Since becoming independent in the 90’s, Croatia has emerged as a destination fit for the world stage. Rich with history and amply endowed with a cosmopolitan coastline, this unspoilt gem has become one of 2018’s hottest destinations. Croatia’s long and intricate history is certainly prevalent today, with remarkable Roman monuments and ancient fortresses spread among the country’s heritage-rich towns and cities. But recent years have also seen forward-thinking development to ensure that Croatia remains at the forefront of the European holiday market. Chic new restaurants, stylish bars and world-class luxury accommodation means that Croatia is now truly a destination fit for the discerning traveller.
Croatia is best-known for its spectacular coastline, packed with historic towns and beautiful beaches. The ancient walled town of Dubrovnik is perhaps Croatia’s biggest draw, and is as close to a fairy-tale scene as you can imagine. Recently chosen as the real-world setting for King’s Landing in the global HBO hit ‘Game of Thrones’, the mythical appeal of this millennia-old destination is clear to see. Situated upon the Dalmatian Coast and tightly ringed by two kilometres of incredible ancient walls, the city’s intricate inner workings see orange-roofed palaces and elegant domed churches criss-crossed by narrow alleyways and mysterious stairways ripe for exploration. Surrounded half by sea and half by looming mountains, this photogenic town is a true must-visit even if just to capture a sense of what life was like many hundred years ago.
Just off shore from Dubrovnik, you’ll find the twin islands of Hvar and Korcula, each boasting their own medieval fortress towns. These dual delights are well worth taking a day trip from the mainland to explore, each proffering labyrinthine streets, deep-blue shores and UNESCO-listed historic architecture.
Three hours’ drive north-west along the dazzling Dalmatian Coast from Dubrovnik brings you to Split, another seaside starlet. There are obvious comparisons between Split and Dubrovnik, but here you find a city a touch less dramatic, and instead thrumming with a modern energy that plenty prefer. Roman palaces and historic churches still have their place here, but there are also authentic piazza cafes and local shops that rely less on the tourist trade and more on Croatian regulars. Perched between mountains and the Adriatic Sea, Split is certainly as photogenic as its distant neighbour, yet the faster pace of life and Italian-style seaside glamour lend Split an edge that few destinations can rival.
By heading further up the coastline to the Istrian Riviera, you’ll arrive close to Croatia’s land border with Italy. This less-populated region is closer to Venice than Dubrovnik, and the influence clearly shows, with Italianate architecture popping up across the petite towns and villages dotting the coast. During the summer, Istria becomes a playground for continental Europeans on holiday, and the resorts and hilltop towns are rather more energetic because of this. Excellent cuisine, beautiful towns and a hybrid Italian-Croatian culture lend this region an identity all of its own.
Away from the countless islets of the Croatian coastline, you’ll discover a lush, verdant landscape of rolling hills and ancient forests. The heartland of this postcard-perfect country is certainly less explored that the popular coastline, so we think it’s worth hiring a car to discover the numerous towns and villages dotted throughout. Zagreb, the country’s history-laden capital, is hidden away here, and is perhaps reminiscent of not-too-far-away Prague, with spiky towers, nationally-important museums and historic walking streets.
From the well-established splendours of Croatia’s spectacular UNESCO coastal cities, to the unspoilt heartland surrounding the romantic capital of Zagreb, this is a destination that perfectly encapsulates the best that Europe has to offer. With world-class dining and a new crop of ultra-luxe villas popping up for the modern discerning visitor, we happily give Croatia a big thumbs-up.
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