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Situated in the Balkans, Croatia has again become one of Europe’s top tourist destination since its War of Independence in the late 1990s. With ancient ruins, pristine beaches, jewel-like lakes, and more than 1000 idyllic islands, the country is the hottest tourist spot in Europe. The stunning natural attractions like the spectacular Adriatic coastlines, gorgeous islands, and the Plitvice Lakes make Croatia an exceptional place to travel. Tucked somewhere between eastern and western Europe, Croatia has something to offer to every traveler who visits the place.
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- Chic Italian flavors in Istria and Pula: For most of its history, the province of Istria has been a part of Italy. The town effortlessly blends the best of two countries. There's the urban chic and boutique elegance of Italy found in the pastel-colored Venetian era houses and valleys of vineyards. Croatia's exoticism reigns in the seaside fishing villages and pine-enveloped deserted islands of Brijuni National Park. Quaint coastal Pula ties it all together, its magnificent Roman amphitheater one of the finest in the world.
- Exhilarating mountains and combining the journey with Slovenia: Inland Croatia is wild and rugged, the mountain roads curving past tiny traditional villages and forest-clad slopes. Biokovo Mountain offers an easy day away from the beaches of Dalmatia, while mountain bike and hiking adventures meander through the Dinaric Alps to the north. Neighboring Slovenia continues the impressions of alpine brilliance, its compact series of lakes and peaks making for another inimitable glimpse at Eastern Europe.
- Escaping to deserted islands: Croatia's islands promise seclusion and exclusivity, hundreds of them basking in the turquoise waters of the Adriatic. Some of the smallest have been converted into private island escapes, idyllic romantic getaways reserved for just you and a partner. Car-free and liberally coated in tradition, the Elaphiti Islands make for more serene days in the sun, hardly another set of footprints found in the sand. Or try the Jornati Islands, a marine national park of rocky islets and sublime snorkeling. The majority of these secluded islands are within easy reach of the coastal ports of Zadar, Dubrovnik, and Split.
- An archipelago of pleasure around Zadar and North Dalmatia: Zadar's unique sea organ plays the melody of North Dalmatia, the euphonic music created by waves crashing through underwater pipes. Firmly rooted in tradition, Zadar is a quaint coastal base for adventures into an archipelago of rocky islets and romantic bays. And just like the random tones from the marble encased organ, every moment in North Dalmatia is novel and melodic.
- An intriguing mix of styles in capital Zagreb: Undeservedly overlooked by many visitors, capital city Zagreb is one of Europe's most compact and charming. The city is the fashion capital of Eastern Europe, full of fine dining, vintage shopping, and exclusive hangouts. Dashing and stylish, its historic suburbs have been refurbished to take you through the ages. Starting in medieval times you journey into Austro-Hungarian history, and the 18th-century Baroque styles, before the evenings bring debonair locals onto tree-lined city squares. Many cities lay claim to the title “Paris of the East.” Zagreb offers the idolized promise without having to boast.
- European history without the crowds in Central Dalmatia: Croatia's UNESCO World Heritage Sites are amongst the least crowded in Europe, just a handful of other visitors exploring the worlds of ancient Roman and Venetian glory. Peacefully wallowing in boutique beauty, the Trogir and Sibenik Cathedrals are timeless showcases of Europe's history. Close to Zagreb, vintage wine bottles pile up on cafe terraces in the citadel of Osijek. Then there are the striking mosaics in Porec's Euphrasian Basilica. With sublime monuments to be found all over Croatia, it's easy to incorporate slices of heritage into a beach crafted vacation.
- Unspoiled South Dalmatia and the Peljesac peninsula: While Dubrovnik undoubtedly wows the crowds in South Dalmatia, the whole region is a treasure trove of exclusive experiences. Cruise through the hills of the Peljesac Peninsula, sampling fresh oysters in towns that cascade down precipitous cliffs. Peljesac's vineyards are the country's finest, while the forested islands of Korcula and Mljet provide a green backdrop to saltwater lakes and long yellow sand beaches.
- Contemporary evenings at one of Croatia's many summer festivals: Croatia really comes alive on the long balmy evenings of summer. A dozen open-air festivals showcase contemporary music and film, including the jazz-tinged Dubrovnik Summer Festival and the Motovun Film Festival, Eastern Europe's version of the Cannes Festival. Many islands have a thriving boutique festival scene, great for young couples seeking to add some evenings of excitement to a vacation of escapism.
Like its Mediterranean neighbors, Croatia is a summer destination. The great news is that summer usually stretches from early March to late October. Throughout this time you can expect long warm days of sunshine and clear skies. While any of these months can be considered an ideal time to visit, there are some subtle sub-seasons.
March and April are the quietest, notably because the islands haven't fully shaken off their winter temperatures. On the mainland, destinations begin to wallow beneath the sun and while it's not an all-day sunbathing climate, the complete lack of crowds makes this a great time to visit.
May and June are indelibly pleasant, the temperature warm enough for sunbathing yet cool enough for all-day sightseeing.
The temperature and tourism industry peak in July and August, coinciding with the European vacation season. As the daytime mercury reaches into the 90's, a vibrant social scene extends well past dusk on the cafe terraces.
From September onwards, fall colors leave further enchantment in Croatia national parks and forests. This is another relatively quiet time to explore.
Winter can be surprisingly cold and snow often falls on the highlands, providing a peculiar backdrop to the photos. Despite the temperature and shorter days, visiting the historic towns and cities remains eminently enjoyable. While you'll miss out on the beaches and sailing, a glimpse of Croatia can be easily combined with Italy or historic Central Europe during these months.
Croatia's boutique accommodation is one of its highlights. While major international brands are found in the cities, much of the country is dominated by guesthouses and historic hotels determined to be unique. Baroque, Renaissance, Gothic, Venetian; there's usually a blend of old-world elegance with touches of modern luxury, the accommodation completing the immersion into iconic style and architecture. Croatia's tourism industry remains firmly in the developing stage, meaning it's far less about large resorts and far more about personal touch and intimacy. That doesn't mean any reduction in quality. Since its days as a coastal escape for the top Roman hierarchy, the country has always catered to elite visitors.
Location adds to the charm. Each historic town makes for delightful daytime discovery, yet these destinations are most hypnotic when the sun sets and barbecue smells float through alleyways illuminated by lanterns. Most historic hotels have prime locations inside the walled towns, enveloping you in the rhythm of yesteryear. Many of these old towns are completely pedestrianized, helping to ensure a peaceful night's sleep when you're in the heart of everything. Along the coast, a myriad of small destinations competes for a traveler's attention. As such, sea views and a prime beach location are the norms. With so many islands and beaches, you can always expect a soft salt-aired breeze coming onto your private balcony.
Croatia joined the European Union in 2013, completing its transformation from ex-Communist state to blossoming Western nation. This has made traveling here even easier. US, Canadian, Australian, and European visitors do not require a visa for stays of up to 90 days. An official rule requires all foreign visitors to register with the local police within 24 hours of arriving. This is far less troublesome than it sounds as you're automatically registered by checking into your first hotel. Note that Croatia is outside the Schengen agreement; foreign nationals requiring visas for European countries will need to separately arrange their Croatian visa.
Health and Safety
Croatia can be considered in the same light as Western European nations when it comes to health and safety. No additional inoculations are recommended and there are no specific health risks. To illustrate this, Croatia's tap water is widely considered to be amongst the purest in Europe, coming directly from hundreds of mountain streams.
Medical facilities and hospitals are excellent in the cities. In rural areas, the quality isn't quite as high, although it's rare you'll be more than a couple of hours from a city. When requiring medical assistance, communication can sometimes pose a challenge as English isn't always spoken. It may be advisable to take a guide or local to assist with translation. Hotels and tour companies will be happy to arrange this.
It's very rare that visitors to Croatia encounter any safety problems. The country doesn't suffer the niggling petty crime problems that can be found in some major European cities. Crime levels are very low, particularly against tourists.
Croatian history is dominated by takeover and occupation. They've been part of many empires, most notably four centuries of rule from Venice. As recently as the 1990's there was a deadly war as the country finally achieved its independence, this time from Serbia and what was previously Yugoslavia. The country's rapid recent development is one that has taken many international observers by surprise, but not the Croatians. They've always been a resource-rich nation. It's only over the last 20 years they've been able to keep the rewards of their harvest. The modern result is a fiercely proud nation eager to assert their identity and culture.
The core of this culture is a social one, manifested on town square cafes and terraces that roll with enthusiastic chatter. Take time to say hello and the conversation invariably continues for hours. Sharing araki or a coffee confirms a new friendship. A relaxed Mediterranean atmosphere pervades throughout the country, one that's slower than Western Europe, yet professional enough to ensure the cappuccino arrives within a couple of minutes. Nothing is rushed here and so it shouldn't be; Croatia isn't a destination for charging around and checking off sights, it's a place for slowing the rhythm.
While the percentage of English speakers is rapidly increasing, most of the population will only speak a few rudimentary words. The older population learned Russian and/or Serbian as a second language, thanks to the country's Yugoslavian history and ties with the Soviet Union. Younger people are more likely to be versed in English as the upcoming generations lean towards the West. High-end tourist establishments understand the importance of English speaking staff and guides, so there should be no communication problems while in the hotel or on a tour. However, local restaurants and cafes sometimes provide humorous moments when you order with enthusiastic yet limited English speaking staff. Croatia uses a Latin writing system so it's easy to make an attempt at reading out what's on the menu. However, it's a Slavic language with little linguistic ties to the other languages of Southern Europe.
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