Croatia is an exciting and beautiful country with a rich history and colorful story to tell. Turquoise crystal waters rhythmically lap at the shores of rocky beaches. Roman ruins, medieval fortresses and a rich cultural heritage continue to stand the test of time. Miles of coastline stretches out, rugged and undisturbed. Fascinating architecture, friendly people, delicious food, luscious wine and some amazing national parks merely add to the allure of the beautiful land of Croatia.
This richly historic country is perched between the Balkans and Central Europe. Beautiful Croatia has been passed between kingdoms and empires all competing for this land for thousands of years. Because of this back-and-forth between sovereigns Croatia has developed a rich and unique cultural history.
Currently Croatia has the highest number of UNESCO-recognized intangible cultural heritage goods of any European country. These include the song, music, creative arts and crafts, skills and other cultural pursuits that are unique to the culture of Croatia. In addition to the cultural intangibles there are ten UNESCO World Heritage Sites with another 15 awaiting approval. An impressive amount no doubt.
On the eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea lies the region of Dalmatia. You may associate the spotted Dalmatian breed of dog with Firehouses, Disney or England however the breed originally hails from this region.
Dalmatia is in the southernmost region of coastal Croatia and marked by dramatic limestone cliffs that rise off the shore. This part of the country is a favorite with visitors not only for its stunning coastal beauty but also the quaint and charming-and historical-villages.
Split: Where Modern Life Meets Ancient History
The town of Split is a cosmopolitan town bustling with life. It’s also the second largest municipality in Croatia, behind Zagreb, Croatia’s capital. Split has all the excitement of a lively burg mixed with aesthetic beauty and the charm of a small town. When you see how lovely the city is you will understand why it’s so popular.
More than 17 centuries ago the Roman Emperor Diocletian also recognized the beauty of the area. This is where he erected the palace to which he would retire. This 3.3 million square foot home is a bit over the top but also filled with history spanning the last 1700 years. Diocletian imported marble from Greece and Italy and Sphinx from Egypt as he designed and equipped his not-so-humble home.
Upon the fall of the Roman Empire, 165 years after the death of Diocletian, residents from nearby Salona sought out refuge inside the ample palace. They transformed the palace into a thriving community and became the first residents of the city which would become Split. The Palace remains the epicenter of Split and is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a mix of ancient ruins and modern life.
Split makes a great jumping-off point for some island hopping if you like. The country of Croatia has more than 1000 isles. From tiny islands that are home to less than a few hundred residents to an island that boasts over 40 vineyards, there’s plenty to draw you into the island hopping experience. Many of the islands are simply a step back in time. No cars are seen on the narrow cobbled streets. Old churches dating back three centuries appear untouched by time. The islands of Croatia are quaint and charming and very much worth a visit.
Trogir, Small Town Brimming With History
A mere 17 miles from Split is the town of Trogir. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997 Trogir is a living museum and home to several fascinating historic venues. Findings suggest Trogir was a prehistoric settlement; the real history begins in the 3rd century BC when the Greeks settled the area. They named it Tragedian and it soon became part of the Roman Empire as they spread their authority throughout Dalmatia. Over the course of the next several centuries Trogir (and Dalmatia) came under Hungarian, Venetian Croatian, Austrian, and, for a brief time, French rule.
Today Trogir is a hidden gem. Such a fascinating town abundant with history and culture! Trogir is often referred to as “Little Venice” as it is an island town, surrounded by water and accessible via bridges. In fact as you walk across the bridge into this pedestrian-only town you’ll enter through the north gate, built in 1656. There you’ll be greeted by a statue of the patron saint of Trogir, Bishop John.
Stroll the sun drenched cobblestone streets of Trogir, an easy walk, and admire the remarkable architecture of this Dalmatian town. You’ll see lovely balconies, public squares, picturesque palaces and a maze of streets and alleyways. Pay attention lest you get lost-we did!
Croatia’s Dazzling Adriatic Islands
The Greek Isles are certainly famous for their beauty and culture however Croatia’s Adriatic Islands are equally as impressive. Each one is a unique and perfect gem sitting in the middle of the breathtaking Adriatic Sea.
The Island of Brac
The island of Brac is known for its historic shepherds’ village and its prolific olive oil production. Olive oil cultivation is an ancient pursuit on the island of Brac. Brac has the largest olive grove in Croatia and what is estimated today at about one million olive trees! It is said the Greeks first brought the craft with them to the island and to this day olive oil from Brac is some of the most coveted olive oil in the world.
Brac is also home to one of the most popular beaches for windsurfing, Zlatni Rat. The white pebbled beach is just outside of Brac’s resort town of Bol. There’s also a renowned stonemason school on the island known for carving the gleaming white limestone so prevalent on the island. The school is located in Pucisca, a town on the northern coast of the island that is recognized as the regional center for quarrying and cutting the limestone.
Stone carving is the oldest and one of the most fascinating crafts on Brac and a visit to the school is truly a delight. The White House, the most famous home in Washington, D. C. was built with the white stone from the island of Brac.
Brac has a natural beauty that blends seamlessly with culture, local life and beautiful examples of artisan crafts. Brac gives an authentic sense of Croatian life without any pretense.
The Island of Hvar
Provence, in the south of France, is widely recognized for its picturesque and Instagrammable lavender fields. But the vibrant purple-blue Croatian fields of the fragrant and lovely herb are equally as stunning. The oldest and most famous lavender fields are located on the island of Hvar. For centuries farmers on the island have been cultivating and harvesting lavender during the months of July and August. The air is rich with the heady and unmistakable fragrance of lavender.
Hvar is also a port and resort area and in the summer months the harbor is filled with yachts of all sizes. Rocky coves, pine forests and secluded beaches, as well as trendy bars, clubs and nightlife draw people to Hvar from all over the world.
The Island of Korcula
Kircula is known for the wonderful white wines they produce. The wineries on the island of Korcula are plentiful and the vineyards are absolutely gorgeous. There’s nothing quite like looking out upon rows of grapes with the turquoise Adriatic waters sparkling in the distance.
Many biographers agree that Marco Polo was born on the island and his home is purported to be in Korcula. This bit of local lore draws many visitors to Korcula to visit Marco Polo’s house and see where the legendary explorer once walked. Although the sheer beauty of this storied island begs the question “why live anywhere else?”. Just what did Mr. Polo think could compare? A charming old village surrounded by massive walls as the azure Adriatic kisses the shoreline would be hard to beat. Grand turrets, cobbled streets and alleyways, stone towers and gorgeous panoramic vistas complete the fairytale picture that is the Island of Korcula.
The Peljesac Peninsula
Extending gracefully into the Adriatic Sea is the Peljesac Peninsula. Barely touching Korcula at its westernmost point the peninsula is a treasure of picturesque towns like Ston, with some of the longest fortified walls in all of Europe, great salt flats and the best oysters in the Mediterranean. And wherever you go in the Peljesac Peninsula don’t pass up an opportunity to sample their unique and luscious red wines. Big and bold, this dry red is full-bodied with moderate tannins and a must taste experience.
The Peljesac Peninsula is treasured by Croatians for its laid back feel and out-of-the-way vibe. The vineyards are family owned and the wineries are welcoming. The Peninsula’s beaches are lush with vegetation and largely underdeveloped, making Peljesac Peninsula a perfect place to unwind.
Dubrovnik’s Medieval Charm
Even the most seasoned travelers will find Croatia a new and unique experience. Dubrovnik is chock full of amazing sights beginning with the Walls of Dubrovnik. The walls date back to medieval times with some additions and modifications along the way. They are considered a truly unreachable fortification as no army or invader ever breached the wall during hostile times. Running an uninterrupted course of nearly 6,500 feet and reaching a height of 82 feet at the tallest point, a portion of the wall, along with the old city of Dubrovnik, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.
Take advantage of the stunning views across the city’s roofline from the fortress and stroll the cobbled streets of old town.
Seaside Villages, Beaches and A National Park
Make your way along the coast and see the beauty of the seaside towns that dot the Croatian coastline. Go inland to the stunning Plitvice Lakes National Park. The lush green landscape looks like a fairytale forest. Dazzling waterfalls cascade from impossible heights and crystalline lakes shimmer.
The beaches of Croatia are beautiful and each one is unique. Picture a craggy and rugged landscape spilling into smooth golden sand, kissed by the gentle waves of the azure Adriatic Sea. Spellbinding sites like this mingle with less inviting but no less charming beaches along the coast of Croatia.
While Croatia is often thought of as heavily influenced by Eastern Europe the culture takes much of its traditions from Italy, just across the Adriatic Sea. Risotto is a popular dish in Croatia and local olive oil can rival some of the best to come out of Italy, Greek or France.
Croatian food is a delight, with influences of nearby countries of Italy, Turkey and Hungary. The rich, spicy stews and punjene paprike, stuffed peppers, are borrowed from the Hungarians but infused with Croatian flavors such as smoked meat. Cevapcici is an example of a Croatian dish that is reminiscent of something you would find in Turkey. The small meat sausages, a mixture of lamb and beef, have a texture similar to meatballs and are served with sour cream, onions and a Croatian pepper sauce (ajvar) inside somun which is Bosnian pita bread. Such a tasty dish and very affordable!
As you would expect from a country with such an impressive coastline, the seafood is fresh and plentiful. Croatians love their sardines, shellfish and squid. In Dalmatia you’ll find fish, squid and prawns on nearly every menu.
Don’t worry if seafood isn’t your thing! There are plenty of other options that are very popular. Dine on traditional dishes made with beef, lamb, veal, pork and prosciutto and you’re sure to be pleased
There are three distinct wine-producing regions in Croatia. The first is in the northeast continental area produces rich, fruit-heavy whites.
in Istria you could find wines which are reminiscent of Italy.
Further south production is mostly red wines that are similar to the Mediterranean big reds.
The islands of Croatia produce some of the most interesting and popular wines of Croatia. The sometimes harsh weather conditions and microclimates in these individual vineyard isles lead to some unique and really wonderful wines. And it’s been noted that in the islands wine is cheaper than water! Unique, delicious, plentiful and inexpensive and enjoyed in such beautiful surroundings-what more could you ask for?
Croatia offers visitors so much to see and do. This relatively small country offers plenty of diversity in history, architecture, food, wine, landscapes and enjoyable experiences. Go ahead! Put it at the top of your bucket list!
Join us for a Picture-Perfect Croatia tour in 2023.