Less than two hours from packed Dubrovnik, a peaceful riverside area perfect for cycling, swimming and boat trips lies waiting to be explored
It’s 6pm on a Saturday in Opuzen, and I’ve just ordered my second £1 beer. Around me, the sunset is turning the off-white marble of the village’s church and houses a rosé pink. A group of men sit beneath an olive tree sliding drafts around a board, and a ginger cat twirls around a lamp-post.
I’m in Croatia’s Neretva valley and this small town a few kilometres from the coast is just 87km north of Dubrovnik and 144km south of Split, making it an easy drive from two of Croatia’s most popular destinations. But while Dubrovnik’s cobbles are packed with selfie-stick-wielding Game of Thrones fans, Hvar harbour is crammed with yachties and other islands throng with festivalgoers, this green and untamed chunk has remained relatively undiscovered.
Travelling in the Neretva is like going back 30 or so years, to when a trip to Croatia was the preserve of in-the-know holidaymakers. With a car it’s easy to nip between its tiny villages, vineyards and river swimming spots, but for the more adventurous, a tour with Explore Neretva, a new company set up by local Vedran Jurinovic, is a good way of getting to know the region.
My three-day adventure with them starts with a kitesboarding lesson at Opuzensko Usce, one of the few sandy stretches of beach in Croatia. The breezy conditions at the mouth of the Neretva river make it an ideal spot for the sport.
If you don’t fancy the adrenaline rush of having a go, it’s fun to sit on the beach watching the kites while drinking beer at one of the simple beach bars. But to really see the Neretva valley, you do need to take to the water. Back upriver in Opuzen, I slide into a double kayak with Mladen, Vedran’s business partner.