An Adriatic pearl: Croatia

An Adriatic pearl: Croatia

by Mary Del Rosario
Stripes Europe

Bordering Slovenia, Hungary, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro is the stunning country of Croatia. A gem on the Balkan Peninsula many visitors flock to, Croatia provides it all—history, unspoiled nature, perfect weather and beautiful beaches.

 

 

CITIES TO EXPLORE  

No matter the time of year you decide to visit Croatia, be sure to put these cities at the top of your list!


View at the cathedral and cityscape in Zagreb.

Zagreb

The capital of Croatia is definitely a city not to be missed. The largest of the cities, Zagreb is a mesh of old-town vibes mixed with modern taste. One way to appreciate Croatia’s history is by visiting the medieval Kaptol located in the Upper Town. This section of Zagreb is home to the Roman Catholic Archbishop and the Zagreb Cathedral. A little history factoid: the original use of the cathedral was an observation tower during the Ottoman Wars. For a glance at another Medieval location, be sure to walk through Gradec, an area where cobblestone streets are peppered with tradesmen and craftmanship. In St. Mark’s Square, you’ll find St. Mark’s Church, where the Croatian Parliament and Constitutional Court were founded.  

Foodies and those who like to enjoy vacation with some drinks should head to Tkalčićeva Street. This street is where all the locals go, so you know the food here is genuine—you’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to deciding where to eat and drink. If you’re more into the market scene, check out Dolac Market where you can get your hands on the freshest meat, dairy and vegetables. If your accommodation has a kitchen, buy ingredients to create a traditional Croatian dish to really live like a local!    

If you’re like me and can spend hours in museums uncovering a city’s history, get lost in the Image of War Photography Museum, the Zagreb City Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Nikola Tesla Technical Museum and the Museum of Broken Relationships. For the jaded ones, you can even post the place you and your former love broke up and the story behind it!


Diocletian's Palace in Split. | Photo by pitinan via 123RF.

Split

Situated on the Dalmatian coast is the timeless city of Split. Walking around the streets and gawking at masterpieces such as Diocletian’s Palace, St. Duje’s Cathedral, the bell tower, and Klis Fortress further cements the fact that Split is a seemingly untouched city. If Kliss Fortress rings a bell, it’s because it was a filming location for “Game of Thrones.” (Meereen for those who were wondering).

To get a taste of Split’s history, visit the Old City and from Pjaca Square where you can take in the Renaissance buildings. A two-minute walk will take you to Marmontova Street, a beautiful street lined with restaurants and shops. If it’s breathtaking views you’re after, you’ll want to hike up Marjan Hill. Dotted with pine trees and Cyprus, you can see a panoramic view of the city.    


Aerial panoramic view of the old town of Dubrovnik. 

Dubrovnik

Game of Thrones may have put Dubrovnik on the map as a hotspot, but the “Pearl of the Adriatic” showcases more than King’s Landing—just one look at The Old Town and you’ll see why this city in Croatia wears the title as being one of the world’s finest and well-kept medieval cities. Bask in the charm through this old part of the city that includes a perfectly-preserved city wall that you can walk along to see the quintessential orange roofs that are special to Croatia. While here, be sure to eat, drink and shop at the Stradun, or the Placa. Palace Knezev Dvor, Palace Sponza, Luža Square, Bell Tower, Onofrijeva Cesma and the Dubrovnik Cathedral are also sights to check off your to-do list. To let you in on a secret, take the cable car from Mount Srđ for the best view of Dubrovnik. For those who can appreciate a green thumb, a visit to eh Trsteno Arboretum is a must. 

In the summer, Dubrovnik not only shines as a charming city, but it also transforms into Croatia's largest cultural celebration at the Dubrovnik Summer Festival. Held at the Old Town, 47 days and nights are filled with classical music, theater, opera and more. Note that the old town is a traffic-free zone, so you’ll have to use your feet to explore this part of town.


Plitvice National Park.

OUTDOOR ADVENTURES IN THE MAKING 

It’s no secret that Croatia boasts some of the most beautiful nature parks and beaches. From rugged terrain to serene lakes and gorgeous hues of blue, these parks and beaches are ones to add to your Croatia itinerary.

  • Sjeverni Velebit National Park – Here you can find ruins of old houses. The Velebit mountain is the largest mountain range in Croatia.
  • Biokovo Nature Park - If you’re into rocky and rough terrain.
  • Mljet National Park – There are many white, sandy beaches here!
  • Krka National Park – This park needs no introduction but if you don’t know it, many waterfalls await you.
  • Kornati National Park – Recommended if you love to dive, sail and camp. It’s comprised of more than 80 islands!
  • Risnjak National Park – Known as the park with the most forests in all of Croatia.
  • Plitvice Lake National Park – The first park that might come to your mind when you think “Croatia.” The waterfalls and turquoise blue water is unreal.
  • Zlatni Rat Beach – Known as the Golden Horn, the “most beautiful beach in the world” is located near the town of Bol. Note this beach consists of small pebbles, not sand. 
  • Baška Beach – Sunbathers will have a field day on this beach! There are lots of sunchairs to lounge away in.
  • Lubenice Beach – Translating to “watermelon,” this welcoming beach may require you to fly to Rijeka and rent a car to Cres Harbor.
  • Nugal Beach – Located south of Makarska city, this remote beach is perfect for those who don’t like crowds.
  • Podrače Beach – This pebble beach in Brela are what dreams are made of.


Black risotto. A must-eat when in Croatia! 

THE GASTRONOMY SCENE

One would be remiss if one flew to this beautiful country and didn’t chow down on some delicious Croatian cuisine, from the freshest seafood to the heavenly pastries. Below are just a few favorites to try.

  • Fritule – Fried dough that resembles a donut. Some are mixed with raisins or citrus fruits such as lemons and organs.
  • Black risotto – The squid ink is what gives this divine dish its rich, black color. Careful, your teeth may turn black after eating this.
  • Buzara – Translating to “stew,” this dish is stew of mussels in wine broth.
  • Peka – Meat (often lamb, chicken or veal) and vegetables that’s cooked in a bell-like dish over fire until the meat is so tender, you won’t even need a knife to cut it.
  • Strukli – A pastry filled with cottage cheese and sour cream that is then baked in an oven.
  • Pasticada with gnocchi – Marinated braised beef that’s been reduced in red wine and served with gnocchi.
  • Brudet – Fish stew cooked with onions, tomato sauce and spices.

Note that depending on which region of Croatia you’re in, the food may vary. The Dalmatian Coast diet consists of fish, vegetables and olive oil, which is native to the Mediterranean scene. The food you’ll find in Zagreb belongs to central Europe and consists of potatoes and meat.

GOOD TO KNOW

  • Croatia’s currency is the kuna. Small businesses prefer cash over card, and some may not even accept card.
  • Tipping is always appreciated, but not expected.
  • It’s recommended to take a car as public transport is not as efficient as you may be used to.
  • Be sure to bring back wine or olive oil back as a souvenir. Both of these products have been produced and perfected here.
  • Don’t be disappointed if you can’t walk along the beaches without sandals on. Many of Croatia’s beaches are mostly rocky.
  • The best months to visit are Sept. and June.

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