Croatia: Mystery and Adventure
Have you ever been drawn to something so strongly, but you don’t know why? This is how I feel about Croatia. I think I heard someone tell me… one time… in passing… that they had recently travelled to this amazing country, filled with Adriatic oysters, scenic biking through the mountains, abandoned medieval towns, more than 100 castles and fortifications, aromatic vineyards and olive groves, and delectable cuisine.
With those reasons and more, I need to go there!
Croatia is considered a hidden gem in Southeast Europe. With Europe’s most well-preserved UNESCO World Heritage sites and national parks, this Balkan country is off the beaten path of Western Europe. Though its history is heavily influenced by its nearby neighbour, Italy, Croatia has its own charming mix of the Mediterranean lifestyle and colourful culture. The landscape ranges from nearly 6,000 km of the Dalmatian coast adorned with 1,000 islands, islets, and reefs to the peaks of Dinarides reaching nearly 2,000 m into the sky.
It is an adventure waiting to be explored. Here are a few notable cities and regions to discover.
As a traveller, I like to explore the coastline’s towns and beaches, and soak up the sun in various water-based activities. However, travelling to the inner mainland to explore the rich culture of Zagreb has my attention.
Croatia’s capital city provides a well-rounded example of the country’s modern and traditional architecture, traditions, and culture, blending into a beautiful portrait. This well-manicured destination features activities and attractions to suit every visitor. For the holiday enthusiasts, Zagreb is the winner of Best European Christmas Market for three consecutive years!
Vineyards, olive oil plantations, and breath-taking clear blue waters. This dramatic coastline of the Adriatic Sea is paradise. Stretching from Rab in the north to the Bay of Kotor in the south, this coastline embodies the spirit of the Mediterranean and features evidence of Roman influence in the coastal towns. The Dalmatian Coast is known for award-winning beaches, world-class diving and snorkeling, delectable cuisine, and regional wines.
Below are some must-see cities and regions along the coast.
Croatia is filled with mystery, and this region is no an exception. The phenomenon known as the “Kvarner” invokes the elements to enrich and revitalize your well-being. The fresh mountain forest air of Gorski Kotar combined with the northern dry bura wind mystically are known to aid respiratory ailments. Naturally with crisp, fresh air, this region beckons adventurists who enjoy outdoor activities: cycling, hiking, swimming, sailing, skiing, and yoga.
Another mysterious place, located 600 m off Croatia’s mainland from Dubrovnik, is Lokrum; an island founded in 1023 by the Benedictine monks, who locals believe cursed the island. The monks walked the island three times, with candle wax marking their trail, chanting, “Whosoever claims Lokrum for his own personal pleasure shall be damned!” Throughout history, former owners of this island have been troubled with misfortune.
Lokrum has been very fortune in the last few years with an increased influx of pop culture tourists. This island, as with many locations in Croatia, was the backdrop for the City of Qarth, ruled by the “pureborn” on HBO’s Game of Thrones.
Speaking of HBO’s Game of Thrones, if Dubrovnik looks familiar, I would suspect that you are a fan. This seventh century city is home to Bokar Fortress, the setting of King’s Landing. Nearby, fans can also explore the West Harbour (Blackwater Bay); and farther north, the Trsteno Arboretum (the Red Keep’s gardens) and Split’s Diocletian’s Palace (the slave city of Meereen) to name a few.
Known as the “The Pearl of the Adriatic” with its white marbled street and white pebble beach, Dubrovnik is considered to have one of the greatest fortification systems of the middle ages. Constructed during the 12 to 17 centuries, the 1.9 km long and 25 m high wall—a UNESCO World Heritage Site—was never breached by hostile forces in its time.
If you have booked a suite on the Cruising Around the Boot expedition, you will know that Zadar is one of the exciting ports on this cruise.
Zadar is the second largest city along the Dalmatian Coast (second to Split) and features a historical medieval town. The architecture, culture, and history are truly unique in Zadar.
This northern landmass jutting into the sea is considered the largest peninsula in the Adriatic Sea. Shared by Croatia, Slovenia, and Italy, the largest part of the peninsula (Istria County) is located in Croatia.
Considering the thousands of people who reside in Europe, it is hard to imagine a deserted town. Dvigrad is just that. This abandoned medieval town is located in the Draga valley. The Illyrian settlement is prehistoric. While passing hands among Genoese and Venetian rule for centuries, most of the residents fled the turmoil and chaos or died from the plague. In 1714, the remaining residents left, leaving the ruins in the heart of Istria.
Croatia is home to over 100 castles and fortifications. Its most famous fortification (Walls of Ston) is located on this second largest peninsula of Croatia. Peljesac is also a destination for active adventure-seekers: hiking, biking, diving, windsurfing, kitesurfing, and sailing. For the foodies, this region offers some of the world’s most delectable wine, sea salt, and oysters.
The Walls of Ston—a fortification built around the city of Ston—was built of limestone in the 14th century. Most of the wall still stands including 20 towers (of the original 40) and five fortresses. It is considered the second longest (compared to the Great Wall of China) preserved fortification system in the world.