Despite the hype, Croatia’s pleasures are more timeless than trendy. Along its 1778km coastline, a glistening sea winds around rocky coves, lapping at pine-fringed beaches. Istrian ports bustle with fishermen while children dive into the sparkling water. In Dalmatia
, cities throb with nightlife amid ancient Roman ruins.
Yachts glide up the coast, movie stars discreetly arrange to buy one of Croatia’s 1185 islands and no Mediterranean cruise is complete without a stop in Dubrovnik
. The interior landscape is as beguiling, even though less visited. Soak in a thermal spa at Istarske Toplice in Istria
. Hike through pristine forests watered by mountain streams in the west. Let the waterfalls of Plitvice moisten your face. And then there's the culture. The country that endured Roman, Venetian, Italian and Austro-Hungarian rule has a unique and slightly schizoid identity. You’ll find a strong central European flavour in the baroque architecture of Zagreb
, and Italian devotion to the good life percolates up from the coast, permeating Croatian food and style. During holidays and festivals the country’s Slavic soul emerges, as colourfully costumed dancers whirl about to traditional folk melodies.
Too often overlooked by tourists making a beeline for the coast, Zagreb is a fascinating destination on its own, combining the best of Eastern and Western Europe. As the political, economic and cultural capital of Croatia
, the city throbs with energy but has retained a good deal of old-world graciousness. The sober Austro-Hungarian buildings in the town centre house elegant restaurants and fashionable boutiques along with scruffy pubs and rowdy beer halls. A proliferation of galleries display the works of the artistic community, a parade of international stars perform in the concert halls, and local DJs fill clubs with the latest sounds.
Spoiled by a coastline that lies only three hours away, Zagreb’s residents have a lively appreciation of the outdoors. Even in winter, the long, refreshing stretch of park that bisects the town centre is rarely empty. With the first breaths of spring, everyone heads to their favourite outdoor café to soak up the midday sun. On weekends, Maksimir Park in the east is a major destination for bikers, strollers and joggers. In the summer, everyone who doesn’t go to the coast scurries to Jarun Lake in the southwest to swim, boat and dance the night away in a lakeside disco. When Zagreb residents head for the hills, they don’t have far to go: Mt Medvednica is only a tram ride away and offers hiking, skiing and great views over the city.
No matter the weather, there’s a wealth of diversions in Zagreb. A proper pub-crawl could take weeks, and there’s an assortment of museums and galleries to explore, regular concerts for the culturally minded and enough fine shopping to max out a wallet-full of credit cards.
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