The battle scars of history
Between the glorious waters of the Adriatic and the scribbled borders of Central and Eastern Europe, Croatia has carved itself a wonderful slice of territory. For centuries these lands have been conquered, pinched and fought over by emperors and dictators, enduring hardships promptly forgotten by the rest of the rushing world. Left behind are a people of quiet courage, whose wealth of cultural heritage is offered out unquestioningly to those who recognise its intrinsic beauty.Architecture as power
As you drift from town to village, coastline to island, you'll soon come across the signs of a battle-strewn history. Roman roads stretch out through the countryside with the same forceful purpose as the armies which once patrolled them; Venetian palaces pop up as elegant testament to those who once graced their lavish interiors and socialist structures rise from the ground to lord their indestructible power over towns and cities.The cities
Perched beside the azure blue of the Adriatic, Dubrovnik entices you into its marbled streets with the promise of baroque architecture and fascinating museums. Zagreb, the splendid capital, mixes Austro-Hungarian and Socialist influences with interesting results but the cafes, galleries and theatres overflow with locals and visitors all year round. The Dalmatian beauty of Split, though useful as a base to visit the nearby islands, is packed with ancient Roman surprises, a fantastic seafront and looming mountains to discover on foot.Into the wild
Away from the jumbled architecture of the cities, the Croatian countryside rolls out into undulating farmland, sprawling vineyards and, as you approach the coast, impressive mountain ranges. In amongst these magical crags, you'll find hidden caverns and canyons, green-rimmed waterfalls and lakes and endless places to sample the local fare. Simple, home-grown ingredients combine to make timeless dishes, complemented by great olive oils and superb wines.Island hopping
But Croatia would be only half the fun without its abundance of glittering coastlines and an idyllic archipelago of over 1,000 islands. As you hop from one to another, take in fantastic mountains, camp on the shores of tranquil lakes or take a dip under the cool flow of a waterfall. Nature is fully on the agenda here, serving up delectable scenery for avid hikers and gentle adventurers. Otherwise, take a trip to the glamourous surroundings of Hvar - full to bursting with luxury yachts, umbrella-shaded terraces and music festivals to attract the world's diehard fêtards.
Surface area : 56538.0 km2
Population : 4496869 inhabitants
There are some local crafts to bring home: ceramics from the island of Veli Iz and elsewhere, olive oil and lavender bags. Young artists sell their work around the tourist areas: jewellery, pottery, watercolours and small frames.
At the Dolac market in Zagreb, in the region of Zagorje, you can find small useful objects made from white wood and even small, painted wooden toys. In addition, some art galleries in Dubrovnik perpetuate a long tradition of Croatian naïve art.
Take a trip inland and you'll find food dishes are simple and nourishing with a central European flavour. Expect hearty plates of excellent cooked meat, accompanied by potatoes. 'Fish paprika' (a river fish cooked with red peppers) is a speciality in Slavonia.
Coastal food has a Mediterranean influence, with plenty of seafood, fish and pasta with olive oil and garlic. The Dalmatian speciality is smoked ham. Croatia is beginning to garner more recognition for its assortment of beautiful red and white wines, as well as olive oils.
Croatia is an extremely Christian country, especially since the decline of the communist regime, with over 86 percent of the population considering themselves Catholic. Religion holds an important place in the private life of many Croats but also in government.
In many of the smaller villages, you'll still find locals dressed in traditional clothes - white dresses and smocks adorned with colourful embroidery and waistcoats - going about their daily chores at the market or having a coffee with friends.
You may find it a little bizarre but before a meal, Croats tend to indulge in a short liqueur to get the appetite going - be it the cherry-based maraschino (25 percent), a glass of travarica (the local grappa), or the aniseed-flavoured badel.
Throughout the year, festivals are organised to celebrate the various invasions experienced by the country over many centuries. These are usually based around large parades in traditional, multi-coloured costumes. If they're not celebrating an invasion, you'll often find that the smaller towns and villages are celebrating the feast of their particular patron saint, always filled with music and dancing.
If it's a suntan you want, head to one of Croatia's two sunshine states. Istria, a peninsula also shared by Slovenia and Italy, is home to Edenic beaches and, further inland, beautiful hidden villages in which to sample local hospitality and food. On the other side, Dalmatia shelters the country's most picturesque islands and three impressive National Parks further inland.
Bear in mind that, even though it is bordered by beautiful Mediterranean waters, Croatia doesn't have great beaches. Many therefore opt for a cruise on board a traditional Caïque, huge wooden sailing boats which will take you on a winding path through the many islands and dropping you at charming little ports and excellent creeks for a swim. And if naturism floats your boat, there are plenty of cruises to cater for a freer sort of holiday.
Central Croatia is home to wonderfully green, serpentine hills capped with spectacular fortresses and castles. Perfect for those who enjoy hiking, the country is full of national parks, incredible mountains at Paklenica, wetlands at Kopacki Rit and watery magic on the Plitvice lakes.
It's also good to know that most of Croatia's hotels were built during the 60s and 70s, when tourism was high on the agenda in ex-Yugoslavia. Prepare yourself for massive structures and often rather poor 70s interior design, paired with an excellent eye for comfort and renovation.
Well-located on Lapad peninsula, a few steps from shops and cafes, ...
The Hotel Esplanade is a hotel with plenty of character, in the ...
A 5 star hotel which welcomes its guests, mostly business people, ...
Undoubtedly the most beautiful and best located hotel in Split, ...
An elegant, 4-star city hotel with incomparable charm, the Arbiana ...
The hotel has set the bar high with a name like this. A contemporary ...
The Excelsior hotel is very close (980 feet) to the historic ...
The Adriana is a boutique hotel located on Hvar harbour, and ...