With 5,835 kilometres of coastline providing front row seats to the picturesque Adriatic sea, well preserved renaissance towns, and sleepy villages scattered seaside and inland on the rolling hills, Croatia's tourism slogan of "The Mediterranean As It Once Was" describes up the country's charm in a nutshell.
Though records show the first Croats landed in the region during the 7th century, the nation as we know it today is barely a decade old. Despite its relatively young age as an independent state, the Balkan destination has in this short time racked up a handful of award recognitions bestowed by prestigious international media ranging from Lonely Planet to National Geographic Adventure and Gourmet Traveller.
Interesting Facts about Croatia:
- The Cathedral of St. James in Šibenik took 3 architects, one after the other, to solve the challenges of completing the vaulting and dome of the all-stone structure. Construction commenced in 1402 and was completed well over a century later in 1536.
- The predecessor of the modern necktie – cravat – as well as fountain pens both originated in Croatia, in the 17th century and early 1900s respectively.
- The Croatian currency 'kuna' refers to the weasel-like marten, whose pelt was used as units of payment in the Middle Ages.
- The longest piece of Etruscan text, to this day still mostly decipherable, are on linen strips on display in Zagreb's Archaeological Museum.
- The Adriatic island of Susak was in antiquity part of the Absyrtides archipelago which included Cres and Losinj. In the tales of the Argonauts, while attempting to retrieve the golden fleece from his sister, Absyrtus was tricked and slain, his dismembered body parts forming the many islets strewn in the sea as we see them today.
The word 'Mediterranean' itself brings to mind cultural heritage, timeless sophistication, fresh cuisine, a soothing countryside, and needless to say, the allure of seaside living. Ever since the ancient times when it was crisscrossed with major trading routes, a sailing culture has been prevalent around the Adriatic Sea. Boasting 66 islands, 652 islets, 389 cliff rocks and 78 reefs, it's easy to add why up Croatia is a nautical playground for sailors, fishermen, and the more leisurely on-deck sunbathers.
1,500 bays and ports and over 50 marinas mean that finding a place to drop anchor and refuel after a full day at sea is never too difficult. Two of the aforementioned tourist regions most popular with yachting and boating enthusiasts are Dalmatia-Šibenik and Dalmatia-Zadar, the latter of which is home to the Kornati Islands National Park, the densest archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea with over a hundred islands, most of them uninhabited.
Cliff diving, wreck diving, and sea kayaking are also popular activities around the indented Croatian coastline.
For visitors who opt to enjoy the seascape under the shade of pine trees, quayside restaurants and bars are a good meeting place to catch up with friends and meet new ones.
Croatian food is known as "the cuisine of regions", with distinct regional dishes varying depending on tradition. Coastal cuisine unsurprisingly draws influence from Greek, Italian, and French culinary scene, whereas the food on the mainland is characterised by more Hungarian and Viennese touches.
To wash down a full meal of meats, stews, pastas, sausages and seafood, a variety of local wine is on offer. The main wine regions in Croatia are Kontinetalna and Primorska, however, the country is home to more than 300 geographically defined areas that produce red and white drinks of the gods.
The Motovun forest in the wooded interior of Istria peninsula – another one of the 8 tourist regions – is famous for its coveted black and white truffles which are widely used as a mouthwatering addition to the local cuisine.
UNESCO Heritage Sites
In no way are UNESCO listings the be all and end all of tourist highlights, but the heritage buildings provide a CliffsNotes-esque background glimpse into Croatia's history. Christianity arrived at the now historic centre of Poreč in as early as the 4th century, and with it, the Episcopal Complex of the Euphrasian Basilica.
Enlarged and restored throughout the ages, the well preserved cathedral complex showcases classical religious architecture with Byzantine architectural elements. Both the City of Trogir, and the Historical Complex of Split with the Palace of Diocletian, are Medieval towns providing a glimpse into the path on which the country took to get to where it is today – the former founded as a trading settlement in the 3rd century BC, and the latter palace built by the Roman emperor, with Medieval cathedrals, Romanesque churches, and Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque palaces added throughout the ages to make Split, the largest city on the Adriatic coast, into the fascinating place it is today.
The Old City of Dubrovnik on the Dalmatian coast is a late-medieval walled city featuring magnificent fortifications and monumental gates, with 13th century churches, monasteries, palaces, and fountains still standing gloriously through the test of time.
Zagreb Arts & Festivals
A more lively way to experience Croatia's culture is by attending their festivals and arts. Geographically contained within the Central Croatia region but standing alone as an individual tourist area, the capital of Zagreb is an inspiring city that clearly believes in the arts.
Cultural centers, art galleries, and museums – ranging from archaeological, natural history, and Egyptian – dot the city. In addition, some 20 permanent and seasonal theaters and stages host indoor and outdoor events year round, from avant-garde music performances to mainstream pop music festivals and theatre.
One of the most prominent music festivals held annually in Zagreb is Radar Festival, with the likes of Placebo, Bob Dylan, and The Animals having taken to the stage since the festival's inception in 2007. Špancirfest, a street walking festival held in the city of Varaždin in Central Croatia, is held every year towards the end of August.
During the 10 day festival, artists, musicians, street performers, and comedians interact with visitors through concerts, shows, and creative workshops.
Villa Holidays in Croatia
Whether it's the natural beauty, stunning seascape sprinkled generously with islands, or millennia-old ancient history, Croatia embodies the charisma of the enchanting Mediterranean. A villa rental in Croatia is as close as one can get to experience the country as so many emperors did in the past.
Travel & Transport
Pleso Airport, also known as Zagreb Airport, is the country's main international airport. Extensive inter-city bus and rail networks make traveling within Croatia easy, and a convenient system of ferries shuttle passengers to and from many islands. Coastal cities are also linked to other cities around the Mediterranean, including Venice in Italy.
Croatia Top 5 Travel Tips [Bucket List]
1. Walk in the Park
With around a tenth of the land in Croatia under protection as national parks or reserves, having a date with nature means you have your pick of scenery. Plitvice Lakes in the central region of Lika is a dazzling showcase of nature's powers. 16 interlinked lakes change colour, and if you're lucky you might even spot a brown bear, eagle, or one of the rarer inhabitants here. Walkways provide a serene walk, but boats and small buses allow you to cover more areas if you don't have much time.
2. Para Planear en el aire
Walking left and right to try catch a glimpse of that island behind the one in front that's stubbornly obstructing your view? Paragliding promises unforgettable vistas of the sea and islands, not to mention the intricately indented coastline that country is so renowned for. Try Mt. Biokovo in Makarska for a once in a lifetime experience. If your legs aren't too wobbly after the jump, hike the mountain or cool off in the Adriatic Sea.
3. Countess and Count Me In
Visit one of the country's many majestic manors and castles. Veliki Tabor Castle near Desinića was built by a local noble family in the 12th century and perches on a hilltop over 330 metres above sea level. The castle is part museum with exhibition spaces and interesting architectural elements such as the 31 metre deep well. The Veliki Tabor Society oversees and regularly organises activities in the castle grounds, such as the Tabor Film Festival and other cultural, scientific, music, and fencing events.
4. Oil & Water
Olive oil and fine wine are integral components of Mediterranean cuisine. Though not as well known as its regional counterparts, Croatian olive oil is known by connoisseurs as one of Europe's most exquisite. Take a combined wine & olive oil tour through the Dalmatian countryside and visit estates maintained throughout generations of families, producing small quantity rare oil oil and wine. For a more immersive experience, take a bicycle tour through Istria and have the chance to interact with locals between wine and olive farm stops.
5. Drawing Inspirations
What better way to celebrate mankind than through their festivals and arts? During the Croatian summer, the masses head out into one of the country's many outdoor festivals to soak in the Mediterranean sun for dancing, singing, and other festivities. Rovinj on the western coast of the Istrian region hosts the country's largest outdoor art exhibition every summer. One's eyes would be torn between the Adriatic seascape of the works of art – both by professionals and amateurs – on display along the long Grisia cobblestone street.