Of all the former regions that comprised Yugoslavia, it is not hard to argue that Croatia got one of the best deals upon the dissolution of the former country. An azure coast kissed by a Mediterranean climate, replete with white sand and pebble beaches. Engrossing architecture that has spanned eras from the Renaissance to the Romans. Tiered lakes and waterfalls that will make you pinch yourself to check you to see whether you are actually within a dream space, rather than in reality.
All of these things are within your reach in Croatia, and often, at a cut rate discount compared to its neighbour across the Adriatic, Italy. Its freedom came at a cost though, as when it attempted to assert its independence in 1991, Serbia cried foul, and a war resulting from contested regions containing ethnic Serb populations raged on for four years until 1995.
After those tough times, Croatia has grown into a place to be for the global jetset for the reasons cited above, but in spite of its growing profile, it remains an affordable option compared to the standard bearers of the more westerly portions of Southern Europe, making a solid destination whether you are on a backpacking Euro trip, or if you are part of the luxury traveling crowd.
Currency: Croatian Kuna
What To Do
After controlling the levers of a massive empire for many years back in the 4th century AD, Diocletian had the same aspirations then as many of us do these days: he wanted to retire to a simple life of the Adriatic Coast, far from the pressures and politics of Rome. As such, Diocletian’s Palace was born, with the exquisite marble columns and stonework sitting in an apt location, surrounded by spectacular limestone karsts.
After the age of the Romans, this palace was used as a defensive position by locals seeking protection from Slavs that were invading their territory. Appreciating its qualities after that, people in the area used the walls to make a new community within its protective cocoon; even today, there are locals still living in the homes and working the businesses that they had set up within the home of a former Roman emperor.
Diocletian’s Palace isn’t the only walled city recognized by UNESCO in Croatia, as the more famous Walls of Dubrovnik usually crops up in the mind of knowledgeable travelers when they think of historical attractions within this country. Built in the 7th century by the Byzantines to guard their interests, its intimidating fortifications hold the auspicious distinction of never being breached by an invading army during the entire Middle Ages, and it even recently repelled the Serbs during the Croatian War of Independence during a long siege that lasted several months. The Old City of Dubrovnik, situated behind this incredible set of defenses, sustained more damage than the walls themselves, testifying to the brilliance of those that constructed them all those years ago.
While there are more famous Roman era arenas that can be seen in Europe, one of the most intact of these can be found in Croatia in Pula. The Pula Arena is not only in excellent condition after a couple millennia of aging, but it also has retained all four of its sides, giving visitors the best possible mental image of what this sporting venue looked and felt like back in its heyday. Its place in Croatian society is so revered, that you can also find it on the back of the 10 Kuna note, so be sure to save a copy before leaving the country (10 Kuna = just under $2, so you won’t lose much money doing this!)
Hedonists will want to hop amongst the Croatian Islands, which are known for their beach getaways and culture-filled old towns alike. Hvar should be your first stop, as its pebble beaches, historical buildings, vibrant nightlife and amazing restaurants make for a compelling place to spend a large portion of your Croatian holiday. Those into especially brag-worthy beaches should check Brac out, as it is well-known for a sandy peninsula that will win your heart over at first sight!
One of the most spectacular natural sights in the Balkans, if not Eastern Europe can be found at Plitvice Lakes National Park, which protects a set of tiered lakes and waterfalls that send photography enthusiasts into a picture-taking frenzy, while the remainder will be too entranced by its beauty to take more than a few snaps. Sadly, swimming is not allowed, but the sights around will more than make up for it!
What To Eat
The hearty fare of Croatian cuisine will impress most food obsessed travelers with its rich, meaty flavours. Start with Čobanac, also known as shepherd’s stew, as it was consumed by those taking long shifts while watching over their flocks. This meaty bowl of goodness contains three types of flesh (most often beef, pork plus another type of meat like chicken, mutton, etc), potatoes, herbs, and a ton of paprika.
Crni rizot makes good use of the bounty of the sea and Croatia’s Italian influence through the ages, as it is a black risotto that contains octopus, parmesan and Grana Padano cheese, tomatoes, onions, seasonings and rice in a pot of heavenly goodness. Be brave and ignore the ink black colour … you’ll be glad you did.
Your reward for trying new things will be Kremsnite, a truly decadent Croatian dessert that uses vanilla and rum to flavour a sweet experience that won’t be forgotten anytime soon. You will be floating in heaven with each bite…!