“What should you do in Illyria?” asked Viola as she was cast ashore on the Dalmatian Coast in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. The Elizabethan Bard had sought out a romantically exotic and adventurous setting for his seasonal entertainment. The eastern coastline of the Adriatic was known to classical antiquity as Illyria, peopled by tribes of that name later displaced by the South (or Jugo) Slavs. Today this rugged coastline, backed by towering mountains and mottled with more than a thousand contrasting islands is largely shared between the two newly-independent nations of Croatia to the north and Montenegro to the south, both of which we visit as we cruise this spectacular coast. The growing popularity of the Dalmatian Coast for the discerning traveller demonstrates that Viola was spoilt for choice. Largely spared the concrete developments of mid-twentieth century tourism, the Dalmatian Coast has retained its old-world charm amidst spectacular natural beauty. National Parks abound - some eight in Croatia alone - with verdant mountains reflected in an azure sea. The warm, crystal clear waters of the Dalmatian Coast were always a favoured haunt of undersea diver Jacques Cousteau and it is easy to see why. Much of this natural beauty derives from the limestone rock that so well reflects the colours of the setting sun across the open Adriatic Sea, producing an evening light shot through with pinks and violets to delight on-board photographers.
Our ports of call on this adventure cruise include the mediaeval gem of Hvar, a town that glistens like the honey for which this island has always been famous. It is first sighted as we sail around the headland. The town spreads up the hillside among the cypresses and fig trees to the vineyards that produce its celebrated dry white wine, the perfect accompaniment to the local seafood. The north-western part of the seldom-visited neighbouring island of Mljet - again the name references the word for honey - has been a National Park for half a century. The island’s distinctivekarst scenery, with its saline and brackish lakes, supports a variety of unique flora and fauna, including rare tracts of surviving Mediterranean forest. These islands are the summits of a submerged mountain range that we are privileged to explore from sundecks of the Panorama.
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