The coast with the most – the best towns of the Adriatic Coast
The coast with the most - the best towns of the Adriatic Coast
The Adriatic is a glorious body of water. It's bathed in golden sunshine, surrounded by beautiful beaches, and the picturesque towns that dot the coastline have a history that dates back centuries.
On the west side of the Adriatic Sea is Italy's east coast, which curves up and around to meet a tiny sliver of Slovenia near the north end of the sea. Croatia's long coastline takes most of the eastern shoreline of the Adriatic and Croatia's islands stud the water. Montenegro and Albania complete the Adriatic coast.
Along this stretch of beautiful coast are some incredible towns – places that are not only spectacularly located on the water, but have something unique to offer. These are the gems of the Adriatic – the towns that make this coastline world famous.
In the heel of Italy's boot, Lecce is a town drenched in ornamentation – its sumptuously decorated buildings have led Lecce to become known as the capital of Baroque architecture.
The Basilica di Santa Croce is perhaps the pinnacle of the lavish Baroque style. An intricate rose window is surrounded by carved cherubs, fruits and flowers. The window is flanked by columns, swirls, more cherubs and figures. All that is above a balustrade that is held on the shoulders of a cast of characters – including Hercules, a dragon, a griffon, a sheep and a lion. This is one of the most intricate Baroque facades in Italy – and it is just one of the buildings in this ornate town.
Polignano a Mare, Italy
The small town of Polignano a Mare is in a stunning location, perched right on the limestone cliffs above the sparkling Adriatic waters. This area has been settled since prehistoric times and there are layers upon layers of history here.
The town's medieval entrance used to have a drawbridge and you can still see the holes for pouring hot oil on invaders. There are traces of Arab, Spanish and Norman history, including the four watchtowers that used to guard the town. The winding streets will lead you past churches, across stone bridges and eventually to one of the terraces overlooking the spectacular vista of clifftop buildings looking out to sea.
It's not strictly on the Adriatic coast, but the small town of Alberobello is only twenty kilometres inland. And it's worth a mention because if you're in the neighbourhood you simply must visit. Alberobello is a world heritage listed town of Trulli houses – the beehive shaped dome houses with dry stone walls and conical roofs. Visiting Alberobello is like visiting an Italian version of fairyland.
A sophisticated and elegant town, Trani is a fishing port with a casual charm – a sleepy feeling that encourages visitors to do not much at all. Stroll along the waterfront and visit Castello Svevo, the defensive fortress on the shore. At the church, you can look at the 12th century mosaics and then explore the church's lower levels – where you are in remains of earlier churches that were built on the same site.
After a stroll through town and along the harbour, you've pretty much seen it all. Time to relax at a restaurant, sip a drink and watch people promenading along the waterfront.
A city that needs no introduction, Venice is one of the gems of the world, not just of the Adriatic. You can't help but be charmed and a little astounded by the beauty and sheer bizarre-ness of a city built seemingly on top of the water. Get lost in the maze of streets, take a seat in Piazza San Marco, cross a lot of small bridges and sip tiny coffees at stand-up bars. Venice has a unique charm that will captivate you.
On Slovenia's mere 47 kilometres of Adriatic coast is Piran, a fishing town with a perfectly preserved old town centre. With narrow streets, Venetian architecture and a medieval church on the hill overlooking town, Piran is as picturesque as towns get. Tartini Square is the centre of the action, a grand plaza surrounded by cafes, shops and restaurants, that opens onto the water. Stroll the shops, then take a seat with a coffee and watch the fishing boats pull in – European-style seaside life will unfurl around you.
Oh heck, did we just say Piran was as picturesque as things get? We forgot about Rovinj. Rovinj used to be an island until it was connected to the mainland in 1763 – and now it's a slightly unlikely hilly peninsula. St Euphemia Church is on the highest point of the peninsula and its tower is a landmark, jutting dramatically above the red roofs of town.
Art galleries, bars, restaurants and boutiques line the steep, narrow cobbled streets, making this a lively town to explore. Plus, there are pebble beaches, walking, diving, birdwatching and 20 small islands offshore – enough to keep you busy if you get tired of soaking up the beauty of town.
Split is a town with a laid-back vibe, plenty of cool bars and a lot to see. And it's a place with a fascinating history. The town of Split is quite literally built within the Palace of the Emperor Diocletian.
This massive palace-slash-fortress, directly fronting the sea, was built by the Romans at the end of the fourth century. The palace was all but abandoned when, in the seventh century, some locals fled into the fortress seeking refuge. The palace has been occupied ever since. The city of Split has been built up within, around and beyond the palace walls. Exploring the city, you'll find yourself walking through ancient palace doorways, eating in a restaurant on an old Roman terrace or wandering into the old palace cellars – the city is a living museum.
Hvar is one of Croatia's many beautiful islands. The rolling hillsides are covered in pine forests, fruit orchards, vineyards, olive groves, and rosemary and lavender fields – it's an agricultural paradise. Hvar town, the main centre on the island, boasts some gorgeous Renaissance architecture. It's also something of a party town, with lively nightlife and loads of bars and restaurants. Fishing ports, beautiful beaches, great hiking, delicious Dalmatian cuisine – this island has it all.
“Those who are looking for paradise on earth should come and see Dubrovnik,” said George Bernard Shaw after visiting the city. And he wasn't wrong. For paradise it is; everyone who visits is hooked.
The old town is perched on the water within sturdy city walls and the cobbled streets are rich with towers, palaces and fountains. Narrow stone staircases wind up between buildings, with plants in terracotta pots adding splashes of green. Tiny cafes are tucked into tiny side alleys. The warm glow of lanterns light the streets at night. Dubrovnik's wealth of charming-ness is hard to believe.
Kotor is nothing short of spectacular. This fortified town is tucked at the end of Kotor Bay, surrounded on all sides by towering mountains. Facing the deep fjord-like bay, this town was strategically protected by its location – and further secured by fortifications. The old city walls climb steeply up into the hills behind the city. The beautiful plazas, churches and palaces are set on a maze of streets that were laid out in a deliberately confusing way to confound invaders.
The old town of Kotor is one of the best preserved towns on the Adriatic and it has been listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. It may be a little off the beaten track – but that is what makes it so worthwhile.