Crowds swarm the Dalmatian cities of Dubrovnik and Split during summer months thanks to its Roman palaces, Medieval walls, and Game of Thrones backdrops, but there’s a lot more to the country than these two cities. Hike ancient waterfalls and devour some of the best food in Europe. Here’s why I keep returning to Croatia.
- Croatia keeps winning awards for the prized olive oil made from olives harvested on the Adriatic coast. The fruits, especially those grown in Istria, are largely hand-picked and crushed at their peak, resulting in extra-virgin varieties that pack a peppery, citrusy and sometimes nutty flavor.
- Burek. I ate a ton of the crispy, phyllo encrusted meat and cheese pastries, and favored the variety stuffed with salty, white cheese for breakfast.
- Regional food at its finest. From the seafood, and squid ink risotto on the coast and islands, to Istrian truffles, and the famous Pag cheese from the sparse island, there’s a diverse food culture across Croatia.
France, Italy, and Spain might get all the attention, but Croatian wine is some of the best you’ve never tasted. There are more than 800 wineries dotted across the country and 150 varieties of whites and reds. Unfortunately, only about 10% gets exported, so if you drink, make time to sample as much as possible, or ship it home. My favorites include:
- Plavac Mali, a bold red from southern Dalmatia known for its rich flavors and notes of cherry and blackberry.
- Malvazija is an easy-to-drink dry white whose grapes are grown in the Istria region and reminiscent of sauvignon blanc.
- Pošip is an earthier white produced from grapes grown almost exclusively on the island of Korčula, and holds up to stronger dishes than your average white.
Beaches with Clear Blue Water
I’m definitely not a beach vacation kind of gal, but in Croatia, I happily spent days in a swimsuit diving into the Adriatic. My first trip to Croatia was an 8-day, late summer, sailing trip from Dubrovnik to Split, and the waters were absolutely perfect. It was warm enough to jump in at dawn (near 70 degrees) and clear and calm enough to spot the fluorescent fish dozens of meters below. Some highlights include:
- The white pebble Zlatni Rat beach on the island of Brac gets crowded in high season, but in September and October you’ll have it to yourself.
- Banje Beach offers tranquil swimming within walking distance of the center of Dubrovnik
- Not quite a beach, but the hidden Odysseus Cave on Mljet island neon blue waters requires a 15-minute hike down a hill.
- Cape Kamenjak features rugged but sheltered swimming spots in southern Istria just outside of Pula.
- The secluded Dubovika Bay and beach on Hvar is well known but requires a hike through an unmarked path that leads to deep blue water.
- Plitvice Lakes National Park might be the most famous (and crowded) nature locale in Croatia with its lush forest, turquoise lakes, and the rushing waterfalls.
- Mijet National Park on the island is a massive wooded area that also includes saltwater lakes (that stay warmer than many mainland swimming holes). You can cycle, hike or take a kayak across the park, too.
- Hardcore hikers (with the appropriate gear) can spend 8 – 10 days traversing the Velebit Hiking Trail across the mountain range.
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