Croatia is a Central European and Mediterranean country, bordering Slovenia in the west, Hungary in the north, Serbia (Yugoslavia) in the east, Bosnia and Herzegovina in the south, and has a long maritime border with Italy in the Adriatic Sea. Croatia has an amazing 5,835km of coastline, 4,057km of which belongs to islands, cliffs and reefs. There are 1,185 islands in the Adriatic, but only about 70 are populated. The largest island is Krk (near Rijeka) at 462 square km.
The climate is Mediterranean along the Adriatic coast, meaning warm dry summers and mild winters, with 2,600 hours of sunlight on average yearly – it is one of the sunniest coastlines in Europe! In the interior of the country, the climate is continental with hot summers and cold, snowy winters. The Croatian coastline is perfect for sailing holidays. With so many islands and small ports, you can stop as many times as you like or sail for as long as you wish.
Istria borders Slovenia and has a maritime border with Italy. This peninsula is the most popular destination for foreign visitors to Croatia.
Situated near the base of the Istrian peninsula, the population of Pula is just over 62,000, making it the largest city in Istria. One of the most famous sights in the whole of Croatia is the Roman amphitheatre in Pula, which has been well preserved. However, it is likely that Pula originated even before the Roman era, with local findings showing the history of Pula going back more than 3,000 years. The main sight is, of course, the amphitheatre. Built during the 1st century AD, the three-story amphitheatre is sixth largest in the world. It hosts the Pula Opera Festival in the summer and is also used for other events during the year. Other sights include the Triumphal arch of the Sergii, the Temple of Augustus, the Cathedral and the Franciscan Church and Monastery.
Umag and its riviera (about 20km long) is very popular. The old town in Umag has attractive, narrow, cobbled streets. The coast is full of pretty little bays and there are some 60,000 hotel beds and those in private accommodation here. There are almost many camping and caravan sites along the coast, which are well run and highly recommended for an inexpensive holiday. Umag is also well known for its marina.
This is the largest resort in Istria and was nominated as the top resort in Croatia by the Croatian National Tourist Office in 1998. A visit to the old town (Porec is 2,000 years old) is a must, due to numerous historical sites, particularly the 6th century Euphrasian Basilica which is wonderfully preserved and is well known for its beautiful gold mosaics.
This is a charmingly picturesque town with narrow, cobbled streets. It is famous for its St. Euphemia Cathedral with the highest church tower in Istria, at 60 metres high. Rovinj was originally an island, but 250 years ago the narrow channel, which separated it from the mainland, was filled in.
Kvarner Riviera is located next to Istria and is centred on the main Croatian port of Rijeka, the busiest port on the Adriatic. The most famous resort in the area is Opatija, with Lovran, Crikvenica, Kraljevica and Novi Vinodolski also popular.
The Croatian coastline contains more than one thousand dazzling islands. Most of the islands, however, are small and uninhabited and there are therefore only 20 or so larger islands which are popular with tourists. We will therefore provide a description of some of these, starting from just off the Istrian coast and going all the way down to the islands near Dubrovnik.
The Brijuni islands (also known as Brioni Islands)
Only up until a few years ago the islands were closed to the general public as they were the summer residence of President Tito and the top officials of former Yugoslavia. Over the years, almost 100 foreign heads of state were received by Tito on the islands. Many film stars were also guests of Tito, including Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Sophia Loren and Carlo Ponti, and Gina Lollobrigida. Nowadays, the islands are open but the facilities are a bit rundown, as little money was spent on their upkeep after Tito’s death. The group of islands consists of 2 larger ones and 12 smaller ones and they were given National Park status in 1983.
Cres & Losinj islands
Cres is the second largest island in the Adriatic, covering 155 square miles. Together with Losinj and another 28 smaller islands in the group, it covers an area of 193 square miles (513 square km), making it the largest group and equating to 16% of the total surface area of all the Adriatic islands. Both islands are accessible by ferry from Brestova in Istria or Valbiska on the island of Krk. Mali Losinj is connected by boat to Zadar (about four hours). The main resort is the town of Mali Losinj, whose harbour is said to be the most beautiful in the entire Adriatic. The tourist area is centred around Cikat bay, which is well known for its beach and good windsurfing. The town of Veli Losinj is quieter and there is easy access to it from Mali Losinj. Cres Town is also popular, and reminds many of an Italian village due to the fact that it was ruled by Venice for several centuries. In this archipelago, one of the strangest islands is Susak. This island has a small population of less than 200 who speak their own dialect, which is not easily understood by other Croats. It is also distinct because the women often dress in a colourful costume, comprising of a short, multicoloured dress, white blouse and red leggings.
Krk is the largest island in the Adriatic, covering 157 square miles (405.78 square km). It is one of the most populous islands with a population of about 17,000. It is well developed and very busy with tourists as it is connected by bridge to the mainland. Rijeka Airport is located on the island of Krk. The main resorts are Baska, Malinska, Omisalj, Vrbnik, Punat and Krk Town. Krk Town is famous for St. Mary’s Cathedral, the seat of the Krk bishopric. (The current head of the Roman Catholic church in Croatia, the Archbishop of Zagreb, Bozanic, was previously a bishop in Krk.)
Rab island covers 90.48 square km. It is one of the greenest islands in the Adriatic and probably one of the most magical. It is covered with pine forests and has beautiful sandy beaches, and is well known for its mild climate which differs from the mainland. The reason for this is that three ridges are present which protect the island from cold winds from the Velebit mountains. The main resort, Rab Town, is full of medieval buildings, built during Venetian rule which occurred since the 13th century. The old town walls are still visible in some places.
Pag is the second longest island in the Adriatic. It covers an area of 110 square miles (284.6 square km) and is 37 miles (63 km) long. Due to strong wind of Bora, the island has very little vegetation but there are numerous stone walls built by farmers and shepherds which allows for some cultivation. In spite of this, Pag has a lot of charm. It is well known for its sheep cheese (paski sir), lace making and the beautifully preserved Pag Town, built according to plans by the famous Croatian Renaissance builder, Juraj Dalmatinac.
The Kornati islands
This archipelago consists of 140 islands covering an area 114 square miles (300 square km) and most of the area has been declared a National Park because of its natural beauty, due to its numerous coves and crystal clear blue waters. George Bernard Shaw fell in love with the group of islands and said “On the last day of Creation God desired to crown His work, and thus created the Kornati islands out of tears, stars and breath.” There are no permanent residents of the islands and most of the area belongs to the people of Murter island who come to tend the olive groves, the vineyards and orchards. They have cottages there, in which they stay during the agricultural season.
One of the most accessible islands in the Croatian Adriatic – ferries run almost every hour from Split to Supetar (with bus connections on to other resorts). There is also a small airport near the resort of Bol, with several flights a week from Zagreb in the summer. This island is the largest in Central Dalmatia at 150 square miles (394 square km), the third largest in the Adriatic, and is one of the sunniest with 2,700 hours annually. The island is known for its agricultural products and the locals produce good wine, olive oil, figs, nectarines and other fruits. But the main export is, and has been from ancient times, the famous Brac stone from which many buildings in the world have been built, including the White House in Washington D.C.
Hvar is the fourth largest island at 182 square miles (300 square km). It is even sunnier than Brac, with almost 2,800 hours of sunshine per year. However, there is enough rain to keep the island green and to maintain the beautiful fields of lavender, rosemary, sage, marjoram and thyme and the carefully cultivated vineyards. Many people remark that in the spring, Hvar smells like a herbalist shop! When in Hvar, you must purchase some lavender oil, which is the major export of the island.
Vis is the most westerly of the larger Croatian islands, at 24 miles from the mainland, and its area is 56 square miles (90 square km). The island is quite easily reachable with a fast boat service from Split. Vis is the oldest established town in Dalmatia, founded in 397 B.C. by the ruler of Sicily, Dionysius – the Latin name for the island is Issa. In World War II, the island was major base for British troops stationed there and there is a British military cemetery on the island. After 1945, Vis was closed to tourism by the Yugoslav army and only reopened when Croatia declared its independence in 1990. Some of the most exclusive wines in Croatia are produced there, such as Plavac and Vugava.
The sixth largest island, it is 20 miles long and rather narrow, between 4 and 5 miles wide on average. This island is known for its dense forest and the ancient Greeks called the island Black Korcula (Kerkyra melaina) for this reason. Local legend says that Prince Antenor of Troy founded the Korcula settlement. Still on the subject of history, it is interesting to mention that Marco Polo, the famous adventurer, was born on Korcula, and his house still there. There is also a British connection with the island: the late Fitzroy Maclean, the Scottish politician, soldier, adventurer and writer, had a house there (still used by his family today). It was given to him personally by President Tito and was the only house owned by a foreigner in the former Yugoslavia until Croatian independence.
Mljet is 23 miles from Dubrovnik and is the southernmost of the larger islands. Its area is 62 square miles (100 square km). Over two-thirds of the island is covered by forest with the western half of the island declared a National Park. The Lonely Planet guidebook calls it “the most seductive island in the Adriatic”. According to legend, Odysseus fell in love with the island and stayed there for seven years. Prince Charles has visited the island twice and was also enchanted by its beauty. The island is best visited on a day trip from Dubrovnik or Korcula as there is only one hotel on the island, but many locals offer private rooms if you wish to stay there.
Kolocep, Lopud & Sipan (The Elafit islands)
This chain of islands between the Peljasac peninsula and Lapad and are close to Dubrovnik. They are called the Elafit islands because of the Greek word elafos, meaning deer – in ancient times the islands were apparently home to a large deer population. There are actually six islands in the group, and were particularly famous as the most skilful mariners came from there. The islands are very beautiful and are perfect for a relaxing holiday, although there is very little hotel accommodation.
Zadar is the main city in Northern Dalmatia with over 76,000 inhabitants. Another city to have grown from a Roman settlement, it was also under Venetian and Austrian rule as well as being assigned to Italy in 1920. Zadar Old Town is located on the tip of a narrow peninsula. Most of the town is surrounded by city walls, with towers and two city gates of interest. The Mainland Gate (Kopnena vrata), to the east of the Old Town, was built in 1543 and has the city coat of arms engraved on it. Close to this is the Five-Sided Tower, dating from the 13th century and the five wells which used to be the water supply for the city. The other gate is the Port Gate (Lucka vrata) to the north, built in 1573. In the centre of the Old Town is the Sveti Donat Church which was built at the beginning of the 9th century and stands at 27m high. It is the most important church in a city which has 30 altogether. Nearby is the Church of St. Mary as well as the Cathedral of St. Anastasia.
The population of Sibenik is just over 41,000. Sibenik is one of the few places along the Croatian Adriatic coast not to emerge from either a Roman or Greek settlement. It is therefore the oldest Slavic town on the Croatian coast, possibly dating from the 11th century. As well as being under Venetian and Austro-Hungarian rule, it was also briefly under French occupation in the early part of the 19th century. One of the most important sights in Sibenik is the cathedral of St. James, built between 1431 and 1536 from limestone and marble. The early stages of the cathedral were designed and built by Italian masters, but between 1444 and 1447 the work was under the direction of sculptor Juraj Dalmatinac. In the same square as the cathedral is a memorial to Dalmatinac, created by the greatest Croatian sculptor of the 20th century, Ivan Mestrovic. Just to the north of the Cathedral is the Loggia, built in typical Italian style. Several other churches are worth visiting, such as the Church of St. Barbara and the Church of St. Nicholas.
Trogir is about 38 miles (61km) from Sibenik and has a population of just over 10,000. It is a UNESCO world heritage site. In the 3rd century BC, Greeks from the island of Vis founded the settlement Tragurion before it went on to become part of the Roman Empire. Once again, this city was under Venetian and Austrian rule. Part of the city walls, built between the 13th and 14th centuries, are visible today on the southern side of the city. In the middle of the city wall the city gate, built in 1593, is present. The cathedral on the east side of the city is on the main square and dates from the beginning of the 13th century.
Split is the second largest city in Croatia, with just under 200,000 inhabitants, and is the largest on the Adriatic coast. Emerging from a Greek settlement founded between the 3rd and 4th centuries BC, the height of Split’s history came in 295 BC when Roman emperor Diocletian ordered a residence to be built there for his retirement. It took ten years to build this magnificent palace and Diocletian lived there until his death in 313 BC. After that, many Roman rulers continued to use it as a retreat. In the 7th century, when the Roman colony of Salona was abandoned, many of its inhabitants sought sanctuary behind the palace’s high walls and their descendants lived there until the present day. Obviously, the most important sight is Diocletian’s palace. Do not miss the Peristyle which is the main open space in the palace and is surrounded by a colonnade of six columns to the eastern and western sides and an arch, decorated with garlands, in the centre. On the eastern side of the Peristyle is a cathedral. On the western side is the “People’s Square” (Narodni trg) with the old town hall which was built in the 15th century. There is an Ethnographic museum on the square (worth visiting) and nearby is a city museum. Don’t miss a remarkable statue of Gregory of Nin (Grgur Ninski), a Croatian religious leader from the 10th century, by the most famous Croatian sculptor, Ivan Mestrovic.
George Bernard Shaw was enchanted by this beautiful city: for him, it was paradise. Edward VIII and Mrs. Simpson’s last trip abroad before they were married was to Dubrovnik and the Croatian Adriatic. (The locals claim that they even wanted to settle there.) Prince Charles visited a few years ago and left captivated, as did Baroness Thatcher; Michael Foot (the former leader of the Labour Party) is a regular visitor. Millions of other people also take happy memories home with them from this “jewel of the Adriatic”. Dubrovnik has a remarkable history. An independent, merchant republic for 700 years (abolished by Napoleon in 1806), it traded with Turkey and India in the East (with a consul in Goa, India) and had trade representatives in Africa (Cape Verde Islands). It even had diplomatic relations with the English court in the middle ages. (There is a letter from Elizabeth I on display in the City Museum in Dubrovnik). Its status was such that powerful and rich Venice was envious of this Croatian-Slav city. The old town was completed in the 13th century and remains virtually unchanged to the present day. Tall ramparts surround it and there are only two entrances to the old town which lead to the Stradun, the city’s promenade. One of the greatest pleasures for many visitors is to have a drink in one of the nearby cafes and watch the world go by, whilst they themselves are being watched by the city patron, St. Blaise, or Sveti Vlaho as the locals call him. In 1991/2, the Serbs shelled the city causing considerable damage, but thanks to local effort and international aid, the old town has been restored to its former beauty.
The Makarska Riviera stretches for 60km, between the towns of Brela and Gradac, with the main town being, of course, Makarska. The Riviera is one of the most famous tourist locations along the Croatian coast and is also one of the most beautiful with countless sandy beaches, pine trees, sparkling water and peaceful bays. The area is also known for Biokovo Mountain, which overlooks the coastal area.
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