CROATIA TOURISM GUIDE
With 1778km (1111 miles) of mainland coast, emerald-blue waters, secluded pebble beaches and countless unspoilt islands, Croatia is an ideal destination for lovers of sea and sunshine who want to avoid the crowds. For ease of reference, the country has been divided into the following regions: Istria, Kvarner, Northern Dalmatia, Central Dalmatia, Southern Dalmatia and Inland Croatia. In addition, the cities of Zagreb, Dubrovnik and Split are each given a brief description.
CroatiaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s economic, cultural and administrative heart sits on the north bank of the river Sava. Its historic nuclei, Gradec and Kaptol, in Gornji Grad (Upper Town), were founded in the Middle Ages. Here, a labyrinth of peaceful cobbled streets links the cityÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s oldest and finest monuments: the Cathedral, St MarkÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Church (noted for its red, white and blue tiled roof) and the Sabor (seat of the Croatian Parliament). At the foot of the Upper Town lie Trg Bana Jelacic, the main square, and Dolac, the colourful open-air market. The main square links the Upper Town to Donji Grad (Lower Town), the commercial centre of modern-day Zagreb, with theatres, shops, cinemas, museums and cafes. A number of important 19th-century public buildings are located here, including Glavni Kolodvor (main train station), the imposing neo-Baroque Croatian National Theatre and the Academy of Arts and Sciences. The Museum of Arts and Crafts traces Croatian craftsmanship from the Renaissance up to the present day, while the Mimara Museum presents a rich collection of painting, sculpture and ceramics from abroad. Also worth visiting are the Museum of Zagreb, the Archaeological Museum and the Gallery of NaÃƒÂ¯ve Art. The city boasts one of EuropeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s very first planned parks: Maksimir, a magnificent feat of landscaping, with lakes, pavilions and sculptures, dating back to 1794.
Unanimously considered the jewel of Croatia, Dubrovnik is best known for its well-preserved historic centre contained within 13th-century city walls, its terracotta rooftops, and a stunning location overlooking the Adriatic. Today a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city was a wealthy independent republic up until 1808. The finest monuments date back to those golden years: the 16th-century RectorÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Palace, the Franciscan Monastery (home to EuropeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s oldest pharmacy), and a number of delightful baroque churches, including the Cathedral, St BlaiseÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Church and the Jesuit Church. Also worth visiting is the Maritime Museum, which highlights DubrovnikÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s former importance as a world naval power. Each summer, from mid-July to late August, the city hosts the Dubrovnik Summer Festival, featuring various cultural events plus open-air evening performances of theatre, jazz and classical music.
The city of Split was founded in the third century AD by the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Today, the traffic-free historic centre lies within the imposing walls of DiocletianÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Palace, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A vibrant cafe scene focuses on the Roman Peristil, presided over by the majestic Cathedral with its 13th-century Romanesque bell tower. The Museum of Croatian Archaeological Monuments displays early Croatian religious art, while the MeÃ…Â¡trovic Gallery celebrates the countryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s best-known 20th-century sculptor. On the hill above town, Marjan, an extensive nature reserve planted with pine woods and fragrant Mediterranean shrubs, affords stunning views over the Adriatic. During the Split Summer Festival, held annually from mid-July to mid-August, the city becomes an open-air stage with night time opera and concerts.
Istria is the largest peninsula on the Croatian coast and, thanks to its easy transport links with nearby Italy and Austria, has also become the countryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s major tourist destination. The regionÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s administrative centre and chief port, Pula, was founded by the Romans in the fifth century BC. Several interesting buildings remain from this period, notably the Arena, a well-preserved amphitheatre, which hosts summer concerts and the annual film festival. The city is a good starting point for excursions to Brijuni National Park, an archipelago of 14 unspoilt islands. It is possible to stay overnight on the largest island, Veli Brijun, where a range of tourist facilities is available. On the west coast of Istria lies CroatiaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s most visited resort, Porec. Fortunately, the large hotel complexes of Plava Laguna and Zelena Laguna are situated out of town, a little way along the coast, leaving the historic centre intact. Built on a small peninsular, Porec dates back to Roman times, and its star attraction is the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Euphrasius Basilica, decorated with stunning sixth-century Byzantine mosaics. IstriaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s second most popular resort, Rovinj, was originally built on a small island, though the narrow strait that separated it from the mainland was filled in during the 18th century. Just out of town lies Zlatni Rt, a blissful park affording access to several secluded coves for bathing. Also by the sea, midway between Porec and Rovinj, lies Vrsar, home to Koversada, EuropeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s largest nudist resort. Inland Istria, with romantic hill towns such as Motovun and Groznjan, makes an ideal day trip from the coast.
The economic and administrative centre of this popular and busy island region is Rijeka, CroatiaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s largest port. Other than Trsat Castle, built on a hilltop commanding splendid views out to sea, Rijeka has little architectural interest, its main claim to fame being the exuberant celebrations it puts on each year in February for Carnival. The main tourist centres of the Kvarner region are Opatija, Crikvenica and Novi Vinodolski (sometimes referred to as the Ã¢â‚¬Ëœthree rivierasÃ¢â‚¬â„¢), all of which have extensive pebble beaches complemented by good accommodation and recreational facilities. Opatija, CroatiaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s oldest tourist resort, was popular with the Austro-Hungarian nobility and some of its former fin-de-siÃƒÂ¨cle elegance remains. Of the many islands scattered throughout the Kvarner Bay, Krk, connected to the mainland by a road bridge, is the most developed as well as the largest, with clean beaches and extensive tourist facilities. Further out lie Rab, home to the delightful medieval Rab Town with a number of elegant Romanesque bell towers; Cres, which contains the Vransko Lake and is popular with nature lovers; and LoÃ…Â¡inj, which has pine woods and numerous bays with beaches. Inland from Rijeka, the Risnjak National Park is located in the mountains of Gorski Kotar and rises to 1528m (510ft) above sea level, making it a popular destination for hiking and climbing.
The chief city and port in the region is Zadar, the historic centre of which is made up of narrow cobbled streets, some Roman remains and several interesting churches, notably the 12th-century Romanesque Cathedral. However, the regionÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s main attraction is the Kornati National Park, an archipelago consisting of over 90 islands scattered over an area of 300 sq km. Virtually uninhabited, the islands display a harsh, rocky landscape practically devoid of vegetation. Most visitors arrive on organised day trips by boat, though several renovated stone cottages provide Ã¢â‚¬ËœRobinson CrusoeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢-type holiday accommodation. Inland from Zadar, on the southern slopes of the Velebit Massif, lies Paklenica National Park, a popular destination for hiking and climbing. The regionÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s second city is Sibenik, worth seeing for its 15th-century UNESCO-listed Cathedral, and a good base for visiting Krka National Park. Here, the river Krka has sculpted a picturesque canyon, famed for its spectacular Skradinski buk (Skradin Waterfalls) and the islet of Visovac, home to a Franciscan Monastery, which can be visited by boat.
CroatiaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s second-largest city, Split is also the economic and cultural capital of Central Dalmatia. Nearby, the tiny medieval city of Trogir, founded by the Greeks in the third century BC, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site noted for its beautiful Venetian Gothic stone buildings. The resorts of the Makarska Riviera, centred around the pretty town of Makarska, boast long stretches of pebble beaches and are able to accommodate large numbers of holidaymakers. However, the highlight of Central Dalmatia has to be its islands, which are less exploited than those in the north of the country. Taking Split as a base, the closest island, Brac, is best known for its magnificent beach, Zlatni Rat (Golden Cape), close to the well-equipped but unspoilt resort of Bol. Hvar, possibly DalmatiaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s most beautiful island, is renowned for its rugged coastline, excellent wines and lavender fields. The largest settlement, Hvar Town, is built around a picturesque harbour presided over by a hilltop fortress. Chic cafes and restaurants focus on the main square, lined with elegant 15th-century Ã¢â‚¬ËœpalacesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ and the much-photographed Renaissance Cathedral. Hvar Town claims to have more hours of sunshine than any other resort on the Adriatic, and hotels offer free accommodation in the unlikely event of a snowfall. Slightly less sophisticated, but equally well equipped with hotels and bathing areas, is the friendly town of Jelsa. Vis, CroatiaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s most remote inhabited island, is wild and unspoilt. Due to its former status as a Yugoslav military base, it was closed to foreigners until 1989 and therefore has very limited tourist facilities.
The chief centre of the southernmost region of Croatia is Dubrovnik. Nearby, a group of tiny traffic-free islands, known as the Elaphites, offer secluded beaches and basic tourist amenities. Further up the coast, the island of Korcula is reigned over by the beautifully preserved Korcula Town, a marvel of medieval urban planning which has charmed foreign visitors since the first tourists arrived in the 1920s. During summer, regular performances of the colorful MoreÃ…Â¡ka sword dance are staged here. Nearby, the village of Lumbarda is home to one of CroatiaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s few sand beaches. On the island of Mljet, the green and unspoilt Mljet National Park boasts dense indigenous forests and two interconnected saltwater lakes Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Veliko Jezero and Malo Jezero. In the centre of the larger lake sits the exquisite St MaryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Island, crowned by a Benedictine Monastery. A series of paths, perfect for mountain biking or hiking, runs round the lakes and through the woods. Lastovo, like Vis, is a remote island and former home to a Yugoslav military base, hence the lack of tourist facilities. Back on the mainland, south of Dubrovnik, Cavtat is a pretty holiday resort with numerous hotels and pebble beaches. South from here lies the border with Montenegro.
While the vast majority of tourists head straight for the coast, inland Croatia also holds several places of interest, notably the capital, Zagreb. North of Zagreb lies Zagorje, a rural area of undulating hills and vineyards with several castles open to the public, the most visited being Veliki Tabor and TrakocÃ…Â¡an. East of Zagreb lies the flat fertile region of Slavonia, the major city of which, Osijek, makes an ideal base for visiting Kopacki Rit Nature Park, a vast expanse of wetland popular with birdwatchers. South of Zagreb, on the edge of the Dalmatian hinterland, lies one of CroatiaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s biggest tourist attractions, the UNESCO-listed Plitvice Lakes National Park. Situated in a densely forested valley, the park features 16 beautiful blue-green lakes joined together by a succession of spectacular waterfalls. There are numerous hotels, motels and campsites in the area, although tourism development has thankfully been combined with strict environmental preservation policies.