Mountain Thoughts: Polishing the Pearl

Reflections from Summer Vacation in Croatia

Smooth pebbles kiss the luminous waters of the Adriatic Sea, and the stark slopes of the Dinaric Alps serve as the breathtaking backdrop.

Nothing if not dramatic, Croatia is an intoxicating blend of natural beauty, ancient magic and coastal charm. It’s the perfect destination for wanderers of all ages who seek adventure by land and sea.

My question wasn’t whether the Dalmatian Coast could mesmerize.

I wanted to know: Did Croatia hold the power to restore the spirit?

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Our family took a two-week vacation in Croatia this summer. Both my husband and I had been to Europe on numerous business trips, but we’d never been together. We wanted to experience Europe with our daughters, but we knew dragging them through crowded museums and churches wasn’t right for us. Croatia seemed like the perfect combination of coast and culture with accessible mountains thrown in for good measure.

We flew into the capital of Zagreb and quickly headed to the coast. After a short stay in the bustling city of Zadar, we made our way to the Makarska Riveria and the enchanting town of Brela.

Symbol of Brela at Sunset

Where the cliffs meet the sea, Brela’s hidden coves harbor perfect crescents of translucent water and smooth stones. This breathtaking string of beaches is known as the Pearl of the Makarska Riveria.

Natural pearls form when an irritant works its way into an oyster. As a defense mechanism, the oyster coats the bothersome nuisance with a fluid called nacre. Over time, layer upon layer of this coating builds until a lustrous pearl is formed.

Before our vacation, I was an oyster, increasingly irritated by outside influences. Work was relentless, and, as the stress built, I wasn’t as present or as patient with my family as I wanted to be.

I felt dull, lackluster. I needed time to polish away the grit and grime.

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Upon our arrival in Brela, we immediately noticed the change of pace. Desperate for rejuvenation, we eagerly embraced this leisurely lifestyle.

My husband and I still rose in the predawn hours to run and paddle in hushed communion with the world, but we also paused more frequently to memorize the moments playing out before us.

Preparing for an early morning paddle. Pictured in Durango Short

We lingered over meals, sipping espresso as our daughters collected shells from the shore.

Searching for shells in secret caves, Brela, Croatia

We strolled, hand-in-hand, through city streets and ancient palaces.

Market day in Makarska. Pictured in MØVA Aktiv Dress

We watched, in quiet reverence, as the sun cast his fiery rays across the deep.

Sunset, Zadar, Croatia

Ever present, Croatia’s mountains stood sentry above us. Compelled by their majesty, we explored canyons and cliffs and forests.

We gazed in endless wonder at waterfalls spilling through the trees in Plitvice Lakes.

Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

In Split, we left the walls of Diocletian’s ancient palace and climbed the steps of Marjan Hill. Rewarded for our efforts, we basked in the sun’s warm glow.

Sunset from Marjan Hill, Split, Croatia

From Omis, we climbed to a pirate fortress and looked down from our formidable vantage. While our daughters sought treasure, my husband and I knew the prize was in the memories born that day.

Pirate or princess? Gazing out from Starigrad Fortress, Omis, Croatia

Croatia’s mountains spoke to us, but the siren call of the sea was equally irresistible.

We paddled along the rocky shoreline, stopping to play on abandoned beaches and jump from sentinel rocks.

Taking the plunge off the coast of Brela, Croatia

We splashed and played on rare, sandy beaches and wild, rocky strands, pure delight manifesting as raucous laughter.

Pure delight, Punta Rata Beach, Brela, Croatia

We swam and paddled effortlessly, the clear waters lifting the weight of the world and washing our worries away.

Paddling from the shore of Punta Rata Beach, Brela, Croatia

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As the days unfolded, each precious moment was a new, lustrous layer in my heart.

I watched my daughters laugh and play, their hearts so open to joy and possibility, and I reveled in their bliss. I held hands with my husband, my best friend, and my soul was replenished, my spirit restored.

Together, we broke free from daily distractions and unnecessary stress. We let go of little things that didn’t matter and held tight to those that matter most. As silly as it sounds, we learned to simply be again.

Holding tight to what matters most. Pictured in KONQUER SS

Natural pearls are extremely rare. They vary in shape and size simply because they are wild. Most have a stunning iridescent quality.

What I found in Croatia this summer was rare, wild and sublime. I am an oyster, and I hold the most precious pearl of all.

Nicole Goodman

Nicole Goodman is an avid runner and forever outdoor enthusiast. Her idea of a fabulous vacation involves lots of GORP while backpacking in the National Park system, although trail running and SUP-ing in Hawaii, Costa Rica, Croatia, and the Canadian Rockies are close seconds. She writes about travel, running, parenting, and her obsession with outdoor apparel for KÜHL.