|by: Jeanne Oliver
Croatia has quickly become Europe's hottest
destination, and for good reason. The rocky coastline continues for 1778
kilometers and includes pine-fringed coves, wide sandy beaches and cozy
inlets. As if that weren't enough, there are a good 1185 islands that
range from lush and wooded to stark and hilly. Yachters love the sailing
opportunities, sunbathers have an incredible choice of beaches and scuba
divers have a paradise of sea life to explore.
Beyond the pretty scenery, Croatia also boasts a
fascinating history and cultural life. The walled city of Dubrovnik on
its southern tip is a must-stop for Mediterranean cruises but the long
coast is littered with remnants of Croatia's varied past.
The Romans swept through two thousand years ago,
leaving an amphitheatre in Pula and Diocletian's Palace in Split. Long
ruled by Venice, many ports along the coast bear the distinctive imprint
of its former master. In southern Dalmatia, the towns of Hvar and
Korcula resemble Little Venices without the canals. In Istria, the
striking bell tower in Rovinj is modeled after that on St Mark's Square
In contrast to the Italian-influenced coast, the
Croatian interior was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire and looks it.
Zagreb, Croatia's capital, has the kind of stately architecture that
wouldn't be out of place in Vienna or Budapest. Plus, it has a small
medieval quarter that vaguely resembles Prague. To the north of Zagreb,
in the middle of green, rolling hills, lies Varazdin, Croatia's most
underrated city. Lying too far from the coast to attract much tourism,
Varazdin nevertheless boasts a stunningly well-preserved baroque center.
So, what to see first? Following is my personal
list of highlights for a Croatian visit:
Byron called it the "Pearl of the Adriatic" for
the magnificent curtain of walls surrounding a city paved in marble and
strewn with Renaissance sculpture.
In addition to the splendid harbor promenade and
sculptured facades, it's becoming known for the best nightlife on the
It resembles Hvar in some ways, especially the
narrow cluster of streets, but it lies on a narrow peninsula and is
Istria's prettiest little town, it retains the
flavor of a traditional fishing port despite the heavy influx of
tourists in recent years.
Plitvice Lakes National Park
It has to be seen to be believed. The 16 turquoise
lakes seem to glow and there are waterfalls everywhere. It's a UNESCO
world heritage site.
The idyllic coves, bordered with pine trees,
stretch out like a long necklace of beaches. Forbes magazine recently
named it one of the top twenty beaches in the world.
No matter where you go in Croatia, you'll find
people eager to welcome tourists after the grueling war of the early
1990s. English is widely spoken and costs are comparatively reasonable
compared to the rest of the European coast. So what are you waiting for?
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