With crystal clear waters filled with colourful sealife, and all kinds of fascinating wrecks lying at the bottom, diving in Croatia is a major activity. Schools operate up and down the coast, offering lessons to beginners and trips to experienced divers, whose sunken treasure includes Croatia’s own Titanic, the Baron Gautsch within reach of Pula.
It’s what most come here to enjoy, spread out a towel on the fine white pebbles of a pristine beach and then do nothing. In many cases, a Croatian beach is a case of what you see is what you get, with few distractions or attractions on it or near it. Rock up, find a spot, take a dip now and then in the clear waters, find a bar within easy reach, maybe. As well as the usual accoutrements, bring flip-flops for the stones and in case of any sea urchins, the only hazard you’ll come across apart from other people.
There’s much hard evidence of the extensive Romans presence in Croatia, the two most notable examples being the near intact Amphitheatre in Pula and Diocletian’s Palace in the heart of Split. But to spend a day poking your nose around what the Romans left behind, your best bet is Salona, where a substantial community lived, close to the garrison in nearby Split.
The possibilities for sailing breaks around Croatia are almost as boundless as the sea you’ll be crossing. You can hire boats of all sizes and descriptions, with a skipper, without a skipper, not to mention the many random offers of day trips by boat, perhaps to the isolated Kornati Islands. There, as the more seasoned sailing visitors to Croatia will tell you, there are restaurants that cater only to visitors by boat. Elsewhere, well equipped marinas run by the nationwide ACI organisation now number more than 20, allowing independent travellers to pull in, charge up and sort out supplies.
As Croatian wine rarely travels, local winegrowers producing in such small batches there’s no mass export industry, in order to sample, you must travel here. But here sampling can involve following a wine trail the length of Pelješac, a verdant, mainly undeveloped peninsula north of Dubrovnik, lined with cellars where the renowned Plavac Mali and Dingač are produced. These classic reds can be enjoyed with cheese, cold cuts and a chat with the people who run the winery.
In summer, all the clubbing action in the cities moves to the coast. Most notably, it moves to the long-established hub of Zrće, near Novalja, tucked inside a picturesque bay on Pag island. All summer long, a handful of key clubs keep the party going pretty much 24/7, a kind of Balkan Ibiza interspersed with the odd festival or two. A handful of name DJs man the decks on bigger nights.
Providing relaxation combined with admiring nature at its most picturesque, Croatia’s national parks stretch the length of the country – easy drives or boat hops from hot, crowded resorts. Not that the most popular of them, Plitvice and Krka, aren’t crowded – in 2017 Krka had to impose limitations on visitor numbers. Then again, Krka is the one park where you can plunge into one of the beautiful lagoons and swim around. Like Plitvice, Krka is a complex of cascades, waterways and waterfalls, its large expanse of greenery crossed by several pathways, offering welcome shade in summer.
Outdoor sports are what summer in Croatia is all about, the whole coast is a playground. Facing Korčula a short boat hop away, Viganj on the Pelješac peninsula is the country’s main destination for windsurfing. The long channel between island and peninsula creates the perfect conditions for the sport, whose aficionados gather here in large numbers. In the mornings, when the wind is lighter, schools offer lessons to beginners, allowing the experts to take to the waters on blowy afternoons. In the evenings, everyone gathers in cultish beach bars to ensure a healthy hangover before the next morning’s activities.
Pretty much all summer long, you can find a top quality festival somewhere on the Croatian coast. The main two locations are Tisno, north of Šibenik, and Pula, more precisely the ruined fort of Punta Christo just outside town. Nightlife hub Zrće on Pag is another, though any festival there is an addition to the constant clubbing activity from June to September. The key attraction of any Croatian festival is the setting, either a beautiful shore, a gorgeous sunset, verdant nature – or often all three.
You haven’t really been to Croatia until you’ve hopped around a few of its islands. Some lie close to the mainland, so the journey from Split to Brač is under an hour. Others require a lengthier trek, idyllic, southernly Mljet, for example, with a summer fast-boat service from Dubrovnik. If time allows, you can hop between three or four, bearing in mind the occasional early-morning departure to serve locals going about their daily business.