Beaches, historic towns, UNESCO-listed sites, islands under the sun, natural parks with exceptional flora and fauna … Between central Europe and the Mediterranean, deep blue sea and dazzling white mountains, Croatia is a small country by its size (56,542 km2), but immense by the offer of discoveries and activities that it offers to travelers.
Its coastline is among the most beautiful in the world with an extremely jagged coastline of 6,278 km dotted with 1,244 islands and islets. As for its hinterland, it will delight lovers of wide open spaces and unspoiled nature with superb national parks.
Marked by a history of successive civilizations and cultures, the towns and villages of Croatia are architectural gems, like Split and Dubrovnik. The capital, Zagreb, has had the good taste to remain a city on a human scale, where life is good.
Add to this, a people with a warm welcome and a tasty gastronomy of which olive oil, truffles, seafood and wine are the pillars … and you will understand why Croatia is a destination of choice. for the holidays.
Here are 5 destinations to savor this summer, under the Croatian sun and eyes in the blue of the Adriatic!
1 – Dubrovnik, jewel of Dalmatia
Located in the south of Dalmatia, Dubrovnik is one of the jewels of the Mediterranean world, a major destination for lovers of culture, sea and sun.
Surrounded by ramparts and fortifications, this walled city on the edge of the Adriatic evokes a theatrical setting, at the foot of an amphitheater of mountains tumbling down into a deep blue sea. Dubrovnik has preserved its palaces and churches, squares and alleys covered with white flagstones. Its magnificent limestone residences from the 16th and 17th centuries, topped with red tiled roofs, take on golden hues in the sun, making up a picture of perfect harmony.
All its splendors bear witness to Dubrovnik’s past greatness: rival of Venice, the city was a free and prosperous republic from the 15th to the 17th century. Once you have passed through the city gates, the time machine is set in motion. Happiness.
After strolling around Placa, Dubrovnik’s main avenue paved with polished limestone, you have to venture down the narrow streets of the old town. This is where small treasures nestle, such as the Dominican cloister, the Renaissance-style Sponza palace, the Saint-Blaise church or the Rectors’ palace. Finally, to have a superb view of Dubrovnik and the Riviera, a cable car allows you to reach Mount Srd, which dominates the city from the top of its 408 meters.
The surroundings of Dubrovnik, with its wild nature and spectacular Adriatic panoramas, provide great excursion possibilities. Only 15 minutes by boat, the Elaphiti and Lokrum Islands are small car-free paradises where you can bathe in translucent water.
The surrounding countryside of the Konavle region, nestled between the blue of the sea and the rocky sides of the mountain, reveals beautiful unspoiled landscapes, punctuated by pines, cypresses, olive trees, vines and cultivated fields. There are still water mills, traditional taverns and historic villages like Cavtat.
Our favorites :
A walk on the ramparts of Dubrovnik. An unforgettable and essential walk to appreciate all the beauty of Dubrovnik with its red tiled roofs, surmounted by bell towers or cupolas, standing out against the blue of the Adriatic. From the fortress of Lovrijenac, the view of the ramparts and the island of Lokrum is spectacular!
The Dubrovnik Summer Games Festival, which has been held from July 10 to August 25 every year for 60 years. Classical music concerts and plays are given in the old town, in churches or in the open air. Dubrovnik as a theater stage, who could say better?
The village of Cavtat, located by the sea to the south-east of Dubrovnik, is worth a visit. Take a lovely stroll through the narrow streets lined with beautiful Renaissance white stone mansions, to the Rat peninsula which juts out into the Adriatic. The panorama on the coast and the mountains with, in the background, Dubrovnik is splendid!
2- Istria: Croatia in Italian version
Istria is Croatia in Italian version! A meeting point between Latin and Slavic cultures, this region with a rich history is the fruit of a tasty blend, significantly different from the rest of Croatia. Here, the names of towns and streets, as well as the signs, are bilingual. Almost 10% of the inhabitants of this peninsula located in the northwest of Croatia are Italians, while Trieste is only ten kilometers away.
The Venetian influence is quite remarkable in cities like Rovinj, with its beautiful Baroque palaces, its small alleys… The Roman presence is felt in Pula with its amphitheater or the temple of Augustus. As for the hinterland, with its hilly landscapes and adorable hilltop villages, it is nicknamed “Croatian Tuscany”.
Istria is also a paradise for gourmets who feast on seafood, but also local produce. Queen of local gastronomy, the truffle, black or white depending on the season, comes in all its forms. Other well-known products, local olive oil is regularly awarded in international competitions, while Istrian wines are among the best in Croatia.
Finally, diversity is also found in the landscapes of Istria: if the Mediterranean blue is predominant along the coast, with coves with crystal clear waters, the green declines all its nuances inland, with its hills. green where vine and olive trees predominate.
Our favorites :
Pula, Rovinj and Porec
The three main cities of Istria invite you to take a wonderful journey through time. Let’s start with Roman antiquity in Pula, which contains, among other remains, one of the largest Roman amphitheatres (1st century) still standing; heading north up the coast one arrives in Rovinj, one of Croatia’s jewels. This small port, where the Venetian influence is felt, has an exceptional architectural heritage; finally, do not miss the magnificent Byzantine basilica (Vie s., Unesco classified) in Porec, another port city founded by the Romans.
Located a few km north of Pula and 15 minutes by ferry from the coast, this archipelago of 14 islands (classified as a National Park) is a small protected paradise, covered with beautiful pine forests, cypresses and cedars. It is advisable to rent a bicycle to travel around the main island with swimming breaks in the turquoise waters of the Adriatic. With a little luck, you might see a doe!
The hinterland of Istria
A superb territory with a Mediterranean atmosphere, green and hilly, covered with forests of oaks, vineyards, olive groves and cypresses. Hilltop villages, built in the Middle Ages and Venetian times such as Motovun and Groznjan, dominate this postcard landscape. Great agrotourism offer for those who want to stay there.
3-Zagreb and Varaždin
Capital on a human scale, Zagreb (790,000 inhab.) Has no shortage of assets to appeal to fans of city breaks, culture, urban walks and nightlife. As for its region, it offers great possibilities for getaways, such as the superb Baroque town of Varaždin.
To immediately fall in love with old Zagreb alias Gornji Grad, the upper town, with its different districts perched on the hills. We walk with delight, through a fascinating maze of cobbled streets lined with old houses that seem to have come out of a fairy tale … not to mention the many stairs that connect old Zagreb to the rest of the city. At nightfall, the upper town exudes a most romantic atmosphere. Magic !
Change of scenery in the lower town, where all the dynamism of contemporary Zagreb is expressed, with its fascinating museums (Mimara museum, archeology, modern art, etc.) and numerous shops. Around pleasant green spaces, perfect for a bucolic stroll, rise prestigious buildings: theaters, mansions or palaces. An architectural fireworks display where the major styles of the late 19th century, Austro-Hungarian, neoclassical and Art Nouveau meet.
Zagreb is a city that can be experienced as well as visited. The Croatian capital, vibrant and welcoming, knows how to have fun, in a friendly atmosphere. Traditional taverns (konoba), designer and trendy restaurants, bars, pubs, jazz cellars, clubs … you will be spoiled for choice for spending busy evenings. The night owls will take the tram to the shores of Lake Jarun where the best clubs in town are located.
Finally, and this is not the least of its charms, Zagreb is a capital at the gateway to nature. Beautiful forest hikes await you in Medvednica Park (1,035 m), while the Zagorje region unfolds towards the northeast, its green hills, its vineyards (taste Croatian wine!), Its castles, its villages and the beautiful town of Varaždin.
The hills of the Gradec district in the upper town, which can be reached by stairs. With its cobbled streets, colorful houses, medieval towers and magnificent Baroque palaces where the ministries are located, Gradec is a delight. A Montmartre resembling Prague! Along the way, stop at the Zagreb City Museum or the astonishing Broken Hearts Museum!
The completely pedestrianized Tkalčićeva Street, which separates the Kaptol and Gradec districts in the old town. With its attractive pastel-colored buildings, it exudes an almost village atmosphere. But it is also one of the liveliest and most lively streets in Zagreb, with its many bars and restaurants.
Varaždin, a beautiful baroque town 77 km from Zagreb. Nicknamed the “little Vienna”, it was the ephemeral capital of Croatia. Demonstrating remarkable and rare architectural unity, Varaždin is an exceptional conservatory of Baroque and Rococo arts in Europe. You will have plenty of eyesight!
4-Plitvice and Krka National Parks
The interior of Croatia conceals unspoiled landscapes of great diversity, with exceptional flora and fauna, especially in the national parks of Dalmatia.
If the Croatian coast is sublime, the hinterland, less known than the seaside, offers a host of activities for lovers of nature and the great outdoors. Here is another Croatia to explore for a natural holiday. The icing on the cake is that a visit to national parks, never far from the Adriatic, can be combined with a seaside holiday or exploring the coastal towns.
The Plitvice Lakes, located in northern Dalmatia halfway between Split and Zadar, form Croatia’s best-known national park. Rightly so, because it is a natural wonder listed as World Heritage of Humanity by Unesco.
Judge for yourself: within a succession of fully preserved valleys, 16 lakes follow one another in stairs over 130 m of vertical drop (503 to 636 m) and approximately 7 km long. Fed by springs and torrents, the lakes are interconnected by cascades and waterfalls, in all shades of green. This aquatic enchantment is surrounded by deep forests of conifers, beeches and maples, where a very rich fauna lives: deer, wild boars, wild cats and even wolves and bears. Magnificent !
About fifteen kilometers from the Dalmatian coast and Šibenik, the Krka National Park is another natural wonder that stretches around spectacular waterfalls that the Krka river has carved into the karst plateau. Erosion is due to the porosity of the rock formed by sediments, the travertine, which crumbles under the pressure of the water, constantly reshaping the landscape.
As in Plitvice, water springs from everywhere in cascades, streams, swamps and springs, composing a veritable aquatic symphony. Footbridges allow you to pass over the lakes and through the almost tropical lush forest. More than 800 species of plants, some 200 species of birds, but also fish, amphibians and reptiles are listed in this extraordinary reserve, which will delight nature lovers.
Walks around the lower and upper Plitvice lakes: count the day for a complete visit, with at least 4-5 hours of ride. There is no need for a guide, as the routes are well signposted and the shuttles make it easy to get from shore to shore.
The Skradinski falls, in Krka, particularly spectacular with their multiple levels overlooking a vast basin. There is an ethnographic museum exhibiting the traditions of Dalmatia (weaving, breeding, grain mill, local products …)
Visovac Island, which lies upstream on the Krka River (2 hour cruise), a quiet corner with a pretty 15th century Franciscan monastery, and further afield, Roski Slap Waterfall which flows into the peaceful Visovac lake.
5-Split and the island of Brač
Split is a unique city in the world, a truly special place. Imagine an old town of around 3,000 inhabitants (209,000 for the whole city), installed for more than 1,600 years within the walls of the remains of a grandiose palace of around 38,000 m2 that once belonged to the emperor Diocletian (3rd century BC).
In this exceptional site, where there is even an Egyptian sphinx over 3,500 years old, the emperor’s mausoleum has become a cathedral, a Roman temple has been transformed into a baptistery and an ancient peristyle serves as a public square. Here, each monument has a story, each palace has surprises in store for the visitor who will be amazed at the richness of the architecture and the history of this city.
Split makes eras collide with one another, dialogue between cultures, without being a city-museum. Quite the contrary! Stroll through the streets paved with lustrous limestone and enjoy the sweetness of this welcoming city by the sea. At night, the atmosphere is fantastic.
Main port of Dalmatia, Split is also a good base for enjoying the beach and, above all, embarking for the offshore islands, which are among the most beautiful in Croatia.
Pearl of the Dalmatian coast, the island of Brač is thus located a dozen km and an hour by boat south of Split. 40 km long and 12 km wide, Brač is the 3rd largest island on the Adriatic coast with 395 km2. Suffice to say that you will have room!
Brač, renowned the world over for its magnificent white stone, is an idyllic and unspoiled island with abundant vegetation. Pine groves, maquis, olive groves and karst hills draw a charming picture, completed by wild coves and secret ports.
While beautiful hikes await walkers in the interior of the island, Brač will especially delight lovers of seaside activities. The best beaches can be found in Bol on the south coast, while divers favor the part of the coast between Bol and Milna. All under a magnificent blue sky….
Two sites to have a memorable view of Split. If you have your heart set on you, you can climb the steps of the cathedral’s campanile, the panorama from above is superb. For the less adventurous, a stop at Café Vidilica (near the Jewish cemetery, on Marjan hill), especially at sunset, to enjoy the light on the city and the bay of Split from the terrace.
On the island of Brač, the southern coast, wilder, around Bol, a pretty seaside resort at the foot of Mount Vidova Gora (778 m). The 8 km descent to go from the central plateau to the coast is very impressive. West of Bol, Zlatni rat beach is one of the most beautiful in Croatia.
Shine in the surroundings! Split is a good base for exploring other beautiful historic towns on the Dalmatian coast, such as Šibenik and Trogir, listed by Unesco. As for the island of Brač, it is part of a sublime archipelago where we find the famous islands of Hvar, Vis or Korcula.