There’s Much to Love in Croatia
With 1,244 islands and 116 Blue Flag beaches along its Adriatic coast,
Croatia has long been a favorite of sun-seeking Northern Europeans. It has recently become more popular with Americans too, and its historic and natural sights are now making the tourist must-see list.
Croatia is often called a nautical paradise, with one of the most indented coasts in the Mediterranean that is home to more than 1,000 islands. Sailing along Croatia’s coastline from north to south is the best way to explore the coastline or a visitor can instead hit the road and discover some of the off-the-beaten paths too. Croatia has more than 680 miles of motorways, connecting the capital Zagreb to other parts of the country. While July and August are the most popular months to visit Croatia due to vacationers seeking sun, sea and beaches, spring and fall are also perfect times to explore and experience Croatia’s rich history, charming towns, award-winning vineyards, scenic hiking trails, and culinary delights-all nestled along the Adriatic Sea. There’s something for everyone, from taking part in numerous festivals to simply enjoying a relaxing or romantic vacation.
Don’t miss visiting Rovinj, the most beautiful and romantic city on the west coast of Istria, just underneath the Lim canal. Stay in a hotel carved into a wooded hillside overlooking the Adriatic.
If you’re into history, visiting Pula is a must because here you will find one of the best, well-preserved surviving Roman arenas in the world that was constructed in 27 BC – 68 AD. This arena is also among the six largest in the world.
Another important historic site in Istria is Euphrasian Basilica in Poreč, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, dating back to the 6th century and one of the best examples of early Byzantine art and architecture.
Since Istria is considered a food and wine mecca of the Mediterranean, let yourself indulge in great local wines, especially the white varieties such as Malvasia, homemade pasta with truffles (don’t miss the white truffle season in October and November!), wild asparagus specialties in Spring, delicious seafood, and world-recognized olive oil, and local hospitality.
Along the Croatian coast there is the Kvarner Riviera, located next to Istria, centered around the city of Rijeka, which is the busiest port on the Adriatic. The most famous resort in this area is Opatija that emerged as a popular holiday destination in the late 19th century. Lovran, Crikvenica, Kraljevica and Novi Vinodolski are also worth visiting. Take a ferry boat and visit the islands of the Kvarner Riviera – Krk, Losinj, Cres and Rab.
Lošinj’s five islands are a destination for aromatherapy and wellness, with 1,200 different plant species and 150 miles of walking trails where guests can admire the various botanicals and inhale their fragrances. Local hotels offer herb and aroma-based health programs, and spas with aromatic massages.
Clients who are avid snorkelers will like the offerings of the Kvarner Bay Islands in the northern Adriatic between Istria and the mainland. This is a pleasant way to experience the natural riches of Kvarner’s underwater world, gaining a new perspective on an area known for its Caribbean-like beaches.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site Star
Plitvice Lakes, among the top 5 attractions in Croatia, is the oldest national park in SEE and the largest national park in Croatia. It’s famous for its 16 lakes arranged in cascades and their distinctive colors, ranging from azure to green grey or blue depending on the quantity of minerals or organisms in the water and the angle of sunlight.
Dalmatia offers much more than just visiting Dubrovnik and Split. Don’t miss exploring the Kornati Archipelago National Park in Northern Dalmatia, made up of 140 islands making it the densest archipelago in the Mediterranean. George Bernard Shaw said, “On the last day of creation God desired to crown his work, and thus created the Kornati islands out of tears, stars and breath.”
Zadar, a beautiful coastal city with origins from antiquity, was built on Roman urban principles and is home to an abundance of archeological treasures and monuments dating back to the ancient medieval and Renaissance periods. Enjoy cultural evenings listening to music in St. Donatus Church, take a stroll on the main square Kalelagra – the longest and widest street, visit the Cathedral of St. Anastasia and archeological museum, and the Sea Organ that has become a modern icon of the city – the underwater architectural miracle that creates an amazing sound, the so-called sea music, from the motion of the waves and their passage through musical pipes.
The Cathedral of St. James in Šibenik is a must-see as it’s one of the most important Renaissance architectural monuments in the eastern Adriatic (15th and 16th century) and a UNESCO site.
The historic city of Trogir is the best-preserved Romanesque-Gothic complex in Central Europe and another UNESCO site.
The city of Hvar on the island of Hvar, a new jet-set destination, has the reputation as a place to be seen. Take a peek at the Hvar historical theater in the city centre, the oldest public theatre in Europe that dates back to the beginning of the 17th century. If you’re looking for a more relaxing experience like a peaceful beach, take a ride on a local boat and go to the Paklinski islands, specifically Palmižana beach. Not far from the city of Hvar, there is Stari Grad and the Stari Grad Plain, an agricultural landscape that was established by the ancient Greek colonists in the 4th century BC, and remains in use today. The ancient layout has been preserved by careful maintenance of the stone walls for over 24 centuries and it is a UNESCO site.
Hvar and Dalmatia are well known for great red wines made of Mali Plavac grape that is genetically identical to Zinfandel grapes, so don’t miss a chance to do some wine tasting.
The island of Brač, less known but as scenic as Hvar, features beautiful bays and beaches (including the famous beach, Zlatni Rat in Bol) and one of the best stonemasonry schools in the world. Brač stone is known for its quality and bright white color and has been quarried from the island since the Roman times. You’ll see it in the world’s most iconic buildings, from the White House in Washington DC to Budapest’s Parliament Building. To this day, the stone is worked in the same way as it was 2,000 years ago.
The island of Korčula, a magical place with the remains of massive medieval walls, is believed to be a hometown of Marco Polo. The Moreška Sword Dances event is a great way to experience a history of Korčula, a tradition stretching back almost a thousand years.
Lastovo Archipelago and Nature Park consists of a group of 44 islets and reefs with beautiful flora and fauna. It’s also known for the Lastovo Music Festival in August.
Mljet is one of the most beautiful islands in Croatia and considered to be the island of Ogygia where the nymph Calypso held Odysseus for seven years. It is a National park due its amazing flora and fauna, and two salty lakes rich with many sea shells. Cycling or hiking is the best way to explore the island, and if you’re a diver you’ll fall in love with the island’s underwater treasures.
Peljesac Peninsula is an off-the-beaten track paradise for foodies and wine lovers. By visiting Mali Ston restaurants, you can prove your love of oysters and seafood and satisfy all your food cravings along with trying some good wines like Dingač, Postup or Pošip. Don’t forget to visit sea salt pans and learn about its sea salt hand-harvesting method, which dates back to the 14th century.
Take a walk around the walls of Ston, built in the 14th and 15th century, along with its 40 towers (20 of which have survived) and five fortresses; the walls were built to protect the City of Ston and the Republic of Ragusa from conquerors. If you’re into windsurfing or kite surfing, Viganj is a must on your list.
While glamorous beaches and idyllic islands grab tourists’ attention, most visitors to Croatia will arrive through the capital city of Zagreb and you should urge them to linger there to discover its European charms. In its Old-World streets, they’ll find cafes, street musicians, a lively jazz scene and non-stop summer festivals, including the International Folklore Festival in mid-July.
For more information about all this country has to offer, visit www.croatia.hr