Captivating Croatia

Date Posted: 24/02/2011

With crystal clear waters, a stunning coastline and cultural cities, discover the charms of Croatia and organise a memorable holiday for your group.

Croatia markets itself as: ‘the Mediterranean as it once was’, and its appeal is plain to see. Nearly 4,000 miles of coastline washed by the clean waters of the Adriatic, beautifully preserved architecture and a green interior are just a few of its many attractions.

Some of your group members might have visited this beautiful country when it was part of the former Yugoslavia. Since then there have been huge improvements to its hotels, restaurants and infrastructure, making it a top class destination all round.

It’s easy to reach with year-round flights from London to Dubrovnik and the capital Zagreb, and additional flights from London and regional airports to Dubrovnik, Split and Pula between April and October. This month Zagreb becomes even more accessible with easyJet’s new Gatwick to Zagreb service.

Dalmatian coast

This popular stretch of coastline is home to Croatia’s most visited cities. Nobody can fail to be bowled over by the wow factor of the walled seaside city of Dubrovnik (pictured). In the traffic free inner city your members can stroll down the wide main thoroughfare leading to narrow lanes filled with small shops, bars and restaurants.

The Franciscan monastery and museum is home to a quaint pharmacy, dispensing cure-alls since 1391 and is reputed to be the oldest in Europe. Staying in the old town, the ornate Rector’s Palace is now a museum and the treasury in the nearby 17th century cathedral contains magnificent silver and gold items made by local master craftsmen.

History comes alive in Split, Croatia’s second largest city. The palm-lined promenade leads to the UNESCO-listed Roman ruins that dominate the heart of the old town. There are excellent museums and art galleries, as well as a colourful calendar of festivals and events during the summer months.

Istria

Flights to Pula have led to more visitors discovering the heartshaped Istrian riviera, a top choice for repeat visitors who want to see the other side of Croatia. The picture postcard coastal resort of Rovinj is well placed for exploring the region. Under Venetian rule for hundreds of years, the town has a chic Italian feel and cobbled lanes lead up to the Church of St Euphemia, which is well worth the climb.

Another popular resort is Porec, with its pretty harbour and bustling town centre. The old town is a showcase of architecture spanning different periods, including a Roman basilica renowned for its mosaics and art. From here groups can enjoy day excursions to Venice and neighbouring Slovenia.

Inland, the countryside is dotted with medieval hilltop towns and villages, and one of the best preserved is Motovun, famous for its annual July film festival. Similarly, your group will enjoy wandering around GroĹžnjan, populated by artists, cats, tempting galleries and small shops.

Istria is noted for its food, and here groups can sample local delicacies such as truffles - and even join truffle hunts – and meals showcasing delicious local ham, cheese and olive oil. Istria is also home to many vineyards. Production is too small for any substantial export market, creating the perfect excuse for your group to stop by a vineyard and try some.

Zagreb

Often overlooked by visitors heading towards the Croatian coast, it’s well worth taking some time out in the country’s elegant capital. Set between the slopes of the Medvednica mountain and Sava river, Zagreb city centre is surprisingly small, making it easy to see all the main sights in a couple of days.

A highlight in every sense of the word is Zagreb’s twin-spired cathedral, the city’s landmark and the tallest building in Croatia. It is currently undergoing restoration but remains open to visitors. Another striking building, and one of the most photographed in the city, is St Mark’s Church with its colourful tiled roof decorated with coats of arms. Other attractions include the Botanical Gardens, with more than 10,000 plants, and the Museum of Contemporary Art that opened in 2009. A daily institution is the busy open-air market in the cathedral square, which is a good place to pick up souvenirs.

When it’s time for a break Zagreb has a coffee culture all of its own. Coffee drinking is a serious business and the Saturday morning coffee ritual, known locally as spica, often lasts up to three hours.

Islands

With 1,244 islands along Croatia’s coastline, 66 of which are inhabited, it’s easy to combine a trip with a spot of island hopping. You could organise a two-centre stay to visit the mainland and one of the larger islands or opt for a day trip. The main ferry gateways are Dubrovnik and Split, and the Jadrolinija line operates an extensive ferry network to all the major islands and a coastal service between Dubrovnik and Rijeka.

The Dalmatian islands are a good choice for groups staying in Dubrovnik and the surrounding area. Hvar, the sunniest of the islands, is also the most fragrant as its hills are covered in lavender and rosemary. The promenade leads to the pretty medieval old town with its marble streets, gothic churches and tiny theatre, built in 1612 and said to be Europe’s first playhouse.

The island of Brac is famous for the white stone seen in many local buildings (as well as the more famous White House in Washington), and its golden horn beach, which regularly changes shape but is never washed away. Another distinctive island is Korcula, reputedly the birthplace of adventurer Marco Polo and a miniature Dubrovnik with an atmospheric walled old town.

On an unusual note Ošljak, which has a daily ferry service from Zadar, is the Adriatic’s smallest permanently inhabited island. There are no shops, no cars, just a handful of houses and a population of fewer than 50 all sharing the same surname. You can walk around the whole island in less than an hour, taking in the fifth century chapel and ancient windmills.

Croatian Essentials

Buy: Embroidery, lace, wooden bowls and locally made handicrafts all make excellent souvenirs, and for something edible look out for gingerbread, often shaped into hearts, olive oil, wine and honey.

Go: Croatia has a typically Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and mild winters. Temperatures peak at 30 degrees Celsius in July and August, and spring and autumn are good for walking around the sights. November tends to be rainiest and January is the coldest month, dipping to minus two degrees Celsius.

Eat: An amazing variety of seafood and fish dishes are served on the coast and islands, while heartier meat-based specialities are more prevalent inland, with many regional specialities throughout the country. Dalmatian ham is a delicious starter, and although it looks rather startling, black risotto coloured with squid ink is a tasty main course. Vegetarians will enjoy strukli and cheese dumplings, or pancakes served with jam and chocolate, and cottage cheese sweetened with raisins; often served for dessert. For inexpensive meals find a konoba, the name given to inns and informal restaurants that are usually family-run.

Drink: In addition to local beer, Croatia produces some excellent wines, particularly fruity whites. You might be offered a glass of brandy before a meal (as well as afterwards!) and Croatia is well known for its plum brandy, sljivovica, and a fiery herbal drink called travarica.

Try: Walking around Dubrovnik’s city walls, which date back to the 13th century. There are guided tours, but you might want to pay the £8 per person entry fee to admire the views of the red-roofed houses, old town and sparkling sea at a leisurely pace. Allow around an hour and a half to get all the way round, wear comfortable shoes as the ground is uneven in places, and if you’re visiting in summer go as early as you can before it gets too hot.

Top three sights

1. Dubrovnik: The UNESCO-listed walled city sea on the country’s south-eastern tip is justifiably known as the ‘pearl of the Adriatic’ and for first-time visitors it’s the perfect introduction to Croatia and the Dalmatian coast.

2. Diocletian’s Palace: Built by the Roman emperor of the same name, the huge palace complex in Split is one of the best-preserved examples of its kind and all the more remarkable as locals live and go about their everyday lives within its imposing walls.

3. Pula amphitheatre: The Romans picked Pula as their administrative base and its magnificent amphitheatre was designed to seat 23,000 spectators who watched bloody gladiator spectacles. Today it is open to visitors and plays host to a varied season of festivals and concerts.

Factfile

Flight time: 2hrs to Zagreb and 2hrs 30mins to Dubrovnik.

Time difference: GMT +1hr.

Currency: Croatian kuna 1=HRK8.71.

Language: Croatian, with English widely spoken.

Useful contact:
Croatian National Tourist Office:
020-8563 7979
www.croatia.hr

 

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