Maybe it’s the Indiana Jones in me but I’ve always been a fan of evocative ruins that conjure up crumbled empires. Fortunately there’s no shortage of time-travelling opportunities in Croatia, where ancient armies trod the soil and medieval navies plied the coastal waters. That’s why I’m excited about the new archaeological tours launched by British-based Timetrekkers, a company launched by archaeologist Patrick Skinner. From September 7 to 18, 15 lucky people will discover Croatia’s fascinating history on a tour that takes in a prehistoric site near Zagreb, the Roman remains of Zadar, Diocletian’s Palace in Split, the ruins of Salona, the world heritage site near Stari Grad, Hvar and the medieval life of Dubrovnik.
I recently caught up with Dr. Skinner to find out more.
When did you first visit Croatia?
I first visited Croatia in June 2012 as part of a research trip for Current World Archaeology. The two-week trip started in Zagreb and finished in Dubrovnik. On the way I visited some amazing cultural heritage and archaeological sites including prehistoric cemeteries, ancient Greek landscapes, Roman temples, and medieval monasteries. It was a truly inspirational trip!
Are you of Croatia descent?
I’m not. In fact I’m of Irish descent. But I’m a massive fan of the Croatian people. I love their hospitality and positivity to life. These are traits which I try to emulate every day.
What so attracted you to the country that you decided to launch this company?
In 2011, I completed a PhD in prehistoric archaeology of the Czech Republic at Cambridge University. During my time in the Czech Republic as part of my studies, I came to love the central European way of life. I’d read and heard that Croatian culture was somewhat similar to that in central European countries, and I’d always wanted to visit. So when the opportunity came to go as part of the CWA research trip I jumped at the chance.
However, one thing about Croatia that really took me by surprise was the breathtaking Adriatic coastline. This really has to be seen to be believed. Dazzling turquoise sea, quiet golden beaches, and mesmerising sunsets make this coastline truly one of the best I’ve ever seen.
Croatia is also a ‘road-less-travelled’ with many travellers to the Mediterranean visiting Italy, Greece and Turkey and often leaving Croatia out of their itinerary. I knew immediately that the combination of Croatia’s fantastic archaeology and cultural heritage, GREAT scenery, and the fact that for many people visiting this country would offer a new and exciting experience would make this country the perfect place to launch an archaeological travel company.
From an archaeologist’s point of view, what makes Croatia special?
Croatian archaeology has many parallels with the archaeology of adjacent regions in the Adriatic and the Mediterranean such as Italy, Greece and Turkey. However, from an archaeologist’s point of view what really makes Croatia special is being able to visit these sites with relatively few and sometimes no tourists in site.
For example, on the island of Hvar is the oldest preserved ancient Greek landscape in the world (Stari Grad Plain) – now a UNESCO World Heritage site. The stone walls that demarcate this landscape today still follow the same pattern as they did when ancient Greeks used this area more than 2000 years ago. But what makes this different is that very few tourists actually visit this site. This means that you are really able to immerse your self into the history and heritage of the region and get a real feel for what this landscape was like and how people lived here more than 2 millennia ago. To be able to visit such a site within such tranquility is a real privilege, not just for an archaeologist but for anyone with an interest in the past!
How did you choose the places on your itinerary?
There’s no shortage of archaeological and cultural sites to see in Croatia. For our first trip, we wanted to offer our guests the chance to visit a broad variety of archaeology and cultural heritage sites, both those ‘off-the-beaten-track’ and more well-know sites. But we also wanted them to have the chance to enjoy the fantastic scenery, in particular the Dalmatian coastline.
We think we’ve managed this with our current itinerary. For example, we visit remote archaeological sites like Budinjak Archaeological Park near Zagreb, and the Stari Grad Plain in Hvar, but also discover more popular historic places like the outstanding Roman Diocletian’s Palace in Split and the old medieval-walled town of Dubrovnik. Also, the majority of the itinerary takes place along the Dalmatian coastline, where we visit towns like Zadar, Split, Stari Grad on the island of Hvar, and Dubrovnik.
I notice that you have only one departure this year. Will you be aiming to have more departures for the same itinerary or do you plan to put together more itineraries? If so, what are some of the itineraries you have in mind?
Yes you’re right, we have just the one itinerary this year. Next year we will have more new and exciting itineraries. These include a walking archaeology tour of Split and surrounding areas, photographing and drawing cultural heritage trips both based in Dubrovnik, and a relaxing gulet boat tour of the archaeology of the Dalamatian coast. We’ll also be expanding our trips to the other side of the Adriatic with two Italy-based archaeological tours: one off-the-beaten-track in Alpine Italy, and the other along the Italian Adriatic coastline. Exciting stuff!
Find out more and reserve your tour at the Timetrekkers website.
Big news from Jadrolinija, Croatia’s national ferry operator! As of today there is online booking for all catamarans running from Rijeka and from Split. As I have previously reported, for the first time in its long history Jadrolinija announced that there would be online booking this year but only for the Rijeka-Rab-Novalja catamaran. Feedback was so positive that online booking has been extended to all catamarans running from Split. Currently available for online booking on the Jadrolinija website are the following passenger ferries:
- Split-Hvar-Vela Luka-Ubli
And that’s only the beginning! A spokesperson informed me today that more routes will be added in the coming weeks, including all the passenger ferries from Zadar. So stay tuned. Be aware that online booking extends only 24 hours to a month before the reservation. For example, as of today I may book for a catamaran no earlier than 24 hours from now and no later than 30 days from now.
One thing that will not be happening is online booking for car ferries. “We don’t have the infrastructure to handle it”, the spokesperson said flatly.
There are a few other caveats. Jadrolinija is not the only catamaran operator on the Croatian coast. There are about five others and none, so far, have implemented online booking. See all local ferry operators in Croatia.
And what about the coastal car ferry? Expect the timetables to be confirmed and online booking to begin by May 5 at the latest but maybe as early as next week.