Croatia offers a multitude of beautiful sites, enjoyable activities, and great food and hospitality at very affordable prices!


Croatia is a land filled with lovely, green hills and friendly people. Billing itself as “the new Riviera”, Croatia has a beautiful coastline on the eastern edge of the Adriatic, and several national parks inland with scenery well worth viewing. Most importantly to vacationers, the accommodations and food (heavily meat based) are extremely affordable in the current economy.

Separated from northern Italy by the tiny country of Slovenia, Croatia has a few Roman and Venetian relics, but is a country torn by too many wars and too little regard for history to be enjoyed in the same way as most central European countries. Fortunately, its natural beauty more than makes up for that; how many castles and huge churches can one really enjoy? Most of its historical architecture is along the coast, with the interior being very modern in appearance. In particular Zagreb, the capitol, is no more interesting than the average American city. One of the highlights of the city is the Mirogoj Cemetery—no, seriously.


             In its distant past parts of Croatia were colonized in the north by the Celts and along the coast by the Greeks, and was conquered by the Romans in 168 BC. It was subsequently passed on to the Huns, the Ostrogoths and then to the Byzantine Empire. The Croats settled there in the early 7th century, when it started as a duchy and then as a kingdom in the 10th century. Although Croatia remained a distinct state with its own ruler, from the 12th century on it obeyed the kings and emperors of various neighboring powers, primarily Hungary and Austria. The 15th to the 17th centuries were marked by bitter struggles with the Ottoman Empire. Under the Communist regime it was incorporated into Yugoslavia for most of the 20th century, and only regained its independence in 1991. Visitors can still see the results of recent conflicts in burnt out towns along the eastern border.

            One of the most beautiful natural areas in Croatia is Gorski Kotar, the “Mountain District”. Bordering Slovenia to the north, Gorski Kotar is about a 45 minute drive from Adriatic coast and an hour’s drive from Zagreb to the east. Sitting on a large plateau between Kvarner Bay and the Karlovac region, the approach to Gorski Kotar from the Adriatic coast is a steep climb, then gently descends through rolling hills and valleys until merging with the Karlovac plain. More than half of the region is covered with forests, and is often called “the lungs of Croatia”.



The mountain peaks provide splendid scenic views of white, rocky tops contrasting with deep green pine forests just below. The highest peak is Bjelolasica, nearly 5,000 ft high, although the observation post at the top of Risnjak, at a slightly lower elevation, offers one of the most stunning views in Croatia. The climate is generally short and exhilarating in summer, with long, snowy winters. Gorski Kotar has a number of national parks and other areas full of lakes and lovely mountain streams that are great for camping, fly-fishing, rafting, kayaking and canoeing. These natural havens are interspersed with small, picturesque villages and several larger, yet still lovely towns.

A number of caves can also be found in Gorski Kotar. The Lokvarka caves, nearly 4,000 feet long, include a beautiful underground lake, and Vrelo Cave, about 1,000 feet long, has a clear stream running through it. Both caves feature numerous plentiful stalactite and stalagmite formations.


However, the oldest, largest, most famous, and also the most beautiful national park in Croatia is Plitvicka Jezera National Park, which made UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1979 in recognition of its “outstanding natural beauty and undisturbed production of travertine (tufa) through chemical and biological action”. That may not sound very exciting to anyone but a geologist, but once seen, it becomes evident to all. The park features 16 lakes gracefully descending down the mountain range, each lower lake being fed by an ever-changing array of waterfalls and spillways that truly dazzle the beholder. With various trees and fronds framing water that ranges from various blues to turquoise, all surrounded by the lovely peaks of the hills, the entire region is an artist’s delight. However, visitors are only allowed to hike and ride the boat or tram provided within, so it’s not an area for true outdoor activities. Please read the accompanying article on Pitvicka Jezera for more details of how the park rivals Yosemite National Park in California for beauty and serenity.


As a visitor travels away from the interior toward the Adriatic there are a number of interesting cities and lovely little coastal towns to visit. With at least a week to explore, there are several stops one might make while winding comfortably along the coastal road. If one starts in the south and travels back up the coast, the best place to start is Dubrovnik, which George Bernard Shaw called “paradise on Earth” and “the Pearl of the Adriatic”.

Nestled in the extreme south of Dalmatia at the end of the Isthmus of Dubrovnik, the city is one of the most prominent tourist destinations on the Adriatic and was placed on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1979. Encircled by massive defensive walls and showing its Venetian heritage in the similar, red-tiled buildings, Dubrovnik does not allow vehicles within the Old Town area, somewhat similar to Venice itself.

       A major seaport for centuries, one theory is that Dubrovnik was established by Greek sailors. In ancient times ships traveled only 45-50 nautical miles per day, and beached during the night where fresh water could be found. Dubrovnik is situated almost halfway between the two known Greek settlements of Budva and Korčula, and there have been recent findings of numerous Greek artifacts during excavations in the Port of Dubrovnik. Another theory based on new archaeological excavations of a large basilica from 8th century and parts of the city walls indicates that there was quite a large Byzantine settlement during this period. The city walls, which were built in the 10th century and substantially fortified in 1453, are ten ft thick along the sea wall and 20 ft thick inland. The Old Town has fortresses at its four corners, the Minceta Tower , Revelin Fortress, St John’s Fortress, and Bokar Bastion.

Regardless of its origins, plentiful Renaissance churches, monasteries and palaces testify to the importance and wealth of this historic, independent trading port. Entering the Old Town through the Pile Gate beside a statue of St. Blaise, Dubrovnik’s patron saint, you will be on the Stradun, also called Placa, which runs from Pile Gate to the rear Ploce Gate. The paving stones were laid in 1468. Near Pile Gate is the large Onofrio Fountain, built in 1438, and on the right is the Franciscan Monastery, with one of the oldest functioning pharmacies in Europe, in operation since 1391. At the other end of the Stradun is the Orlando Column, with the nearby Sponza Place, the baroque church of St. Blaise, and the Rector’s Palace, which was built in 1441 but was damaged and rebuilt several times, and is now a city museum. Opposite the Palace through a narrow street is a square, Gunduliceva Poljana, which is the site of the busy morning market, as well as a Jesuit Monastery from the early 18th century. If you’re planning to visit a number of museums, be sure to purchase a Dubrovnik Card, which gives you entry into many of the city’s museums as well as allowing you to use the public bus system.


            Moving up the coast after a couple of days, the next significant city is Split. While the sea views are lovely, much of the shore is rocky rather than sandy. There isn’t a lot to see in Split outside of the main attraction, Diocletian’s Palace. There are a number of museums, most of them inside the Palace, and a few art galleries, but one day should do it for Split. The only hotel with good parking and within walking distance of the center is the Hotel Jadran, which is two stars at best. The nicer hotels in the central area do not offer much parking, and although the Radisson Blu Resort is being touted as fantastic, it’s way behind in construction and not easy walking distance from the center.


      The Roman Emperor Diocletian wanted a retirement palace in a temperate climate, so he selected a spot four miles from Salona, the capitol of the Roman province of Dalmatia, which he ruled. Diocletian personally oversaw construction from 295 to 305 AD, then abdicated his throne. He got white limestone from Brac and marble from Italy, which still look in great shape today, as well decorations such as sphinxes and columns from Egypt. The Palace is nearly a million square feet inside, with walls from 570 to 700 ft in length ranging from 50 to 70 ft high, and with towers projecting from the western, northern, and eastern facades. The Bronze Gate (the Porta Aenea) at the south originally extended slightly into the sea, and is believed to have served as the emperor’s private access to the sea and possibly a service entrance for supplies. As landfill extended the docks farther away, the gate is now off the Riva, with rows of restaurants facing the harbor.

After the Romans abandoned the site, the Palace remained empty for several centuries. In the 7th century, nearby citizens fled to the Palace to escape invading barbarians, and essentially stayed in residence. The city within a city is now a commercial and residential center, with recent dwellings being built using the walls and stones of the old Palace. The area was designated a UNESCO heritage site in 1979.

The most important area within the palace is the Peristyle, a huge courtyard. It is the main access to the imperial apartments, and as well as Diocletian’s mausoleum on the east, which is now the Cathedral of St. Dominus, and the temple of Jupiter. There is another temple just to the west of the Peristylum called The Temple of the Aesculapius, which has a semi-cylindrical roof made out of hand carved stone blocks, as well as the circular temples dedicated to Cybele and Venus.


           The Silver Gate to the east forms the market area, the Gold Gate to the north leads to Mestrovic’s huge statue of Grgur Ninski and couple of small temples and the park, and the Iron Gate to the west leads to the fish market and the newer shopping district of the town.


As you continue up the coast, drop in to the beautiful peninsula of Primosten. There are no particular museums or “sights” in Primosten, but the old medieval town has preserved a great deal of its ambience. The most striking feature of the old town is the church of St. Juraj, which was erected in 1485 on a hill from which you get sweeping coastal views.

           Another interesting stop is Šibenik, which is the oldest native Croatian town on the eastern shores of the Adriatic. The Croatian King Petar Krešimir IV made it his capitol in 1066, and it served that purpose for a short period thereafter. The Cathedral of St. James is on the UNESCO World Heritage list.



Just off the coast from the city of Zadar are the Kornati islands, over which George Bernard Shaw also waxed poetic. As their value is more scenic than activity-oriented, the islands are designated as a national park. The last major city on the coast is Opatija, which is at the northern tip of the Adriatic and is possibly the major tourist center in Croatia. There are endless bathing areas, both indoor and out, gardens, a casino, discotheques, carnivals, festivals, and other diversions for the traditional vacationer. Opatija is also easily the most expensive area in Croatia.

Croatia offers an amazing variety of natural and man-made settings in which to enjoy great food, excellent hospitality, and great times at mostly affordable prices. Discover Croatia before it becomes just another major tourist stop.

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