Judging by the frequency in which I’m asked, Croatia is the new hot travel destination. I visited June 2016. So what’s my Croatia travel advice?
If it’s early in your Croatia trip planning…
1. Travel on the shoulder season (June or September). Summer temperatures are scorching and crowds can be overwhelming.
2. Roadtrip! Croatia is more than an aqua-drenched coastline. From Istria to Zagreb to Dubrovnik, there is much to explore. Croatia’s roads are exceptional, and the toll roads are virtually traffic free. You’ll travel north to south in a heartbeat.
3. Avoid or minimize your time in the cruise ship towns. In hindsight, I’d skip Split and Zadar altogether. Dubrovnik is a special must-see, but if you see several thousand tourists suddenly flooding through the gates of the walled city…you might want to replan your day.
4. Drink the wine. Croatia produces quality whites and reds, from grapes you’ve likely never heard of, grown inland and coastal. Most house wines are delicious and very affordable.
5. Get out on the water. Our five-day catamaran adventure with Huck Finn included hiking, biking, kayaking, swimming, and was a trip highlight.
If you want Croatia specifics…
1. Nestle into seaside Rovinj, a central hub for exploring Istria, the triangular peninsula that is everything you love about Italy. Angelo d’Oro offers a choice of hotel or local apartments. Enjoy the sunset and fresh fish at Maestral restaurant (top restaurants). Rent bikes along the marina and spend a day exploring the forests and beaches of Punta Corrente (Golden Cape).
Wander the cobblestone streets and local artist galleries. Our favorite was Jadranka Kalenic, whose gallery is in Rovinj’s oldest building (photo)– a 13th century heptagon-shaped baptistery.
2. Motovun is one of the best preserved of inland Istria’s fortified hill towns– think Tuscany’s Montepulciano, but without mass crowds or stretched prices. Hike the sole street to the top and walk the town wall and square. On the way down, duck into the street side shops to taste wine, olive oils, and truffles. Choose a lunch venue with a view, and indulge by ordering both a white and black truffle dish with the house wine– it’s not the splurge you’d think!
3. The serene forests, lakes and waterfalls of Plitvice National Park offer an inland respite. Ironically, an armed clash in 1991 also marks it as the birthplace of the Croatian War of Independence (look for buildings with bullet holes as you drive south on Route 1 from Karlovac). Stay in one of Marko and Marija’s apartments (Apartments Marija), and you might learn a little history over rakija.
4. Ston isn’t on the typical visitor itinerary. But it should be. The main town is essentially four cross-crossing roads. Flowering bougainvillea drape stone houses, and restaurants spill out onto the immaculate streets. Salt is why the town exists. And with salt as valuable as gold, the Romans built what today is a 5km defensive wall to protect the town and it’s precious salt pans. Hike the section of the wall connecting Ston with neighboring Mali Ston for the experience you thought hiking the Great Wall of China would be. In Mali Ston, reward yourself with a glass of crisp Croatian white wine and a dozen or two fresh briny oysters at the roadside stall, Bebek. And walk the flat 1km road back.
5. The Old City of Dubrovnik has a storied history. It’s golden era as trading hub was brought to a halt by a devastating 1667 earthquake. Then, despite its UNESCO heritage status, Dubrovnik was the target of relentless bombing by Yugoslav troops in the early 1990s. Get to know the history on foot by taking an Old Town tour with Dubrovnik Walks. For lunch, escape the overcrowded restaurants by walking up the stairs from the Stradun for a grilled feast on the outdoor porch at Lady Pi-Pi. Leaving the restaurant, turn left and look for the basketball courts and signs for the Dubrovnik Foundry (Divo will give you a tour). Save your (2 hour) walk of the Dubrovnik City Wall for when the crowds clear (6pm). Pizza and drinks? Try Mea Culpa Pizzeria and later climb through the “hole in the wall” (literally) for a night cap at Buza Bar.