Croatia Travel Guide
Dubrovnik Old Town, Croatia, Europe.
Photo by Bracodbk
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Why take holidays in Croatia?
Positives: Positioning itself as 'the new Riviera', Croatia tourism is one of the hottest European trends, offering a rich culture, ancient walled towns and castles, lush mountains, dazzling beaches with 1,200 islands to visit, a classic sunny Mediterranean climate, agreeable and relatively unspoilt people, good seafood and wines and all at a relatively low price compared to most of Europe. The local currency is the Kuna, not yet the costly euro, but it will be replaced by euro in the near future).
Negatives: With 10 million visitors a year currently, (2.7 million visitors in July alone), Croatia suffers a shortage of facilities at peak times - despite its fast developing tourist infrastructure, so book necessities well ahead.
Furthermore some short-sighted locals see the tourist boom as a chance to fleece any naive tourist within grasping range, so treat Croatia like the third world as far as money is concerned, checking bills carefully and negotiating taxis and other services with care.
In short: The latest country to join European Union on 1 July 2013, Croatia has been independent for only two decades and shares borders
with Slovenia, Hungary, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Montenegro, while facing Italy across the Adriatic Sea.
It has been a low-cost, sun-trap destination for neighbours such as Austria, Italy and Germany for a hundred years with its splendid beaches and sailing along 1,800 km of dramatic coastline with crystal-clear water, steady winds and endless little undiscovered islands.
Croatia encompasses many national parks with unspoilt lakes and dramatic mountains as well as striking historic towns with a rich cultural heritage such as Dubrovnik, Split, and the new capital of Zagreb, with no shortage of day activities or lively nightlife.
Hiking on the Premuzic trail, a 50km path through the North and Middle Velebit Mountains.
Croatia's coast and islands offer some good beaches, most water sports ranging from swimming or skinny dipping thru scuba diving, windsurfing and sailing.
Hikers, nature lovers and climbers have wide wilderness opportunities in the Velebit Range which includes Paklenica National Park, the canyons of Velika, Mala Paklenicathe and UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site of Plitvice Lakes, with its 16 turquoise lakes, numerous waterfalls, and spectacular karst (shapes and caves, but not peaks!) landscape.
Croatia also has ten Nature Parks (smaller and more individual than national parks) throughout the country such as Biokovo Mountain, Papuk Mountain and the unique wildlife area of Kopacki Rit, near Osijek, is worth visiting.
More serious climbing: For magnificent coastal mountains, try climbing Mt. Ilija (961m), or Sveti Jure (1762m) from Makarska.
Croatia is also a fine cycling country with numerous bike routes and easy rentals. There are many mountain biking tour specialists that organise both long and short tours around the country on the best routes.
Food and wine
Croatian cuisine varies according to the region but the coastal area has historically been influenced by Greeks, Romans and Balkan dishes but today is dominated by Mediterranean styles, particularly Italian, with excellent pizzas, and fresh seafood.
Inland has more of a typically heavy Hungarian, Viennese or Turkish flavour, spicy meat dishes served with roast potatoes or baked noodles, heavy soup and various home-made cheese.
Croatian wine is not yet world-class, but is coming along nicely. Red wines such as Kastelet, Babic, Plavac and Istrian Merlot are worth trying.
Prosek traditional desert wine and Sljivovica plum brandy are well-known.
Zagreb, Croatia's capital city.
**Zagreb, the capital city of modern Croatia, has in fact been a political and cultural centre since medieval times and underrated by the majority of European tourists who tend to head for the south directly. Although Zagreb is not a love-at-first-sight urban space, it deserves more attention.
Zagreb's star sights
grand neo-Renaissance architecture.
a controversial but massive art collection in the Mimara Museum.
neo-Baroque Croatian National Theatre with Ivan Mestrovic's masterly sculpture The Well of Life standing in front.
charming Baroque quarter of Gradec and Kaptol.
lively and bohemian Tkalciceva ulica (street), a pedestrianazed walkway lined with cafés and bars, great for dining, shopping and people-watching, especially in the evening. Cafe culture is big in Zagreb, like Vienna or Budapest.
majestic Mirogoj Cemetery, designed by Croatia's most celebrated architect Herman Bolle, including a meditative sculpture garden.
magnificent Medvedgrad, a medieval fortress on nearby Mount Medvednica, just north of the city with some superb walks.
Zagreb's annual International Folklore Festival in July is worth checking out if you are ethnic music fan, or party animal, or preferably both.
**Porec, a small historic city on the western coast of the Istrian peninsula, hosts some of Croatia's most important religious monuments including the 6th-century Euphrasian Basilica with exquisite mosaics, regarded as one of world finest examples of Byzantine art. The Episcopal complex of the Basilica is a UNESCO's Heritage site and is in the old part of city.
'Devil's Garden', The Plitvice Lakes National Park
***The Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of Croatia's biggest tourists attractions and the most visited national park. It lies roughly halfway between Zagreb and Zadar in an ancient and the enchanted woodland known as the 'Devil's Garden' (photo above), scattered with lakes, streams, natural dams, waterfalls, caves, and meadows.
The park is home to brown bears, wolves, wild cats and many rare birds, as well as wide variety of Alpine and Mediterranean plants.
There are hiking trails throughout the park, with well-organised wooden walkways and footbridges allowing travellers to explore widely, sometimes through the water for up to 18 km; but there is NO swimming in the lakes. The Plitvice Lakes are easily accessible by public transport from Zagreb, Split and Karlovac and tourists can also find varied accommodation - including camp sites - in and around the Park.
** Sjeverni Velebit National Park, contains the largest mountain in the country, Velebit. The park offers several different length of hikes including a thrilling 57 km hike along the Premuzic Trail, with magnificent views of the peaks. The trail was built in the 1930's and is today regarded as a masterpiece of trail building.
South, Dalmatia and islands
Dalmatia is a 'Mediterranean' type region located on the far south of Croatia. It includes hundreds of Croatian islands as well as the mountains of Velebit, Biokovo and Sveti Ilija on the Peljesac peninsula and mainland cities including
Dubrovnik, Split, Trogir, Sibenik and Zadar.
***The old town of Dubrovnik,
aka the 'Pearl of the Adriatic', is a captivating walled city remarkably managing to preserve its charm as well as much of its Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture despite war and earthquake damage. Now it is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it's Croatia's prime attraction and one of Europe's finest ancient towns.
The best way to appreciate the town's beauty is to take a walk along the top of the wall (almost 2kms long and 25 m high in places) and enjoy the several fortresses along the way and panoramic views of red-tiled roofs backed by azure sea.
Dubrovnik's old town attractions
- the architectural delight of the Franciscan Monastery in Romanesque-Gothic style, rebuilt after an earthquake in 1667 and containing many interesting sculptures and other ancient artefacts.
the Pile Gate, a stone bridge guarded by two Gothic arches, built in 1471.
- Stradun, the Old Town's main street, also known as Placa, a 300 m pedestrian precinct from the Pile to Ploce gates, built 12thC.
- St Blaise Church, in Baroque style, 1717.
- Luza Square.
- tourists like to swim on the beach outside the western wall.
take a trip to scenic Lopud Island, one of the Elafiti Islands, a 50-minutes boat trip away - or half an hour in summertime.
**Split, Croatia's second largest city with a mass of historic monuments. More
***Trogir, a lovely old city ignored by the tourists. More
** Zadar, another fortified city with a 3,000 year history and many impressive historic buildings is also ideal base for exploring the country's five national parks; Plitvice Lakes, Paklenica, Kornati, Krka Waterfalls and Northern Velebit, which are no more than one or two hours away by car or boat.
The star sights are pre-Romanesque and Romanesque churches including 9th century, circular St. Donatus, a landmark of the city. Check out the 'Sound and Light' show of the Sea Organ art installation which is built into the Riva seafront promenade, especially at sunset. In fact the city was once declared to have the world's best sunset according to Alfred Hitchcock.
If you would like to see the world's smallest cathedral, the 9th century Little Church of St. Kriz, is located in the nearby town of Nin.
** Mljet Island and its National Park, which covers about 30 sq km of the west side, is an Adriatic jewel with untouched nature, great for outdoor lovers and those looking for peace and quiet. It has two salt lakes, which are actually bays, connected by a channel and surrounded with dense vegetation, an excellent place for a swim after a hike. Saplunara Beach on the southeast end of the island is a delightful.
Hvar town, the 'St. Tropez of Croatia'
Photo by Schorle
***Hvar, a picturesque and affluent harbour town on the seductive resort island of the same name, offers Croatia's sunniest weather, highest life and best chance of bumping into the rich and famous in one of the narrow stone alleys or waterfront night clubs.
Hvar is a short ferry ride from Split or the two Italian ports of Ancona and Pescara and a favourite European watering hole for big-time yachts.
*Sibenik, one and a half hours from Split by train, is not commonly visited but its World Heritage Cathedral of St. Jacob is a good reason to visit, if you like church art. The Cathedral building is in Gothic and Renaissance forms and has distinguished sculptural decoration, including 71 human heads.
Sibenik is also a brilliant base for exploring two excellent national parks, the Krka Waterfalls NP and the Kornati Islands NP - the latter makes a great boat trip.
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