If you come to Metković on the second Saturday in August and see a fleet of uniformed crews in medieval canoes furiously paddling to the cheering of flag-waving citizens on the banks of the Neretva River, it would be excusable to think you’d been transported to another time of river pirates and warring city-states. It would certainly be understandable if you then joined the throngs on the bank or hopped aboard one of the party ferries forming a flotilla of fun behind the boats as they raced each other down the river and along a 22.5-kilometre course that eventually leads to the Adriatic town of Ploče. But chiefly, if you are lucky enough to find this festival – the Maraton Ladja (‘Boat Marathon’) – you can excuse yourself for capitalising on a perfect opportunity to see one of the most unheralded parts of Croatia.
The ladja was an oar-powered wooden boat prized for hundreds of years for its stability and used as early as the tenth century by pirates because of its speed. The first such competition occurred in 1998. Since, the excitement has grown every year with the Croatian president often in attendance.