Finally Croatia or Croatia Again – it doesn’t matter. The important thing is: you’re going!
A couple of basic facts to begin with: for a country its size, Croatia is quite geographically diverse. There are the agricultural plains in the north, the relative hustle and bustle of Zagreb city, the mountainous range in the middle, and then the long and diverse Adriatic coast – starting with the lushness of Istria and zigzagging down to sizzling Dalmatia. There’s a lot to see and there’s a lot to do, so let’s get started and see what you can and should be looking at.
There are several good points of entry into Croatia. If you’re traveling by land, you’ll most likely land in the west. If you’re coming from Italy or Switzerland by train or car, you should be heading towards Trieste, which is just a stone’s throw away from Istria and Rijeka. If you’re coming from Germany or Austria, you should steer towards the Slovenian capital Ljubljana, which is only two hours away from the Adriatic coast.
Rijeka is the largest city in the west and a good gateway into Croatia. A lively student city is mostly supported by industry, but there are several nice resorts around it, most notably Opatija. Opatija and its Riviera offer a couple of great pebble beaches and plenty of fun in the summertime. There are two hostels in Rijeka, but your best bet will probably be a private apartment somewhere closer to the beach. Needless to say, we can get you one.
Rijeka is situated just east of the country’s largest peninsula – Istria. Often compared to Tuscany, Istria is a laid-back, mellow blend of history, beaches, medieval towns and green hills. Pula is the biggest city, but has little to offer save for history, Roman ruins and a Ryanair connected airport. Rovinj and Poreč, both on the west coast, are more instrumental for tanning and clubbing purposes, and you shouldn’t miss the quaintness of medieval fortified towns such as Grožnjan, Motovun, Buzet, Draguć or Labin. Need a tour? Talk to us. Need a ride? Ditto.
When talking of central Croatia, two main points of interest stand out: Zagreb, as the capital and largest city, and Plitvice Lakes, one of the top natural attractions in the region. Zagreb is a good point of entry if coming from Hungary, Serbia or by plane. The old Austro-Hungarian city center makes for a pleasant stroll, but anything outside of that melts into the aesthetically criminal socialist urban planning. Plitvice Lakes, on the other hand, do tend to leave a lasting impression. An intricate system of freshwater lakes cascades over limestone cliffs and disappears into the lush surrounding forest. A true natural gem with one objective flaw: accommodation facilities. The three near-by hotels haven’t done much to step into the third millennium, so private accommodation or day-trip visit sound like a better option. Where to stay? We know. Ask us.
Plitvice Lakes is also a gateway to Croatia’s best known region: Dalmatia, made famous internationally by 101 spotted dogs. Do you like stone architecture, narrow alleyways, Mediterranean pine trees and crystal clear sea? Read on if you’ve answered affirmatively. The north of Dalmatia offers the city of Zadar, a rare medley of medieval and socialist that will certainly make you whip out the camera a number of times. This is also where the islands start getting smaller and more fun. Kornati national park is an archipelago worth seeing, be it on an organized excursion boat (less recommended) or a sail boat (very recommended). As you start moving down to Split from Zadar, you’ll run into Krka Falls national park, just outside of the city of Šibenik. The Krka river cascades in a similar way to Plitvice Lakes, only there are two notable differences: there is not as much water going around and the climate is more pleasant.
You’ll do well to approach Split by boat, if possible, since this will land you straight into the quaint Roman centre of the city circumventing the depressive skyscrapers that loom without. Traditionally more oriented towards industry, Split was late to realize the full extent of its tourist potential as Croatia gained independence in early 1990s. It is now rapidly trying to make up for the lost time with many facilities and hotels springing around the UNESCO-protected core. The city is definitely worth a visit, but beware of cheap get-money-out-of-tourists hotels and restaurants that could mar your trip. You’ve got our number. You’ve got our email. It’s as simple as that.
Let’s start moving down to Dubrovnik. The best way to do so, unless you’re pressed for time, is by island hopping. Just off the coast of Split lies the island of Brač. Boasting with Croatia’s arguably nicest beach in the town of Bol, Brač is a hilly and peaceful place with a particular appeal for families and those who like to take it easy. The next island over, Hvar, will speak to those whose idea of a good time has to do with late nights and swanky bars. This goes primarily for the town of Hvar itself, a beautiful and hipping island capital, whereas the rest of the island offers good bike rides, wine and excellent olive oil. Next on the list is Korčula, a sizable island with a fortified town at the far end and some excellent beaches to go hand and hand with the history. Half way between Split and Dubrovnik airports, both Hvar and Korčula make for rewarding stops along the way.
Last but not least, old city Dubrovnik. Undeniably Croatia’s number one destination, this homage to medieval stone and construction workers has been delighting generations of travelers from around the world. Guess what, the people of Dubrovnik know it, too. Brace yourselves for higher prices and more people on the streets. Should you go despite this? You should. It’s worth it, but you’ll do wisely to avoid July and August in the city. After all, how many people do you want to share unique experiences with?
Okay, there’s a massive overview of Croatia, enough info to get the general picture, right? Tell us what tickled your fancy and we’ll get down to the exciting part – making reality out of daydreams. Croatia… so close you can feel the sun on your skin.
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