Croatia’s tagline is “The Mediterranean as it once was.”
Croatia is a hot “new” destination, though travelers from the United States don’t necessarily consider this destination in Southeastern Europe when they plan their vacation. Croatia is an excellent introduction to the Balkan countries with its tourist-friendly cities, regional influences, and proximity to destinations in other countries.
These days, the country’s 1,100 miles of coastline and 1,200 islands are a haunt for cruise ships and beachgoers.
Croatia just became the 28th member of the European Union (7-1-13.) As part of its accession, Croatia will be able to gradually ease border restrictions over the coming years, which means that this summer is a great time to experience the country’s treasures, hidden and established, before the floodgates really open.
Croatia’s coastal landscape, mountains and valleys, and national parks like the Plitvice National Park imbed themselves in visitors’ memories. Driving through Croatia – for example, along the Adriatic Highway – provides views of towns built on slopes, bays of blue water, and craggy cliffs. Explore Croatia via car, bus, or organized tour to most easily enjoy Croatia’s natural beauty.
Fun Fact: The White House is made of Croatian stone, from the island of Brac. This same stone was used to build Diocletian’s palace in Split, Croatia.
(Do you know that the unique center of Split,which is on the UNESCO list of World Heritage, was built on the foundation of the summer villa of the Emperor Diocletian in 305?)
Many restaurants serve slow food – that is, food that is prepared in a home-cooked manner with attention to the quality and flavors of the dish. (Of course in this place, it’s not a trend–it’s a lifestyle.) Croatian national cuisine is a draw as well. Seafood dishes, dishes inspired by the flavors of Italy, and cuisine that takes a cue from neighboring Slavic countries are on menus throughout Croatia.
When you visit Croatia, be sure to enjoy the local culture. Hear traditional klapa singers in Split, buy Croatian embroidery in Dubrovnik, or visit a market in Zagreb. Enjoy a holiday or festival on one of Croatia’s islands, or visit Croatia during Easter or Christmas to celebrate with the locals.
Along the coast, the weather in Croatia stays warm much longer than it does inland. Even in springtime, when much of the rest of Eastern Europe is still chilly, Croatia’s coastal weather is comfortable. During the summer, the weather heats up, which means that sunbathing, swimming, and water sports are popular and resorts fill up with beach-loving vacationers.
Countries like Italy and Turkey are famous for their Roman architectural wonders, but did you know that Croatia is also home to Roman temples, amphitheaters, palaces, and other structures? Croatia’s Roman architecture is well preserved in cities like Split and Pula. Sites of more recent construction also show evidence of Roman occupation – for example, the Roman mosaics in the Euphrasian Basilica of Porec show how later groups utilized sites that served the Romans.
Dubrovnik is Croatia’s top destination. This walled city sees the most action during the summer months, but it is equally pleasant in spring or fall when the tourist season has eased. Walk the city walls for spectacular views, explore fortresses, palaces, and churches, and relax on the beach, in a pub, or in a cafe.
Dubrovnik summer festival
The Old Town of this Dalmatian coast city in Croatia exudes romance year round, but walking the high city walls with views of the Adriatic and red-roofed, stone buildings is at its romantic peak in July and August during the city’s annual Summer Festival. For 47 days, the Old Town serves as the stage for open-air performances by artists from around Europe. Allow you and your sweetheart to be serenaded by opera singers in front of the baroque St Blaise church, or walk hand-in–hand on the 13th-century walls as an orchestra fills them with the sounds of classical music.No signs of modern commercialism detract from this medieval setting. Croatians know Dubrovnik is something special and have preserved (and restored) it beautifully.
Smaller cruise ships can dock within walking distance to Old Town, but most dock in Gruz Harbor, a 15-minute shuttle ride away, often provided by the cruise lines, gratis. A taxi costs about 60 Kune and queue at the pier. Cruises to Dubrovnik often start in Venice or Bari, Italy, and can come from as far as Athens and Barcelona.
Locally made wine is on menus throughout Croatia. Teran wine, produced in the iron-rich soil of Istria, is one variety you might try, but other wines with unique characteristics can be sampled when you visit. The spirits of Croatia include Maraschino, the cherry liqueur produced in Zadar.
n 2004, the Giro d’Italia, one of the preeminent professional cycling races, held two stages in Croatia on the Istrian peninsula. Since then, the area has seen a boom in cycling tourism. Tour de France winner Eddy Merckx called the landscape gorgeous; Bicycling magazine called coastal Croatia one of this year’s best bike trips.