In News on Monday 14th May, 2018

Don't skip a trip to Sibenik when visiting Croatia

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Sibenik, Croatia is on the Adriatic Coast. Source: Joycee Smith

Sibenik, Croatia had never been on our bucket list, but we had the chance visit this charming medieval city on a Mediterranean cruise.

Before landing at the Croatia port of Zadar we were faced with what tours, if any, to do there (life’s tough sometimes!).

Why go on a tour at all, you ask? For starters you have a local guide who will offer interesting snippets of information you'll never find in a brochure. Plus of course, you can’t ask a brochure a question!

We decided to take a bus tour to the UNESCO Heritage-Listed city of Sibenik. From the Port of Zadar it takes about 1.25 hours, which goes quickly because the countryside is so picturesque. The city is more than 1,000 years old and we spent an hour or so wandering the fascinating cobbled streets that could tell many interesting stories of war and peace. (Make sure you wear flat shoes.) It’s actually the oldest native Croatian town on the eastern shores of the Adriatic, and truly takes you a step back in time.

If you visit during the last week in September, expect the streets of the Old Town to be alive with colourful bright flags to celebrate St Michael’s Day – he’s the patron saint of the city. They are criss-crossed along almost every street and give the Old City a party atmosphere.

The celebrations for St Michael’s Day are described as a “fair for inhabitants and peasants, masters of old handicrafts and gastronomic specialties”. Damn and blast, we were a week too late, because I’d have been happy attending an event as a peasant to enjoy the gastronomic treats! (Don't worry if you miss the St Michael's Day celebrations too – there are 18 other festivals through the year, so the odds of seeing one are pretty good.)

Colourful flags for St Michael's Day lined the streets and created a lively atmosphere in the town. Source: Joycee Smith
Colourful flags for St Michael's Day lined the streets and created a lively atmosphere in the town. Source: Joycee Smith

The Cathedral of St James, Sibenik

Our tour took us past the City Hall and Baroque Orthodox Church into the town centre. Here we found the most famous building of Sibenik, The Cathedral of St James, known as “the crowning architectural glory of the Dalmatian Coast”. The entrance to the cathedral was guarded by two rather fierce-looking lions (sculptures, of course).

The crowd outside St James Cathedral, Sibenik. Source: Joycee Smith
The crowd outside The Cathedral of St James in Sibenik. Source: Joycee Smith

As I’m a fan of gargoyles (the stories behind those sculpted heads are so fascinating), I was intrigued to see 74 small heads representing famous Sibenik citizens. They create a lot of interest to the exterior of the cathedral, the construction of which, by the way, was a little slow. It started in 1431, but the completion date wasn’t until 1536! It definitely wouldn’t conform to the modern building code of final certificates! If Gothic and Renaissance architecture is your thing make sure you go inside, it’s magnificent.

The gargoyles on the Cathedral's exterior are of past Sibenik citizens. Source: Joycee Smith
The gargoyles on the Cathedral's exterior represent past Sibenik citizens. Source: Joycee Smith

St Michael’s is a fortress with a view

Rather than searching for a coffee shop, we used our spare time to walk up the hill towards the old fortress of St Michael’s. We didn’t actually get there, because about 500 metres from the top a man popped out of his sentry box and wanted to charge us to walk further. Don’t get me wrong, we would have willingly paid the small amount, but time was running out to get back down the hill to our bus. We managed a couple of photos of the spectacular and craggy Dalmatian coast from that height before we headed back down.

The spectacular view on our way to St Michael's fortress. Source: Joycee Smith
The spectacular view on our way to St Michael's fortress. Source: Joycee Smith

As it was, we almost got lost coming back down to the town because Sibenik signage is almost non-existent – as is my sense of direction! The advantage of getting partially lost meant we came across the Medieval Mediterranean Gardens of St Lawrence Monastery. It was such a warm and welcoming green haven, complete with a coffee shop to encourage visitors to stay and enjoy the peaceful surroundings. I’m always interested in monasteries and how people lived in days gone by – honestly, I’d have been hopeless in medieval days.

The wonderfully inviting St Lawrence Gardens. Source: Joycee Smith
The wonderfully inviting St Lawrence Gardens. Source: Joycee Smith

The walk through town took us past local homes that were hundreds of years old and still as strong as the day they were built. You'll be hard-pressed to find concrete rendered slab walls in this UNESCO town!

A bit of trivia

Apparently, Sibenik was the first city to have eletricity, more than 120 years ago. The inventor was Nikola Tesla, the famous name behind the (expensive) electric cars we have today.

If you are on a Mediterranean cruise or road trip through Croatia, the small medieval city of Sibenik is definitely not to be missed.

The electrical wires in Sebinik alleyways. Source: Joycee Smith
The electrical wires in Sibenik alleyways. Source: Joycee Smith

Tips to get around

  • Get a town map from one of the shops when you first arrive at Sibenik.

  • Forget morning tea because lunch is only a couple of hours away and you'll miss out on too many interesting sights.

  • Wear flat shoes for walking on cobbles.

  • Walk up to St Michael’s Castle.

  • Have some small change on hand (currently it’s the Croatian Kuno) as not every shop likes to take a plastic card for small items.

Useful Croatian words

Please: Molim

Thank you: Hvala

Yes: Da

No: Ne

How Much is it: Koliko kosta? (Although smiling and pointing at an item also works!)

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Have you been to Croatia? Tell us about your experience.