Much has been written in the press about the diversity of Croatia and it is all true! A unique variety of regions in a comparatively small country means that in Croatia you can experience towns and cities, mountains and islands, forests and beaches, all in just a few days!
A fabulous city for a short break! A place of theatres, boutique shopping, hidden courtyards, the shortest funicular railway in the world connecting the Lower and Upper Towns (journey time 46 seconds), and a booming restaurant scene!
This is inland Croatia, almost midway between Zagreb and the coast at Zadar. Local, home-made Lika cheese is a speciality. Home to the Plitvice Lakes National Park. Pristine nature and superb river fish, there’s also horse riding, hiking and biking trails. Most people spend a couple of nights here to visit the Plitvice Lakes and in Spring 2020 the new, five-star T-Nest Resort will open near Lovinac, an environmentally friendly luxurious forest resort with some exquisite accommodation set right on the pristine lake. Unique in Croatia.
Many people say that Istria is like Croatia in miniature because it has everything. This is the heart-shaped peninsula that has Italy to the west and Slovenia to the north. A day trip by catamaran to Venice from Pula, Rovinj and Porec is easy as are day trips to Lake Bled and the famous Lipica stud near the Postojna caves in Slovenia meaning that if you have a holiday in Istria, you can actually experience three countries during your holiday!
There are gorgeous rolling hills with wide fertile valleys (perfect locations for olive groves and vineyards…Istria has some of the best). Hilltop villages including Motovun and Groznjan are not to be missed with their cobbled streets and crenellations, not to forget fantastic views. Pebble beaches in Istria are mostly of the smaller cove variety and there are plenty of rock platforms offering easy access into the sea. On the coast, Pula is well worth visiting for the awesome Roman amphitheater (5th largest in the world and complete-this is no ruin), Forum and Roman arches. Rovinj is the hilltop gem with winding, narrow streets that lead to the top of the hill, passing by artists’, sculptors’ and artisans’ studios and galleries.
Touching the inland Gorski Kotar green, forested foothills on one side and the dazzling Kvarner Bay resorts and islands on the other, the official slogan of the Kvarner Region is “diversity is beautiful” although many people call it “Croatia’s best-kept secret”.
The region starts on the northeast coast of the Istrian peninsula just after the port of Brestova and includes the beautiful stretch of coast eastwards through Lovran, Opatija and to Rijeka and then encompasses the whole of the Kvarner Bay to the south including the coast near Crikvenica and the islands of which the best known are Cres and Krk (these are officially the two largest islands in the whole of Croatia), Rab and Losinj.
The Kvarner Region has the longest lungomare (seaside promenade) in Croatia which, at 12 kilometres long, runs from Volosko (between Opatija and Rijeka) through Opatija and finishing at Lovran. It has some long pebble beaches and small coves too. In the hills behind Opatija, the medieval town of Kastav is like something from a film set and offers great panoramic views across the Kvarner Bay.
Probably the best-known places here are Zadar and Sibenik on the coast. A look at the map shows some islands that you may have never heard of. Closer to Zadar there are day trips to some of these including Olib, Vir and Pag. The Kornati National Park consists of over 100 small islands and reefs (most are uninhabited apart from the occasional shepherd and his/her sheep). A day’s excursion takes you among what appear to be pearl drops on a blue carpet – this is Kornati and trips are usually available from Murter, Biograd na Moru and near Sibenik.
Zadar itself has a rich culture and the Ancient city walls gained UNESCO Heritage status in 2017. The striking “Kalelarga” street and Forum are testament to the Roman period. More recent attractions are the “Greeting to the Sun” and “Sea Organ” (think colour and then the music of the waves) which have truly revived the Zadar waterfront.
Sibenik is about an hour south of Zadar and has an enchanting old town of winding stone streets and is home to the Cathedral of St Jacob with its unmissable golden dome. Scenes from the world-famous Game of Thrones television series were filmed at some of the Sibenik fortresses! Michelin star restaurant Peligrini is here.
Famous Split, Croatia’s second city sits right in the middle of this region looking out to the fantastic islands of Solta, Brac and Hvar (see our “islands” section”). This region has a serious wow factor where a beautiful coastline, majestic mountains and historic towns meet with modern resorts offering some of the longest beaches in Croatia.
Split is now as sought after as Dubrovnik and hotel accommodation sells out fast. It’s a thriving and vibrant city with many architectural styles. Roman Emperor Diocletian was born near Split and had his retirement home (Diocletian’s Palace) built here. The palace and the old core of Split are UNESCO heritage sites. Both locals and visitors enjoying coffee in cafes on the palm tree-lined Riva waterfront and open-air concerts in the Peristil during July and August. The sandy beach at Bacvice is close to the famous five-star Hotel Park.
Thirty minutes to the north of Split is Trogir, a beautiful walled old city like a mini-Dubrovnik, also a UNESCO heritage site. There are good beaches on neighbouring Ciovo island and regular boat service to Split from June to September.
90 minutes south of Split, the stretch of coast often called the Makarska Riviera is a haven for beach lovers. In Makarska itself, Tucepi, Baska Voda and Brela the pebble beaches are very long with stylish cafes and restaurants along the promenade and fragrant pine trees providing natural shade for those who seek it. Excellent boutique shopping in Split, Trogir and Makarska.
Without a doubt, Dubrovnik is the most famous place in Croatia. Most people refer to the old city when they talk of Dubrovnik and indeed the place is unique – a walled city right on the city. The cultural heritage is breath-taking with Renaissance and Gothic Palaces and churches side by side, polished Stradun (main street), ornate squares, exquisite fountains and towers, all encased by defence ramparts, built between the 12th-17th centuries, almost two kilometres long and with a maximum height of 25 metres in place which can be walked in around 90 minutes at an easy pace.
Dubrovnik’s old city is a UNESCO Heritage site and a place that George Bernard Shaw called “the Pearl of the Adriatic”. A cable car takes you up to Srdj hill for fantastic views.
Barely 25 minutes south of Dubrovnik, Cavtat is a favourite with visitors from the UK. Set in a beautiful horseshoe-shaped bay with a walking path winding up to the hilltop white Racic mausoleum, quaint stone squares and churches and a wide, cafe-lined, seaside promenade, many people return to Cavtat again and again.