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Why come to Croatia? The simple answer would be the clear sea, the beaches and islands around it. But then there’s the fresh seafood and fine wine, the historical sites and cultural landmarks, the luxury hotels and unique diving spots. There is, in fact, so much to see and do in this diverse land that one visit is never enough.
More than 1,000 islands dot Croatia’s long coastline, most of them uninhabited and pretty much undisturbed except by fishermen and medieval monks. In summer, Dalmatia’s easily accessible main islands of Brač, Hvar and Vis welcome the bulk of the tourists, but even more remote Lastovo has a regular ferry service.
Cultivated on the unique sloping vineyards of Pelješac, on Korčula or on Vis, Croatia’s wines are beginning to garner international recognition. You can also sample its dry whites and ruby reds in situ, at the winemakers’ cellars.
Colonised by the Greeks and Romans, Croatia is full of ancient treasure, from the wonderfully preserved amphitheatre in Pula, to the Diocletian’s Palace in the heart of Split. Its best historical sites are kept alive today as concert venues and cultural hubs.
Festivals, major exhibitions and al fresco concerts fill a packed arts agenda, many events taking place in atmospheric locations. A 2,000-year-old Roman amphitheatre hosts the venerable Pula Film Festival, the Dubrovnik Summer Festival uses the city’s famous historic fortifications as its stages and the Split Festival takes place around the Diocletian’s Palace.
Plucked fresh out of the Adriatic a few hours before being expertly presented on your plate, the fish and shellfish offered at Croatia’s best restaurants need little embellishment, although virgin olive oil, seasonal salad and an Adriatic panorama from your terrace table also help.
With more in common with its former Habsburg cousins of Vienna and Budapest, Zagreb is a hassle-free, modern-day European capital. Typified by its quaint tram network that centres on a main square a couple of minutes’ walk across, Croatia’s capital contains restaurants, galleries and fashion boutiques of top international standard.
Given the clear waters around it, Croatia offers plenty to discover for divers of all ages and levels. Sunken ships, Greek amphorae and all manner of colourful sealife await, explored by diving clubs in every main town and resort.
A key feature in the main cities of Zagreb, Split and Dubrovnik are its markets, brimming with fresh produce, wines, spirits, honeys and olive oils, all cultivated and packaged close to home. Fish markets are both handy for those on self-catering holidays and busy tourist sights in their own right.
Now a major feature of any Croatian summer, the country’s music festivals take place in unbeatable Adriatic locations. Boat parties and beach bashes are all part of the unique experience.
Croatia’s beaches are as nature intended, a crystal-clear sea washing over clean white pebbles. Throw in a cloudless sky and a jaw-dropping sunset and the picture is complete.
Among the see-it-and-die category of elite European cities, alongside its former master of Venice, Dubrovnik cannot fail to disappoint. Its pristine white fortifications, set amid the azure of the Adriatic contain historic treasures a-plenty, terrace cafés, seafood restaurants and a busy market.
Now equipped with first-class marinas up and down the coast, Croatia is an ideal destination for sailors of all standards. There are plenty of boats to hire, captains to steer them and a surprising number of memorable restaurants accessible only be sea.
From the unspoiled tranquillity of Mljet in southern Dalmatia, to the strange attraction of former presidential holiday getaway the Brijuni Islands in Istria, Croatia has a weird and invariably wonderful choice of national parks. Pride of place goes to the cascades of Krka and Plitvice, although the protected islands of Kornati are another unique natural treasure.
Few urban bar crawls in Europe can hold a candle to a trek around the bizarre drinking spots of Split’s Diocletian’s Palace. Zagreb’s bar-lined street of Tkalčićeva has long been legendary and even grand old Dubrovnik is dotted with lively, authentically retro venues. Clubbing is more random, the scene moving to the islands in summer.
Few destinations in Europe can offer the range of high-end accommodation that you can find in Dubrovnik. Five-star hotels cut into Adriatic-facing cliff faces, infinity pools and luxuriant spas are the order of the day. Split is now dotted with boutique hotels and hostels, Istria provides high-quality breaks for couples and families, while Zagreb’s Esplanade has been a European landmark since the arrival of the railway.
Inventor of the necktie, Croatia is now home to adventurous creators of contemporary fashion. Centred on downtown Zagreb, this new wave of design includes contemporary wear from I-GLE and Lokomotiva, and the funky accessories and T-shirts of Take Me Home.
Friendly, helpful and usually English-speaking in all main towns and tourist areas, locals invariably go out of their way to point you in the right direction and not only in the service industries. Proud of their country and its recent achievements, Croatians seem keen on making sure visitors enjoy their stay here. It’s also in their interest, as tourism is a major industry.