Croatia is one of Europe’s most beautiful countries but tourists have long memories and although the Croatian War of Independence ended almost 20 years ago only recently have people begun to return in significant numbers.
It is a country blessed with so much natural and cultural beauty: countless enchanting islands, magnificent national parks, stunning lakes and cities so bursting with history it seems to hang in the air. Here we give you the best five places in Croatia to explore on foot, so pack your comfy shoes and a camera, and prepare to be impressed!
The Pearl of the Balkans, as it is often dubbed, is simply one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Architecturally it is stunning, with 80 churches and numerous examples of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque structures, with even a severe 1667 earthquake doing little to diminish its magnificence.
Damaged again by the war in the early 1990s UNESCO have helped restore the city, although for me some of the existing scars of the war serve to enhance the city’s beauty by showing what it has been through. The Sponza Palace which dates from the 1500s is my personal favourite, with Renaissance architecture as splendid as anywhere in the world. I could gladly spend hours roaming the atmospheric streets of this amazing city, although I may allow myself the occasional stop for beer and seafood. The walk around the old town’s ramparts is one of Europe’s most satisfying strolls too.
Split lies on the edge of the Adriatic and despite being the second largest city in Croatia is still small enough to explore on foot. It is around 1,700 years old and, like much of the country, has been the scene of fierce battles throughout much of that time. Modern Split, however, has a fabulous blend of the old and new, a thriving café culture and its old town has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1979. Scratch the surface and the evenings are alive with traditional and contemporary musical delights and many a fine bar in which to sample nightlife Croatia-style.
The island of Hvar in the Adriatic Sea is only around 40 miles long, but possesses a self-confidence that belies its size. It has a fine climate making it a popular holiday spot with a wide range of people, from local families to the Croatian and European playgirls and boys who revel on the luxurious yachts that fill the lively and colourful harbour.
Hvar is a great place to let your hair down and party from sunset to sunrise, with great nightlife, fine restaurants and plenty of bars. However, for those wanting something more sedate it also boasts fields of lavender, hills lined with glorious pines, vineyards and olive groves which make for sensational – and relatively easy – walking.
Another great city, the capital Zagreb is a fantastic, intoxicating clash of cultures that assaults the senses at every turn. There is history aplenty here in this city where the Austro-Hungarian Empire battled with Tito’s communists and with a lively cultural and gastronomic scene this makes for a fascinating city with a character all of its own. Often ignored by tourists who stick to the coastal delights, we think to miss out on Zagreb is to miss out a significant part of this enticing country.
5. Plitvice Lakes National Park
Probably the finest of the eight national parks in this relatively small country, it is also the largest and oldest, founded in 1949. Yet another UNESCO World Heritage-recognised site, it attracts over one million visitors every year and with its stunning limestone karsts, dramatic waterfalls and ethereal waters of green, turquoise and aquamarine, it is no surprise. The highest waterfall, at 78m, is the Veliki Slap and hours pass in minutes as you marvel at its beauty. With plenty of wildlife – including bears, deer, wolves and badgers and myriad interesting bird species – Plitvice is simply a must visit on any walking holiday to Croatia.
Photo provided by Headwater