Second only in length to the Great Wall of China (a stretch of which I have also walked), this defensive wall in Croatia lays claim to be the largest in Europe.
Although only around 5km in hiking length, the wall has some very steep aspects and will take you longer than you think to complete. Originally the walls stretched about 7km, and were built in the 14th Century. They were intended to protect the town of Ston, on the Dalmation coast. The remaining parts stretch from Ston over the brow of a hill, and then all the way down in Mali Ston, or “Little Ston” by the sea. As a tourist, the walls are accessed for a small fee, although they are not wheelchair accessible as yet. I did the walk the other way round, from Mali Ston, and although it is not well signed, if you approach the wall from the streets below you will come across a tired old kiosk selling the tickets allowing you access to the wall.
Mali Ston is a serene little village, with great food and hospitality, where families are made extremely welcome. The cobbled streets are reminiscent of days gone by, and the harbour an uncluttered and azure blue. All the harbour-front restaurants specialise in seafood, in particular oysters – a delicacy from these parts, although when I ate I went for the jet-black Cuttlefish Risotto, made using the ink from the fish. Pungent, extremely tasty – but makes your tongue go black!
Starting the ascent up the hill out of Mali Ston, just beyond the ticket booth the wall is accessed by stone stairs leading up onto the ramparts. From there you can look back over Mali Ston harbour for a great view; lush hillsides and terracotta rooftops mingled amongst the blue sea of the inlet and the green hills beyond. I chose to start at Mali Ston to get the steep climb out of the way first – and this way round you get to descend into Ston at the other end, with views of the old town and farmland surrounding it.
Pressing onward and upward, hardly a soul was to be seen on the wall. I passed two tourists, and a young family, but that was it. For most of the walk I was alone in a soundless calm. Once the ascent is out of the way you have the luxury of being able to see over both views, forward over Ston and back over Mali Ston, between any of the twenty defensive towers that remain standing. The wall is undergoing improvements and fortifications to make it safer for walkers to enjoy – which unfortunately meant some scaffolding in view. Also, some complete sections of the wall nearer Ston (see the ‘ inverted pentagon’ shape on the map above) were completely closed to the public for safety reasons. Once these are restored you can enjoy walking a distance nearer to the original 7km of defensive walls, and getting a different perspective into Ston.
Rounding the end of the flat section of the parapet, Ston comes fully into view. Much of the medieval architecture of the town remains and when the sun hits the limestone it’s an incredible view. The ramparts descend in a steep, straight line right above the main section of the town, and you are high! Careful – there’s not room for two people side by side!
Further afield, and visible in the picture above, are the salt pans which are still in use today, and the original reason the walls were built. Salt was a source of a lot of income for Dubrovnik – so the walls of Ston were made to ensure defence of the salt and the wealth that followed.
Once down in Ston it was time for a drink; Croatia in June is hot. Whilst it may have only taken 40 minutes to complete, you can spend much longer if you want to stop to soak up the atmosphere or compose the perfect photo. All in all, the walls at Ston are a great mini-hike with a rich cultural history that nearly anyone can enjoy.