Cruising the azure waters and sun-kissed skies of the Mediterranean and southern coasts of Europe is a dream for many holidaymakers, and Holland America Line provides a memorable opportunity to explore one of the hidden gems of Southern Europe: the Adriatic Sea.
The Adriatic is a long and narrow sea known for its turquoise waters, spectacular natural beauty and ancient cities, which is bordered by Italy to the west and the Balkan countries of Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro and Albania to the east.
The Adriatic’s steep and rocky hills have kept Durrës, Albania; Kotor, Montenegro; and Korcula and Split, Croatia; a secret from tourists. But on a Holland America Line cruise to the Adriatic Sea, guests can discover these majestic ports.
For many years, Durrës was best known to travelers as the humble port where they could catch a ferry to Italy. Nearly three decades after the fall of communism, Albania’s second-largest city has been given an all-around makeover with a major new port and fine seafront promenades.
The city was founded as the Illyrian capital in 627 B.C.E., before falling to the Romans who built the famous Via Egnatia, the ancient Roman road to Byzantium. That past is still alive today in ruins and monuments found around every turn in Durrës.
Albania’s more recent Islamic heritage is reflected in Durrës’s early-16th-century Fatih Mosque, located close to the water and near the old Roman amphitheater (the largest in the Balkans). The narrow streets down of the old town are the place to taste local favorites such as gjellë (meat stew) or the chilled yogurt and cucumber drink called tarator.
Cruising into the Bay of Kotor, travelers will be wowed by the dramatic beauty of this coastal Montenegrin town. Mountains plummeting into the Adriatic Sea set the scene for the stone labyrinth of the Old Town which is filled with medieval architecture and historic monuments.
There’s a reason Kotor was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Waiting to be discovered in the Old City are its famed Venetian gates that pay tribute to its history as a Venetian port, one of the oldest theaters in the Balkans “Napoleon’s theater” and prisons from its Austro-Hungarian period.
Croatia’s sixth-largest island — once known as Melaina Korkyra (Black Korkyra) because its vast oak forests reminded Greek settlers of Corfu — is covered in pine trees, olive groves and vineyards. As guests glide down the Strait of Pelješac, they can admire the peninsula’s dramatic slopes dropping off into the Adriatic Sea and the 19 islets that surround the city.
Korcula’s Old Town is the island’s highlight and a UNESCO World Heritage Site candidate. Its stone architecture and historic ambiance reflect almost four centuries of Venetian rule, with its towering gates, lion statues, magnificent palazzos and elaborate stonework peppering the charming streets. Outside of the Old Town, guests will encounter historic villages with welcoming locals, picturesque bays and waterfront promenades.
Korcula also is one of the last places on earth where knightly games like the Moreška dances are still regularly performed and where medieval fraternities still keep up their centuries-old traditions.
Croatia’s second-biggest city oozes small-town charm, thanks to its quaint, narrow streets and the easygoing lifestyle that the Dalmatians are known for.
With a busy ferry port, Split is the point of access to the many islands up and down the coast. Much of its old town is within the walls of Diocletian’s Palace, a 1,700-year-old UNESCO-listed fortress on the Adriatic seafront. Roman Emperor Diocletian built the palace as his retirement home on the sea, and through the centuries many conquerors have taken refuge within its thick walls.
Today, Split is a lively city home to some 200,000 residents, and getting lost in its labyrinthine streets is the best way to explore its historic heart. Stumble across lively cafés and shops tucked into its ancient palace, or venture beyond it to discover busy squares and markets, quiet trails and beautiful beaches.
If you’re looking to cruise to the Adriatic, Holland America Line features cruises to the region on Oosterdam, Prinsendam and Westerdam. Check them out today!