Summarising Croatia in a top 10 moments is not easy as the country has too much to offer and is very diverse in many ways. Croatia is an ex-Yugoslavian republic located in the Balkans in Eastern Europe. The coastline faces more than a thousand islands, while its heart is filled with green forests, rocky mountains, deep canyons and clean rivers. This article is dedicated to highlighting what the common traveller would probably miss, too busy at finding the must do activities which are often not the ones you should go for.
1. Touch the pure water in Rastoke
When the words “Croatia” and “Waterfalls” are part of the same sentence, what first comes to mind is the “Plitvice NP” and then “Krka”. But most of you might never have heard of Rastoke. This wonderful play of nature has been made possible as the Slunjčica river runs into the Korana river over a series of travertine barriers creating a chain of waterfalls, rapids, pools and cascades. About 300 years ago this place was chosen as a settlement for water-milling. The harmony between man and nature can still be found here. In case you are visiting in the summer don’t hesitate to relax in the natural pools of the Korana river before it meets with the Slunjčica which is colder. Just ask the locals where you can swim and go.
2. Discover Zagreb
The Croatian capital city is a great getaway for a weekend. It is mostly known for its Christmas market in winter but not only. Cool things are happening all year round. Strolling in the old town for example or tasting the vibrant nightlife. It is not rare to find great parties in Medika (the cultural centre, known for its street art and its alternative music scene) as well as the Vintage Industrial Bar for concerts. Another good place to go out is Pločnik Klub where you can try some of the best craft beers including the John Lemon from Visibaba Pivo. Next to the city, the Sljeme mountain offers many trails for the ones who like combining both city and nature. And of course, there is more to discover…
3. Go Kayaking in the Kornati Islands
A kayaking journey in the Kornati Islands NP is for sure a highlight of a trip to Croatia! It is easily accessible from Sali located on Dugi otok (the long island) which has daily connections by boat from Zadar. Before embarking on this physical challenge, make sure the weather conditions are good and get some food and water supplies. Once done, you are now ready to start paddling towards Levrnaka, a paradisiac sandy beach with blue lagoon colours. It takes about 4hrs to get there. This beach is the absolute reward but not the only one. After the bath, it is highly recommended to walk up the hill to witness one of the most breathtaking landscape you will ever see, especially when the sun is about to blend with the horizon. You can camp next to the beach as it is one of the few spots where you are allowed to set your tent in the Kornati NP.
Extra tip: A good option, if you’re not into kayaking, is to rent a little boat with a skipper at the local tourist agency in Sali. By this you can tailor your trip rather than be on a crowded tourist boat, that doesn’t stop in Levrnaka. If you are more than 2 people, it will cost you even less…(about 100 euro in total) the captain goes fishing while you take your time and brings you back to Sali after the sunset.
4. Do rock climbing in Paklenica National Park
Another great place to spend a day is the Paklenica NP, located on the southern slopes of the Velebit mountain, not far from Zadar. Known as one of the top European rock climbing areas, Paklenica is a place of outstanding natural beauty! In total there are 590 routes on good quality limestone rock, of which the majority are bolted. If you fancy rock climbing, this is a must while being in Croatia. For the others, many other activities can be found here – from hiking trails to mountains biking or going on a cave exploration, Paklenica will for sure delight you with its diversity and stunning vistas.
Extra tip: There are 2 canyons where on a hot day (every day during summer) you can take a dip in one of the many natural pools, so make sure you bring your swimming suit.
5. Try Rakija and meet with the locals
In the Balkans, there is no way you will escape a toast with some locals with their famous alcoholic drink called Rakija. If you don’t, that simply means you’re clearly not willing to blend into the Balkan culture! Rakija is a generic term associated with strong fruit brandies. In Croatia, it is mostly designated as the one made out of grapes. But you can also find some common other flavours like the Šljivovica (plum), Travarica (herbal) or Medica (honey) among many others.
Extra tip: Don’t buy it in supermarkets, there are many local producers that will be more than happy to sell their homemade elixir everywhere in Croatia as this country has a deep tradition in Rakija making.
6. Cycle along the Sava River
From Zagreb, the Sava river makes its way East through the Slavonia region, making it as a natural border with Bosnia and Hercegovina. Cycling along the Sava river is like using a time travel machine back into the past. Little village roads make the ride very enjoyable. Along the way you’ll be able to see many, typical for this region, 100 years old wooden houses. It is a unique experience in this preserved nature with sceneries that are nothing like the rest of the country. Tourism infrastructures are almost non-existent and it definitely adds to the authentic charm of Slavonia. Getting closer to the Serbian border, you can clearly witness the tumultuous past left from the war as many buildings are still marked with some bullet impacts. The Sava river is also a great environment to observe birds in their natural habitat.
Extra tip: You could easily spend several days cycling next to the Sava or even cut to meet with the Danube in Vukovar and visit the lovely town of Ilok, which is famous for viniculture since Roman times.
7. Witness a Kolo dance
Kolo is the circle dance that you would see normally at weddings, social, cultural and religious ceremonies. It is performed amongst groups of people, having their hands around each other’s waists. This cultural heritage is transferred from generation to generation. The dance is accompanied by traditional instrumental music. National costumes, or folk dresses, vary from region to region in style, design, colours, material, shape and form.
8. Blend in the Goulash Disko Festival
Located on the paradise island of Vis, (a 3hrs ferry trip from Split), this independent music festival will with no doubt conquer your heart. Goulash Disko has seen light for the first time in 2013, through the years it became one of the best human size festivals in the world. There you can find a global and colourful music mix, from Gypsy Punk to Electro, Reggae and Balkan all perfectly blended together. This 5 days celebration takes place in September. It is exclusively financed by crowdfunding and can welcome around 1000 lucky people. And that’s not it, the location is just insanely beautiful as the site is facing a crystal clear water cove that also offers the best sunsets. Check out their video here
Extra tip: There is a blue cave on the Biševo island which is easily accessible by boat from the lovely fishermen village of Komiža next to the festival site.
9. Enjoy the Fjaka Dalmatian lifestyle
Fjaka is the Dalmatian lifestyle, which is more or less seen as being relaxed and taking things that come up in an easy way. They tend to have a different concept of time. Basically, it is almost like the time does not exist. This is a psychophysical state of mind when there is an aspiration for being lazy and it might be seen as the ultimate luxury. They would go fishing, have a coffee, take a dip in the nearby cove, grill some fish and seafood among having some shots of rakija and that would make it a perfect day. It actually sounds like a perfect day!
10. Drop the anchor where ever you want
Sailing around the stunning Croatian islands in the summer is a unique experience which provides a great feeling of freedom. Going from an island to another, finding the best spots to go swimming and snorkelling, discovering the underwater world is a must and the 1000 Croatian islands are the best playground for it. It is also a great way to discover the ancient cities built hundred years ago. Like Korčula for example, the native city of Marco Polo or even the lost island of Lastovo, that remained unspoilt and where the time as stopped. So, if you ever felt like a Pirate, this is for you.
And you? Did you ever experience the Croatian beauties?
Thanks to Julien Duval photography for providing pictures for number 2 and 8.