Dal­ma­tian Coast

Tauck takes Po­nant’s small, lux­ury ships to Croa­tia and Mon­tene­gro.

Porthole Cruise Magazine - - What’s Inside - BY JOHN AND SAN­DRA NOWLAN

Tauck, the New Eng­land-based tour­ing com­pany, has had more than 90 years ex­pe­ri­ence or­ga­niz­ing es­corted trips to more than 70 coun­tries. So it was no sur­prise that its evo­lu­tion and ex­pan­sion from lux­ury river cruis­ing to small ship ocean cruis­ing has been such a suc­cess.

As it does with its river cruises, Tauck leases small, in­ti­mate ocean ships from sev­eral com­pa­nies, mainly the French line, Po­nant. As usual with Tauck, vir­tu­ally all ex­tras are in­cluded and all tours are ac­com­pa­nied by a team of ded­i­cated di­rec­tors who work closely with small groups of guests and find the best lo­cal guides.

Our itin­er­ary, along the west coasts of Croa­tia and Mon­tene­gro, be­gan in Venice aboard the new­est ves­sel in Po­nant’s grow­ing fleet. Le

Lyr­ial, more like an el­e­gant lux­ury yacht than a tra­di­tional cruise ship, fea­tures a stylish, mod­ern in­te­rior with muted color tones of cream, tan, and grey. Our deluxe cabin was 200 square feet and very com­fort­able, with a so­phis­ti­cated TV/movie sys­tem, ex­cel­lent bed­side read­ing lights, and high-end Her­mès toi­letries in the bath­room.

Along with 215 fel­low guests, we be­gan our cruise by sail­ing slowly along the Grand Canal of Venice with the iconic build­ings of St. Mark’s Square glow­ing in the sun­set. We had al­ready spent a day tour­ing Venice (in­clud­ing a sur­prise Tauck gon­dola ride with Ital­ian tenor ac­com­pa­ni­ment) fol­lowed by a boat ride to the Vene­tian La­goon is­lands of Mu­rano, fa­mous for its glass, and Bu­rano, known for its col­or­ful fish­er­men’s houses and ex­quis­ite lace. But we were look­ing ahead to a week on the Dal­ma­tian Coast filled with his­toric me­dieval com­mu­ni­ties, stun­ning to­pog­ra­phy, thriv­ing vine­yards, and an­cient Ro­man land­marks.

Lux­ury on the Adri­atic

Be­fore our first stop the next morn­ing in Croa­tia, we had time to fully ex­plore Le Lyr­ial – not dif­fi­cult with its com­pact size. Panoramic lounges were spa­cious and com­fort­able (one in­cludes a small li­brary) and the large, com­fort­able theater had great sight lines. The res­i­dent troupe of six dancers pre­sented sev­eral com­plex and en­ter­tain­ing pro­duc­tions dur­ing our week at sea. There were two main din­ing ar­eas – the ma­jor restau­rant on Deck Two and the more ca­sual buf­fet area at the rear of Deck Six (in­clud­ing many ta­bles by the out­door pool). Food, in the French style, was usu­ally ex­cel­lent and the fine com­pli­men­tary wines at lunch and din­ner were of high qual­ity. The cheeses, both French and lo­cal, were es­pe­cially good. The chefs made a point of seek­ing fresh fish in sev­eral of the Adri­atic ports and we re­mem­ber one mem­o­rable lunch of very fresh sea bream, grilled whole. De­li­cious.

Croa­tia and Mon­tene­gro are two of the seven na­tions that con­sti­tuted the for­mer Re­pub­lic of Yu­goslavia. The re­gion is a com­pli­cated cross­roads between his­tor­i­cally Chris­tian and his­tor­i­cally Is­lamic ter­ri­to­ries. Some ten­sions con­tinue in the re­gion but tourism is im­por­tant to the econ­omy and we al­ways felt wel­come.

A ma­jor ben­e­fit of tour­ing with Tauck is the wide range of tours avail­able in each port — all com­pli­men­tary. Our first stop was the an­cient walled city of Korčula, Croa­tia, re­puted to be the child­hood home of Marco Polo. Guests could ould choose among a city walk­ing tour, hik­ing on nearby moun­tain ntain trails, or kayak­ing in crys­talline wa­ters. With our in­ter­est in fd food and d wine, we chose a visit to the 100-year-old Bire fam­ily es­tate and win­ery. It was our first taste of Croa­t­ian wines and we were im­pressed, es­pe­cially with the wine made from plavac mali grapes, re­lated to Cal­i­for­nia zin­fan­del. This wine tast­ing, and most of the oth­ers we en­joyed, were ac­com­pa­nied by tra­di­tional pro­sciutto, fresh bread, olives, and cheese.

Be­fore we re­turned to the ship, Tauck sur­prised ev­ery­one with one of its unan­nounced but very spe­cial “ex­tras.” At a lo­cal theater, the com­mu­nity band ac­com­pa­nied a tra­di­tional 15th-cen­tury moreška sword dance with 20 or more red- and black-clad war­riors fight­ing over the af­fec­tion of a maiden.

Dubrovnik is one of the most beau­ti­ful cities on the planet. Its well-pre­served stonewall, ram­parts, and cob­bled streets were started in the 10th cen­tury and are key rea­sons why UN­ESCO des­ig­nated the whole city a World Her­itage Site. Tauck of­fers sev­eral walk­ing tours but also in­cludes a ca­ble car ride for a splen­did over­view, more kayak­ing, a visit to lo­cal vil­lages and winer­ies plus the Mar­itime Mu­seum. We were very keen to in­clude a visit to the Kara­man Win­ery, win­ner of sev­eral ma­jor in­ter­na­tional awards, es­pe­cially for its mal­va­sia wine.

Un­ex­pected Land­scapes

To reach the har­bor city of Ko­tor in Mon­tene­gro (lit­er­ally, “Black Moun­tain”), Le Lyr­ial sailed sev­eral miles up a pic­turesque fjord that could be mis­taken for one in Scan­di­navia. The for­ti­fied town of 14,000 has kept its Mid­dle Ages feel and is a de­light to ex­plore by foot. Sev­eral boat trips were of­fered by Tauck (in­clud­ing one to the fa­mous Our Lady of the Rocks is­land church) but we chose the “Gas­tron­omy Ex­pe­ri­ence.” Just eight of us vis­ited a lo­cal home where the pro­pri­etor (a cook­book author) and her hus­band pre­pared a tra­di­tional lo­cal meal of pro­sciutto, cheese, and sar­dines, fol­lowed by po­tato gnoc­chi (she showed us how to make it) and ten­der beef. An ex­cel­lent lo­cal red wine ac­com­pa­nied the gnoc­chi and beef. A soft meringue dessert with for­est berries was fol­lowed by home made cherry brandy and grappa. Our host even sang us a tra­di­tional song as she played the piano.

Be­fore we left Mon­tene­gro, a troupe of folk dancers lo­cal to the Boka came aboard in elab­o­rately em­broi­dered cos­tumes and en­ter­tained us in the ship’s theater. An­other ex­tra touch that makes Tauck so spe­cial.

Head­ing north again, we stopped at the long, slim is­land of Hvar, Croa­tia, first es­tab­lished as a Greek colony around 385 B.C. It re­mains a cen­ter for laven­der and sev­eral stands are set up to sell the fra­grant prod­uct. The vil­lage of Stari Grad was full of in­ter­est­ing shops and rov­ing en­ter­tain­ers (in­clud­ing one with an un­usual goatskin bag­pipe).

On our last day, we stopped at two com­mu­ni­ties on the north­ern Croa­t­ian penin­sula of Is­tria. The huge, first- cen­tury Ro­man am­phithe­ater in Pula was re­mark­able, a slightly smaller ver­sion of the Colos­seum. It once held 23,000 Ro­mans and is still used for con­certs, in­clud­ing com­par­a­tively re­cent per­for­mances by Pavarotti and Leonard Co­hen.

The penin­sula is also a ma­jor source of olive oil, so we vis­ited the Chi­avalon fam­ily farm, pro­ducer of some of the world’s best olive oil. We nat­u­rally had an ex­ten­sive tast­ing of the fresh, grassy, and spicy oil. It was so good, we couldn’t re­sist buy­ing a bot­tle.

Our last stop was in the quaint town of Rov­inj, a 2,000-year- old com­mu­nity with tan­gles of cob­bled streets that felt very Ital­ian. In fact, be­cause of its close prox­im­ity to Venice ( just across a nar­row part of the Adri­atic) the vil­lage has two of­fi­cial lan­guages, Croa­t­ian and Ital­ian. The area is renowned for its truf­fles – black truf­fles were in sea­son – and one Tauck tour took guests on a truf­fle hunt. We’re told it was out­stand­ing.

Our tour in­cluded Croa­tia’s best-known sparkling wine pro­ducer, Misal, with bub­bly made the tra­di­tional French way from mal­va­sia and pinot noir grapes. We were amazed at the qual­ity of its brut, sec, and semi-sec va­ri­eties. Along with the other guests on this tour, it gave us a chance to make a fi­nal

cruise.• toast to Tauck and a re­mark­able Dal­ma­tian Coast

Out­side Marco Polo's house

Le Lyr­ial in Korčula

View from Mount Srd, Dubrovnik

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