Unmissable places to see throughout this lovely country
Dubrovnik, Pearl of the Adriatic, achieved its wealth through astute trading. During the Republic of Ragusa, the inhabitants of Dubrovnik used their riches to build beautiful houses and fill them with sophisticated artistic objects. Sited within sturdy medieval walls, the pedestrian-only Old Town has many ornate palaces and elegant Baroque churches built in honey-coloured stone. The Cultural History Museum at the Rectors Palace has many splendours on display in an impressive setting and the city’s naval traditions are documented at the Maritime Museum in an old fortress. In summer, the city is busy with people enjoying the clear waters, the excellent seafood restaurants and the exciting nightlife. It is well worth the time to walk the city walls to enjoy sublime views of this fine city.
Hvar (from the Greek Pharos – lighthouse) was on the main trading route along the Mediterranean coast. The fertile inland area was prefect for growing grapes and herbs. Even now, the centre of the island abounds in the smells of lavender and rosemary. The coastline is sprinkled with hidden coves and beaches to enjoy Croatia’s warmest spot. The main towns are Hvar, a busy popular party town with lovely stone streets and elegant mansions and Stari Grad, the port of arrival from the mainland, site of many ancient cultural sights and the quieter of the two. Excursions depart frequently for the gorgeous Pakleni Islands.
Krka National Park is situated along the Krka River and consists of a series of spectacular waterfalls. In the south of the park are the Skradinski Buk Falls surrounded by traditional watermills. In the north are the impressive Roški Slap Falls and the picturesque Krka Monastery built over ancient Roman catacombs. On a pretty island is the secluded Visovac catholic monastery and museum.
Motovun is a charming little town balanced high on a steep hill overlooking the Mirna River valley in Istria. The town was fortified by the Venetians in the 14th century and is approached through two gates in the walls protecting the town. The narrow streets are crammed with gorgeous Romanesque and Baroque buildings, many now containing artist studios. The venetian St Stephens (Sveti Stjepan) church boasts a 16th century bell tower. Enjoy the fantastic views over the valley and relax at a café. Every summer the town hosts the renowned Film Festivals to hundreds of visitors.
Elegant Opatija developed into one of the most popular seaside resorts during the heyday of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. A rail link from Vienna increased the potential for visitors. Stylish villas line the coastal promenade and the town’s lovely location make it a pleasant place to relax for a few days. Impressive Villa Angiolina, one of the first villas, is now a museum of local history and is surrounded by beautiful gardens with exotic plants from around the world. With a mild climate, Opatija is both a summer and winter resort.
Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of the oldest National Parks in Southeastern Europe and the largest in Croatia. The main attraction is a series of interconnected lakes in various colours depending on levels of bacteria and organisms. Along these lakes are wooden walkways following the flow of the river and waterfalls, the tallest of which, Veliki Slap, is over 78m high. The park is home to bears, wolves and wild cats and to many plants including orchids.
Rovinj is still a working fishing port and the dawn brings boats and a new supply of fresh fish for the cafes and restaurants. Steep cobbled streets and charming piazzas add to the atmosphere and a stroll through the narrow alleys evoke images of its Venetian past. On the southern part of the Istrian peninsula, Rovinj was originally an island, but as the population increased with refugees from the Turkish invasion the town was connected to the mainland in 1763. Austrian, Italian and Yugoslavian rulers have all left their cultural influences. A day of exploring should end at one of the seaside cafes watching the sunset.
Split is the largest city on the Adriatic Coast and the second largest in Croatia. The Old Town is situated on a peninsula and its history of Roman, Venetian, Austrian, French, Italian and Yugoslav influence has left many well-preserved buildings and artefacts, including the stunning palace built for the Roman Emperor, Diocletian and the statue of medieval Croatian bishop Grgur Ninski (rubbing the toe brings good luck). With excellent restaurants and bars, Split serves as a destination alone or as a gateway to the Dalmatian Islands by ferry or flight. Split Archaeological Museum, created in 1820, is Croatia’s oldest and offers a comprehensive explanation of regional history and culture.
Trakošćan castle was built in the 13th century on Croatia's north-western border, as a fortress for monitoring the road from Ptuj in Slovenia to Bednja Valley. The castle was owned by the aristocratic Drašković family from 1584 to the 20th century. In the mid-19th century the castle was remodelled in the romantic style and extensive gardens and a lake were added. Trakošćan was abandoned after WW2 and taken over by the state. The castle now contains collections of weapons, furniture, paintings, books and photographs. A visit to the castle is a delightful break to travelling.
Inhabited for over 2300 years, Trogir, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is beautifully set on a small island, connected by bridges between the Croatian mainland and the island of Čiovo. Clustered within medieval walls are fine examples of Romanesque and Renaissance buildings from the city’s Venetian era and serving the visitor are plenty of bars and cafes lining the seafront promenade.
Varaždin is a delightful city. It was Croatia’s capital for twenty years in the 1700’s and many impressive buildings were created at that time. Set on the Drava River in the North of Croatia, only 80 kms from Zagreb, Varaždin has a lovely centre, full of pastel-coloured baroque facades, which benefits from a lack of crowds. A highlight is the Sermage Palace, which houses the Gallery of Old and Modern Masters. The gallery features an impressive collection of Croatian, Dutch and Italian artists in a beautiful mansion. Stari Grad is a 14th century fortress which now contains a local history museum.
Zadar’s position on the Dalmatian Coast makes it an excellent departure point for the ferries to the beautiful outlying islands. The city itself is no less attractive, with a medieval Old Town crowded on to a small peninsula. This contains Roman ruins, Venetian palaces, ancient churches and interesting museums amongst narrow streets, full of cafes and restaurants. The historic sites are complemented by fascinating creations by Nikola Bašić, a local architect, including the Sea Organ, a collection of pipes and whistles, played by the sea. Full of culture, entertainment and history, Zadar should not be overlooked.
Zagreb was an important trading centre, located on the Sava River at the foot of Mount Medvednica. In the 19th century, the city’s fortunes benefitted from new rail links to Vienna and Budapest. It became Croatia’s capital on its independence in 1991. This small city is perfect for strolling through streets lined with outdoor cafes, enjoying the museums and art galleries or visiting the theatres. The buildings are a mix of imposing classical from the Austro-Hungarian Empire and stern socialist constructions leading to busy squares, markets and parks. The centre is not lacking in evening entertainment with plenty of restaurants, pubs and clubs.