- Mary Rogelstad
- March 9, 2022
- Tagged In:
- Croatia & the Balkans
The conversation gets lighthearted when you ask Taib Tikvesa and Matija Paunovski what the best city in Croatia is. The Rustic country team leaders have a friendly rivalry surrounding that question. For Paunovski, the answer is definitely Split – the city that welcomed her family when they were refugees from the Yugoslav Wars. For Tikvesa, it’s Dubrovnik where he was raised.
“I have fond memories of climbing up the walls of the city and seeing views of the Adriatic Sea,” Tikvesa said.
Both cities are among the stops on a new student travel program called Mediterranean Paradise. During the trip, students will travel across Croatia – one of the world’s most visited Mediterranean countries. This small nation has ten locations on the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites, and its crystal clear waters, limestone cliffs and culturally-rich cities makes it a haven for travelers.
Students begin their journey by flying into the capital of Zagreb, which is the largest city in Croatia. They’ll walk through the city’s upper town, which is the oldest part of the capital. In this region, centuries-old buildings line narrow winding streets. Here students will get their first taste of internationally-regarded Croatian cuisine, which like its culture has a mixture of influences from Italy, Greece, Turkey, Hungary, and Austria.
Tikvesa and Paunovski get energized when talking about Croatian food – rattling off a list of their favorites. Tikvesa’s hometown pride shines through when he makes comparisons. He says other places he has traveled to just don’t compare to his home country.
“I’ve traveled to Italy, and I think we have better beaches and better food,” Tikvesa said.
Students can see for themselves as they head south to visit some of the well-known regions of Croatia.
Seeing Natural and Cultural Treasures
After heading out of the capital, students visit Plitvice Lakes National Park, which is one of the sites on the UNESCO list. The forested national park has 16 emerald lakes. The limestone karsts, waterfalls and lakes create what UNESCO calls “an aesthetically outstanding natural spectacle of global importance.”
After spending a day in this magical park, the students travel to Zadar – the first stop for them on the coastline of the Adriatic Sea.
“Students are blown away by the beauty of the Dalmatian Coast, and that’s an impactful part of the trip for them,” Paunovski said.
In Zadar the teens will take a walking tour along the cobblestone streets to view the remains of different empires that have swept through the region, including Byzantine, Venetian, Roman and Ottoman. Tikvesa says the city has a “really different vibe” that students enjoy.
The city is also just one of the places students visit where the show Game of Thrones was filmed. They’ll also see film locations in Split and Dubrovnik.
Diving into Adventure
The next stop is Split where students will spend a few days exploring this coastal town. They’ll hike up Marjan Hill to get a panoramic view of the city. They can check out the ancient Aqueduct of Diocletian, which was built in the late 3rd and early 4th centuries during the Roman Empire. It was designed to supply water to the palace of Emperor Diocletian.
The students also will kayak and don wetsuits to swim and participate in water activities. This may include time playing the traditional Croatian game picigin, which is similar to volleyball in the water. During the game, players have to prevent a ball from hitting the water and often use acrobatic moves to add some flair. Teens can watch local Croatians to get the idea.
Another highlight of beach time will be the opportunity to snorkel in the deep blue water or add-on the option to scuba dive to view an underwater cave. Tikvesa says it is a whole different world under the waters of the Adriatic Sea where snails, corals and other flora and fauna can be seen.
After the students wrap up their time in Split, they head to Dubrovnik, which may be the most recognizable location for Games of Thrones fans. This walled-in city is another UNESCO World Heritage site and is often noted as being one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
In the 15th and 16th centuries the city was a trading powerhouse. Students will cruise down Stradun Street, the limestone paved main street through the Old Town. There they’ll see marketplaces, ancient churches and other historic buildings.
Along the way, they can stop to take a drink at a historic fountain. It is said to be good luck to drink from an ancient spout. They also can walk on the city’s walls to view the gorgeous landscape. Tikvesa says he looks forward to this portion of the trip.
“It’s exciting that somebody else is going to see the places where I grew up and to get perspective on everything Croatia has to offer from food to rich history to cultural activities,” Tikvesa said.
Throughout the trip, students will stay in comfortable hotels and enjoy all the appealing aspects of a European adventure. That includes the historic buildings and the beautiful clean beaches that Tikvesa says are impeccable.
The local program leaders who will guide the students have been heading up programs for years and are gearing up now for the upcoming summer. Paunovski says they’ll be ready. As she notes while sitting back in her chair in the Balkans, “I’m just so excited about this program.”