“This is the Mediterranean as it once was” proclaimed the Croatian Tourist Board. And they were right. Since regaining its independence in the early 1990s, Croatia has emerged as a stunning holiday destination, the jewel in the Mediterranean crown with rustic villages and pristine beaches of all shapes and sizes, alongside glittering yacht-filled harbours where cocktail parties are simply de rigueur, darling. 
Once part of the former Yugoslavia, Croatia boasts almost 2000km of resplendent Adriatic coastline and more than a thousand islands and islets. This Mediterranean gem has much to offer, from high-adrenaline cross-country cycling, hiking, or island-hop yachting; to more meditative strolling around medieval castles and enchanting cities, to a total beach reboot: Chill out in an idyllic, quiet and secluded bay or drop in to a happening beach party. 
The choice is yours.
 

People

Croatians are some of the happiest people you’ll ever meet - perhaps not surprisingly, given that the war for their independence was won so recently. This nation of 4.3 million people really relish life, taking time to enjoy every moment. Nothing is to be rushed; not conversations and certainly not meals. Walks are taken leisurely, people take time to look at each other and nod ‘hello’ even to strangers, strolling is a common pastime, and sipping coffee whilst watching the world amble by is something that young and old enjoy alike. The people of Croatia are overwhelmingly ethnic Croat and Roman Catholic. As such the church plays a strong part in the national identity with ancient belfries presiding over every town or village. The Croats have spent a lot of energy conserving their folklore, customs and festivals so these are the unifying traditions across the country. And as the flag unites the regions of Croatia, Dubrovnik, Dalmatia, Istria and Slavonia, as you visit the different provinces you also get a delicious flavour of these individual sub-cultures with their ancient traditions and quirky customs.

Places

We can’t not mention the capital of Croatia, Zagreb – a charming central European city with elegant nineteenth century buildings and cobbled streets still lit by gaslights. From here you can hop up to the northwest region of Zagorje - a fairytale landscape of medieval castles, fortifications and enchanting storybook villages. BYO Princess or gallant Knight and your story is complete! In the district of Croatia you’ll find the incredible Plitvice Lakes National Park with its world-famous 16 cascading lakes. 
The Istrian Peninsula is often referred to as little Tuscany with its bilingual street signs and its very own fuži pasta. These towns still sing out with Venetian grandeur and have attracted the cosmopolitan set from before independence. Moving down the Adriatic coastline, you come to the Dalmatian Hinterland and Croatia’s second largest city of Split. This major port is an important starting point for island hopping cruises, but it also offers many activities of its own, namely whitewater rafting, rock climbing, sailing, and don’t miss Diocletian’s Palace – an imposing Roman ruin and impressive fortress that now forms part of the old town of Split.
Next up is the so-called Pearl of the Adriatic. As George Bernard Shaw observed: “those who seek paradise on Earth should come to Dubrovnik.” Overlooking the calm blues of the Adriatic, this magnificent walled city is known for its mass of terracotta rooftops, glinting marbled streets, 16th Century Sponza Palace and its world-class Summer Festival programme. (And these days, perhaps even more so as the location for the port cities of King’s Landing and Qarth in the smash hit television series, ‘Game of Thrones’. Between Dubrovnik and Split, stop off at Makarska – a harbour for gourmet delights, immaculate sandy beaches, pine tree lined walkways, and luxury accommodation. 
Of the thousand or so islands that make up the Croatian archipelago, the 140 islands of the Kornati Islands National Park has arguably the best diving in the area. The largest inhabited islands are: Cres which boasts unspoilt beaches and lagunas, and Krk which is connected to the mainland by toll bridge and gets very busy during the Summer months. 


Pleasures

One of the best pleasures can be experienced right on your plate; where local delicacies from different regions meet in a culinary gozba (fiesta). Favourites include: pršut, Croatia’s excellent home-cured ham, or paški sir (ham served with cheese) of Pag island fame, or Kulen, a spicy, paprika-laced sausage from Slavonia. Common to Zagreb and the Zagorje hills is the deliciously, stodgy pastry and cheese dish, štrukli. Try the pečeni (baked) štrukli for a cross between cheese soufflé and lasagne. 
Schnitzels are popular: bečki odrezak (breadcrumbs), pariški odrezak (batter fried), zagrebački odrezak (stuffed with cheese and ham). Spit-fired lamb is a national favourite and in the sheep rearing regions, roadside restaurants often entice customers by roasting a whole sheep in the car park. Slow baked, diced lamb cooked underneath a peka (metal lid covered with hot embers) is popular in Istria and the Adriatic islands. 
Soups are less common but Grah (or fažol in Dalmatia) is a tasty soup of paprika-spiced haricot beans with bits of sausage or pljeskavica added. 
Dalmatia is also known for its pašticada (beef cooked in wine and prunes), and indigenous to Zagreb and Zagorje is purica s mlincima (turkey with baked pasta tatters). 
On the coast you’ll find fresh fish and seafood of every kind and cooked in every conceivable way. Lignje na žaru (grilled squid) and crni rižot (“black risotto” made with squid with the ink included) are staples that that be found everywhere. Pizzas and pasta can also be found throughout. 
Meals are usually washed down with a refreshing glass of wine - long a pleasure in Croatia where viticulture has existed since the days of the ancient Greeks. The country now produces up to 700 wines, some of excellent, award-winning quality. Their dessert wines are particularly noteworthy. However, Croatians have the rather unusual habit of diluting their wine with still or sparkling water which they call bevanda or gemišt which may offend some purists! 
Croatia has some home-grown beers: Velebitsko pivo from Gospić, the malty, unpasteurized Vukovarsko from Vukovar, the wheat beer pšenično pivo from Ožujsko and a fine porter called Tomislav are well worth sampling. Rakija or local brandy is also popular, flavoured with a variety of fruits including honey, carob, walnut, plum and pear. Pelinkovac is a juniper-based spirit similar to Jägermeister, and Biska a mistletoe-flavoured spirit from Istria – fruity delights that will paint your palate like a Đuro Pulitika landscape. Connoisseurs of truffles will want to make a special trip to the Istrian forests, which boast three sorts of black truffle as well as the most prized, big white truffle. Croatia is getting quite a reputation for its niche festivals, which include Dubrovnik’s Summer spectacular, open-air electronic music bonanzas by the sea at Fort Punta Christo in Istria, and even a lavender festival on the picturesque island of Hvar. 

Do

Nod your head to people in passing as a general form polite of greeting. 
Learn to say “Dobar Dan” (good day) to people you meet. 
Check out a moreška sword dance – you will see actual sparks fly! 
Seek out a traditional Klapa music concert, showcasing the ancient art of a cappella. 
Take the bus. More far-reaching than the trains, and almost as quick as driving yourself. 

Don’t

Be surprised if people stare at you. It’s normal in Croatia for strangers to stare openly at one another. It’s not offensive. 
Walk the famous Dubrovnik City Walls with the masses in the middle of the Summer and in the middle of the day, you risk shuffling along in searing heat. 
Venture too far off the beaten track, lest you come across an unexploded minefield. Croatia is not expected to be mine-free until 2019. 
Sunbathe topless on the island of Vrbnik – it is the birthplace of numerous Croatian bishops and has a highly religious Catholic community.

Best time to go.

Croatia’s Mediterranean coast has warm summers and mild winters, whereas continental inland is slightly hotter during the summer and extremely cold in winter. Peak season is July and August so it’s definitely more relaxing to visit during June or September when there is significantly less tourists to compete with. Autumn is a great time to explore inland Istria and the national park areas when the colours will be magnificent, and truffle-hunting season is October to December. Winter can be a good time to see the Adriatic urban centres of Zadar, Split and Dubrovnik where temperatures will remain mild and hotel prices can be up to half price. Spring is a beautiful time for hiking and cycling trips inland, and the southern Dalmatia coast may be warm enough for a dip by mid to late May.

Best way to go.

Flying in to the main international airport at Zagreb (also known as Pleso Airport is the most direct option all year round. Several other cities also have airports that operate during the Summer months, with limited flights off-peak. Getting into the country by train is also a good option, as is grabbing a ferry from the Italian coast which faces Croatia. However, sailing up the Adriatic is by far the most beautiful way to take in the craggy coastline and embrace the cinematic landscape that is modern Croatia. When travelling by boat, you can still make your way overland to whichever destination you choose - your boat can pick you up anywhere along the coasts and drop you off wherever you decide, all you need to do is pick your personal itinerary. 
You can also pick your perfect boat from a timeless wooden sailing yacht, an elegant catamaran, a magnificent schooner or any of the beautifully equipped vessels.
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Croatia