I have to admit, what little I knew about Croatia before flying here several weeks ago involved the history of the Serbo-Croatian War following the dissolution of the former Republic of Yugoslavia.
Though I had seen photos of cruise ships in Gruž Harbor and those of a friend who had recently visited Dubrovnik, I couldn’t reconcile the idea I had in my head of a war-torn country with what I was seeing.
What won me over was the fact that I would get to visit the sites where HBO’s “Game of Thrones” was filmed and I could rent a house near the beach for very little money compared to what I paid in the States for rent or my mortgage.
Plus, there was the added bonus that Croatia is one of the only European countries that is not a member of the Schengen Area, which my status as an American citizen prohibits me from visiting visa-free for more than 90 days out of every 180.
So, here I am in Croatia in a tiny village named Okrug Gornji.
Don’t ask me how to pronounce it — I have no idea. I do, however, know how to say “Thank you” and “Have a nice day” in Croatian.
I’m making progress.
I spend my mornings walking my daughter’s dog on Copacabana Beach, which is lined with bars and restaurants that I have been assured are actually open during tourist season. My afternoons are spent writing or teaching English and, after many years of convincing myself that I didn’t have the time, I have gone back to my old habit of reading before bed.
All in all, a pleasurable existence.
Okrug Gornji is only a few kilometers away from Trogir, otherwise known as the trading harbor of Qarth in Game of Thrones.
Trogir was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its Venetian architecture. Located directly east of Italy, across the Adriatic Sea, most of what is now Croatia was under Venetian rule for centuries.
This influence is evident in buildings like the Kamerlengo and St. Marko fortresses, built to accommodate the Venetian Army defending Trogir from aggressors.
In addition to the remarkable architecture of Trogir’s palaces, fortresses, and cathedrals, the town has a bustling waterfront lined with restaurants and slips for sailboats. Walking the cobblestone streets near the harbor, you cannot imagine a better fit to represent the great trading city created by George R. R. Martin.
Although tourism has been a welcome boon to the local economy, the area is also well-known for fishing and agriculture. Local merchants sell their wares in the outdoor marketplace, which is open daily and located right off the waterfront.
Fresh fish, olives, cheeses, meat, and produce abound and are snapped up by local residents as well as tourists.
Trogir is also a great point from which to leave for day trips to outlying areas. Buses and ferries run throughout the day to nearby islands, where you can spend the day lounging on the beach, hiking through miles of unspoiled nature, or participating in water sports.
On a recent visit to Split, I took the local bus from Okrug Gornji to Trogir and then switched to another bus for the remainder of the trip. The entire trip cost the equivalent of about 12€ and couldn’t have been easier.
One great aspect of this area is that, even though 50 percent of the municipal budget comes from tourism, neither the island of Čiovo, where Okrug Gornji is located nor nearby Trogir feels crowded or touristy.
A seemingly impossible task when more than 20,000 beds in hotels and rentals are available and, from all accounts, filled during high season.
Maybe the character of the area changes when the tourists arrive in droves.
If so, I’ll consider myself lucky that I had the chance, if only for a short while, to enjoy this unspoiled, picturesque area before the madding crowds arrived.
About the author:
Beth Hoke is rejoining the expat life after spending her childhood in Europe and the United States, then settling in Chicagoland to raise two daughters.
Now an empty nester, she is roaming Europe, armed with a TEFL certificate and an online position teaching English for EF.