NEAR DUBROVNIK, Croatia -- We're cruising along the breathtaking Adriatic Highway on the Southern Dalmatian coast, curving high atop limestone mountains plunging into the endless blue of the Mediterranean, glimpsing sun-drenched seaside villages and pretty pebble beaches far below. Around almost every bend is a "stop-the-car" view that turns this four-hour-drive from Split to Dubrovnik into a "can't miss" full-day road trip.
Croatia's stunning coastal road is often compared to California's famous Hwy. 1 between San Francisco and Los Angeles. And while I love cruising down the Pacific Coast Highway, I've got to say this dramatic 200-km stretch of the Adriatic Highway has got it beat.
Just south of Split, the pretty seaside town of Omis snuggles beneath sheer limestone cliffs in a fertile green valley at the mouth of a spectacular gorge, where the Cetina River meets the sea.
Brac beckons on the horizon. The Croatian island is famous for its radiant white stone used to build both Split's Diocletian's Palace and the White House in Washington, D.C. The Makarska Riviera is a stunning 60-km stretch of scenery through one of the most famous resort regions along the Croatian coast.
Colourful roadside stands filled with fresh oranges and home-grown produce offer a tasty stop along the fruit-filled valleys of the Neretva River Delta. While there I sample some local honey and chat with a friendly farmer.
We have our passports ready as we approach the border for a brief visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina, but the border guards don't even check as we enter the Neum Corridor. Croatia's coastline is interrupted by a 9-km stretch of Bosnia-Herzegovina territory and we just have to stop in Neum -- that country's one and only seaside town -- for "Bosnia-selfies" to brag we'd been there.
The lure of local wines and sucking back succulent oysters has us detouring along Croatia's Peljesac Peninsula into the harbour town of Ston. The islands of Korcula and Mljet are short ferry rides from this pretty peninsula, too.
But it's Ston's "Great Wall of Croatia," which encloses the ancient picturesque town, that brings us to a screeching stop this time. The impressive medieval marvel is Europe's longest defensive wall and the world's second-longest after the Great Wall of China. It was built to defend and service the local salt pans back in the 14th century when salt was worth as much as gold.
Climbing China's famous wall is still on my "bucket list," but discovering this mighty fortification I didn't even know existed goes on my "best-surprises list." And walking these ancient walls, which lead up into the hills high above the patchwork of salt pans, has worked up my appetite for some of Ston's fresh seafood, too.
Ston's world famous oysters are plump, sweet and scrumptiously juicy. Next, a bowl of buzara -- fresh-from-the-sea mussels and clams cooked the traditional way with tomato, garlic, wine and parsley. Perfect with a glass of local wine!
And hey, we've almost reached the end of our incredible coastal drive with Dubrovnik just an hour away. Lots of time to treat myself to some succulent seafood seconds.
NEED TO KNOW
-- For travel information on Croatia, see seecroatia.hr.
-- Air Transat flies from Toronto to Venice twice a week from May to October, from there you can connect with inexpensive domestic flights to both Split and Dubrovnik to access this stunning coastal drive. See airtransat.ca.
-- Croatia joined the European Union in 2013 but still uses the Kuna as its currency.