From the hilltop town of Motovun with its ancient Roman relics to the sunny reaches of elegant Dubrovnik on the cusp of the Dalmatian coast, this list of Croatia’s top towns is full to the brim with unadulterated Balkan beauty Explore these postcard-perfect towns by hiring a boat for the day through SamBoat. Alternatively, book a multi-day sailing holiday with Dream Yacht Charter to explore more of Croatia’s Adriatic coast.
Draped elegantly over the hilltops of central Istria, the historic heart of medieval Motovun glimmers like a jewel amidst a sea of rolling olive fields and truffle-rich forests. Often hailed as the most handsome town in all Croatia, this mountaintop centre has kept watch over the winding valleys of the Mirna river since it was first raised on the ruins of ancient Kastelijer after the 10th century. Today, it buzzes with an indelible Italian-Slavic charm, the aromas of frying white truffles and pizza pies alike moving between its crenulated fortifications.
Set in the shadow of the rising limestone and dolomite ridges of the Dinaric Alps, Korcula is a true gem of Dalmatia. It can be found clinging elegantly to a curved spit of land on the northern cusp of Korcula Island, encircled by the Adriatic Sea on three sides, and verdant pine groves on the other. Within its streets, marble-clad homes with red roofs conceal earthy eateries touting fish stew and super-dry Croatian wines. Meanwhile, boats bob between the stone walls of the age-old port.
Behind a wall of modern high-rises and cluster of brilliant white yachts, Zadar’s old town hums with life. It’s a smorgasbord of styles and tastes, with layers of history coalescing between its marble-clad alleyways and open squares. On one corner, the much-rebuilt facade of the Church of St Simeon fuses the gothic and the provincial baroque; nearby, the Byzantine rises of the Church of St Donatus stand stoic and strong, side-by-side with the crumbling remnants of a Roman forum. Where the town meets the crystal-clear shore waters, the rumbling tones of the Sea Organ issue forth from beneath the marble steps.
Straddling the mainland and a rocky island over a small naval channel, Trogir is steeped in the histories of ancient Greece, imperial Rome, republican Venice and modern day Croatia alike. The centre of town is cut by narrow lanes where swaying laundry lines drift in the maritime winds and overhanging timber balconies play host to Italian pizzerias and open-air wine bars. Nearby, the formidable walls of the mighty Kamerlengo fortress and the romanesque rises of the city’s cathedral stand tall, watching over the beach shacks and pebble coves that pepper the inlets of Okrug Gornji island across the bay.
Crowned by the mighty colonnades and archways of the best-preserved Roman amphitheatres outside of Italy, ancient Pula is much more than just a historical pit-stop (although this is a good reason to visit). Explore the marble forums of the historic town centre, 2000-year-old temples and orthodox churches which glimmer white in the sun. Escape the heat by joining the locals to sip frothy beers in the open-air bars that line the narrow side streets. Pula is also the gateway to the shimmering beaches of the Verudela Peninsula and the windswept coves of Kamenjak.
Farmers and jetsetters rub shoulders in the harbour town of Hvar, a yacht-dotted inlet on the western edge of Hvar Island. Glossy marble squares, shady stone alleyways and quaint seafood restaurants line the waterfront. Beyond, rugged hillsides vanish into the blurring heat haze. It’s known as a party town for the visiting yachties in the peak season, but during the off-peak months, it’s a tranquil place to soak up the sun and admire the centuries-old architecture.
A sea of terracotta-tiled roofs and stuccoed Italian-style homes cascade down to the edge of a rocky shoreline in medieval Rovinj. The heart of town is a labyrinth of winding cobblestone alleyways and tight-knit piazzas concealing rustic seafood konobas (taverns) – the very picture of coastal Croatia. Above the swaying washing lines and shady streets, the soaring tower of St Euphemia’s Basilica loom, whilst aromas of freshly cooked truffles twist between its Roman relics and haunting gothic carvings.
No round-up of the most beautiful towns in Croatia would be complete without mentioning Dubrovnik. Visitors flock to this coastal city to explore the setting for the King’s Landing in TV drama, Game of Thrones. Cut through the crowds on the bustling Stradun thoroughfare, and you’ll find vaulted baroque ceilings mixing with Ottoman influences; the soaring keeps of the old Ragusa Republic still crown the hilltops and the legends of Balkan knights persist between the aged city gates, palaces and bell towers.
In spite of its status as the de facto capital of Dalmatia, sunny Split has done well to cling to its rich historical veneer. The architectural pride of the city is Diocletian’s Palace – a medley of marble arches, tight-knit alleyways, glimmering piazzas and peristyle constructions that bears a well-deserved Unesco tag. As if that wasn’t enough, Split’s idyllic harbourside – the Riva – flaunts swaying palm trees and chic cafes right down on the shore.
Forget the Stalinist sprawl of Zagreb’s outer districts. Focus instead on its Austro-Hungarian core where you can lose yourself between the cobblestone streets and rattling trams, subterranean beer bars and opulent baroque palaces. In the city’s more historic Upper Town, a web of crisscrossing roads sits between the rises of the Kaptol and Gradec hills, rich with 13th-century church spires and hipster cafes. On the horizon, Mount Medvednica dominates – a treasure trove of ski runs, hiking trails, lichen-clad forests and mysterious medieval fortresses.
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