Dalmatia doesn't look to exploit these relationships by taking hefty commissions, but does expect its clients to get the very best of service.

If you're looking for luxury, you'll get to stay in the best hotels and eat in the best restaurants. If you want your own, tailor made tour, then just let them know what you like. The itineraries on the website will give you a better idea of the wide range that's on offer - gastronomy, culinary and wine tours, for example. For a taster of more of the secrets, keep an eye on the Secret Dalmatia Blog. Did you know, for example, that Von Trapp, of Sound of Music fame, was born in Zadar?

Regular readers will know that Croatia Online is written for fun, without any commercial aims or interest. Secret Dalmatia features regularly in it because of the intensity and variety of experiences it offers to uncover Croatia, and for its enthusiam and dedication to sharing it with others. We've not come across anything quite like it, and are convinced it will still be sharing new secrets successfully, with visitors to Croatia, for many years to come.

Today's photo is a small part of the panorama of the islands from the Lake Vrana viewpoint. It seems that the only thing that Secret Dalmatia is unable to organise, is perfect lighting and sunshine at that very moment when you need it most! Even that's not a problem though, when they saw our original photo, they very kindly sent us a sunset shot of their own which does the view infinitely better justice.

Thanks to Alan Mandić for giving up his Saturday for a busman's holiday and providing such an enriching, diverse and enjoyable experience. Alan obviously has a continuing passion for learning about his homeland, and preserving the best of its history and culture for all to enjoy. Lucky for us that Alan's existing base of knowledge is leagues ahead of most of the rest of us!


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