After a few visits, Uday k Chakraborty feels Croatia offers everything a jaded traveller yarns for
If you imagine a country which combines the history and gaiety of Italy, the undulating hills and magnificent architecture of Austria, the island ambience of Greece and blue coast of Mauritius – you would get an idea of Croatia. With its sublime stretch of Adriatic coast with incredibly blue and cleanest of clean sea, Croatia has long been regarded as one of the most beautiful parts of Europe.
The aura of medieval Croatia endures in the cobbled streets of Rovinj and the recently restored other-worldliness of Dubrovnik’s Old City. The country is also home to some of Europe’s finest Roman ruins like the immense palace of Diocletian in Split or the Roman amphitheatre in Pula. Indeed, today Croatia has become the hottest spot in International tourism.
A combination of car with occasional ferry rides is the best way to discover Croatia. The fascinating country of Croatia is a compact one with variety in every kilometre. Here a one-hour drive will take you from northern regions with a continental climate to the coast of a warm sea. In winter, you can get from the snow-bound interior to the sunny coast of the Adriatic in only one morning.
Zagreb and Zagorje
Two-tiered Zagreb is most visitors’ starting point, with its simmering night-life, fine restaurants and choice museums. The city is divided between the medieval Upper Town with quaint houses and churches and Austrian influenced Lower Town where Operas, cafes and shops abound…
From Zagreb, head north to explore the scenic Zagorje region, a bucolic landscape of forests, pastures and farms. Of course, you’ll want to see the Tito’s birthplace at Kumrovec, a fascinating display of traditional village life. Nearby, the castle of Trakoscan has all the mysterious aroma of times past that you could want. Further on is the stunning Baroque city of Varazdin where one can soak up the exquisite architecture of the palaces and old city and then take to the waters at the Varazdinske Toplice spa.
The green rolling hills of Zagorje flatten out as you head east to Slavonia. On the north-western edge of Croatia is the Hungarian influenced town of Osijek, on the Drava River. Enjoy Osijek’s’s unique architecture and take day trip to Kopacki Rit Nature Park, with its profusion of bird life, to war torn Vukovar, and to see the majestic Lipizzener horses of Dakova. Spend a night, then head south to UNESCO protected World Natural Heritage site Plitvice Lakes National Park, a watery wonderland of lakes and numerous waterfalls.
No one, however, miss the coastal route. Start your journey at the UNESCO World heritage site of Porec to admire the marvellous Byzantine frescoes and straight Roman streets before heading south to the charming fishing port of Rovinj and its outstanding Venetian inspired architecture. Wander Rovinj’s cobblestoned streets for a day, then go on to Pula. Tour the evocative Roman ruins and a colosseum (amphitheatre) that is better preserved than that of Rome’s, before heading on to the magnificent Mediterranean resorts in Brijuni Islands or nearby beaches for some rest and recreation.
It is time to explore those amazing cities, spectacular beaches and fabled islands of the Dalmatian coast. Stop for a night in the old Austrian period resort of Opatija for a healthy stroll along the seaside promenade and gorgeous views of the Kvarner coast. Then from the nearby Port city of Rijeka, you can catch coastal boats for the rest of your explorations of the islands and coastal towns of the Adriatic Krk Island, Cres Island, Mali Losinj, Susak, Rab and Pag islands.
While sun worshipers crowd Zadar, Croatia’s second largest town, moneyed ones visit Kornati islands nearby. Then it is time to head towards Sibenik, home of the finest cathedral in Croatia, the Cathedral of St. Jacob. Don’t miss out on a swim under the falls at Krka National park. Next is a stroll through lovely Trogir and then a meander around the Roman ruins of Solin. By then you’ll be ready for Diocletian’s Palace in Split. This exuberant city on the sea makes a fascinating contrast to busy Zagreb.
It is a fascinating blend of ancient architecture and up-to-the-minute nightlife.From Split catch a coastal ferry to Stari Grad on Hvar Island, perhaps the most beautiful island in the Adriatic, replete with pine, lavender fields and idyllic offshore islets. Hvar also enthrals every one with its exquisite Renaissance architecture. The Pakleni Islands nearby has an underwater reef, canyon and nudist beach to explore. Nearby coastal town of Bol is the windsurfing capital of Croatia. Take another boat ride to the lushly-wooded Korcula, which is the birthplace of Marco Polo.
Take the coastal road down to Dubrovnik. Its pride and cultural identity are all still intact from centuries as an independent city-state. The pearl of the Adriatic deserves at least a couple of days. The gleaming marble streets nestled within a curtain of stone walls contain a profusion of fine sculpture and vibrant cultural life. From Dubrovonik cross the blue Adriatic water to reach Miljet National Park, a magical isle that is said to have bewitched Odysseus.
All through the region, while the nature and manmade sites will bewitch you, you can feast on its wonderful combination of Mediterranean and continental food, washed down with fine local wines. And, while returning don’t forget to bring back Croatian lavender sachets and oil, as well as its high-quality olive oil and wine.
(Photos by Uday K Chakraborty)