There was once a time where Croatia was once one of Europe’s best kept secrets. With its natural beauty and timeless cities the country is often said to be reminiscent of the Mediterranean but what it was like 30 years ago. Now with the scars of its recent history very much healed, intrepid European travellers and trendy jet setters are beginning to discover everything Croatia has to offer. From chic coastal resorts to wild, rugged national parks, here is my choice for 10 of the most beautiful places to visit in Croatia…
The Dalmatian coast is legendary – it’s actually one of the most dramatic and beautiful coastlines in Europe. The coast extends for hundreds of miles with steep limestone cliffs and a shoreline which is speckled with islands. Once an outpost for the Venetian empire, Dalmatia is renowned for the juxtaposition of its Roman ruins, medieval architecture and dramatic scenery. A road trip along this coast is the best way to discover many of Croatia’s highlights. You’ll pass jaw-dropping cliffs and the road will lead you to wonderful cities like Split and Zadar. Split’s enchanting architecture and historical complex (including the Palace of Diocletian) have ensured an UNESCO’s World Heritage site status and Zadar has picture-perfect beaches, so make sure to save some time for stops along the way.
Dubrovnik is also located on the coast but deserves a special mention of its own. Known as the ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’, is was once a rich and powerful state. Today it’s almost like a living museum, medieval in character with numerous baroque churches and curious visitors spilling out onto its pedestrianised marble streets. No visit to Croatia is complete without spending time in Dubrovnik and it’s a chic place, packed with laid back cafes, sophisticated bars and trendy restaurants. It’s also loaded with cultural history, stunning architecture and an Old Town quarter, not forgetting the famous 2 kilometre walk around the iconic city walls. George Bernard Shaw once wrote “those who seek paradise on Earth should come to Dubrovnik and find it” and I suggest you follow Bernard Shaw’s advice and pay the city a visit.
Brela Beach is located on Makarska Riviera and it’s well known as being one of the most beautiful beaches in Croatia. In 1968, the beach was crowned the ‘Champion of the Adriatic’ probably due to its stunning clear waters, beautiful intimate coves, spectacular views and a winding Victorian promenade. In the midst of the turquoise waters is the breath-taking Kamen Brela – the stunning rocky outcrop which is the symbol of Brela Beach. With plenty of gorgeous hotels in Croatia there’s no excuse not to stop for a while.
Mljet Island National Park
Mljet island is the most southerly and easterly of the larger Adriatic islands of the Dalmatia region. In the northwestern part of the island is an area of protected land – the “Mljet” National Park. It has a unique beauty featuring two connected salty lakes and rich forested landscapes. Take a walk along the many lakes, hire a bike and cycle through the immense forest that covers 78% of the island. There is also an opportunity to wander around the Benetictine monastery and visit the small chapel attached to it. Only a one and a half hour ferry trip from the mainland, a trip to Mljet island is definitely worth it.
City of Rovinj
This is a small, active fishing port located along the Istrian Peninsula which is fast becoming a popular tourist resort with many of the locals still speaking the ancient, romantic language of Istriol. It has long been one of the most picturesque towns in the Mediterranean with cookie cutter cluster of pastel-coloured houses, steep winding streets and off-shore island tours. Some of the most famous landmarks include St. Euphemia’s Basillica and Zletni Forest Park.
This is a beautifully timeless island destination located on the most northern corner of the coast. With a population of 4,000 people, it’s commonly known as the gastronomic capital of the Adriatic. With fantastic restaurants, nestled under the Venetian style architecture serving traditional Croatian food as well as pan-European cuisine, you will experience the Mediterranean as it once was. As most of the island is covered in olive groves and vineyards, it’s ideal for tourists looking for a break from the rat race.
Zlatni Rat Beach
Zlatni Rat is the Croatian for ‘golden horn’ and epitomises the unusual sandbar with white pebble beaches and blue sapphire waters, offering a 360 degree ocean view. Bordered by pine groves and offering a wide selection of watersports, it is one of Croatia’s most well known beauty spots. If you are bored of lounging on the sands, take a stroll into the pine groves and discover the rustic Roman villa complete with swimming pool nestling in its centre.
Holding the title of the ‘Queen of Dalmatia’ it’s commonly accepted that Hvar is the greenest and sunniest island of the many islands residing off Croatia’s coast. The island’s landscapes are characterized by vast fields of lavender, lush olive groves and rambling vineyards. Hvar town is the cultural centre of the island and with its innumerable sandy beaches surrounded by cosmopolitan cafes, bars and restaurants, it has become a necessary stopping-off point for yachting trend-setters.
This small harbour town is nestled on the northern coastline of the island of Brac. It’s steeped in history and is home to ancient Roman ship remains and a Basillica dating from the 5th century. It’s also very beautiful, with traditional houses and a gorgeous harbour, it was once declared the most beautiful destination in Croatia (in the small tourist places category).
Plitvice Lakes National Park
This is one of the oldest national parks in Southeast Europe, with miles of unspoilt beauty, cascading waterfalls, rugged hills and turquoise lakes. Despite the stunning vistas, arguably the real stars of the show are the wild bears and wolves that still roam freely (something which is very unusual in Europe). The 120 species of birds, uncountable butterfly breeds and plenty of woodland animals also keep the wildlife fans happy. Having earned its place among UNESCO’s collection of heritage sites in 1979, it is a veritable jewel in Croatia’s crown.