My Favorite Destination of 2013

Dubrovnik Old Port Croatia

This was a hard post to write, much harder than it was last year actually. I’ve been privileged to have traveled a fair amount this year and like always, I loved almost every new adventure. Some trips and experiences stand out from others though; some make more of an impact on our soul than others. That was the case this year when I visited Croatia for the first time.

So why did I pick Croatia over destinations like Antarctica and South Africa? Well, it was for the totality of the experience. Antarctica was an amazing trip, but it lacks certain components like culture, food and language. South Africa was my pick for 2012, so I wanted to instead opt for a country where I was a first time visitor. More than anything, I think Croatia was my favorite destination because it surprised me so very much.

Like all tourists, I entered the country with certain preconceptions on what to expect. Never have I been so wrong about a place though; almost everything I thought to be true was in fact wrong.

 plitvice croatia

Natural Beauty

I had heard of Plitvice Lakes National Park and expected it to be beautiful, as it was. But I never knew that most of Croatia is indeed a remarkably beautiful place. Inland there are plenty of mountains, lakes and rivers, offering not only something nice to look at but a bounty of adventure activities as well. The coast is where things get really good though, seaside towns like Zadar, Split and Dubrovnik are stunning in their own right, but the islands just beyond are true natural works of art. There are hundreds of small islands along the coast, each offering something a little different, but always fulfilling the promise of a beautiful landscape.


The Food

This is where I got into trouble. For some reason I expected bad, boiled and bland food in Croatia, but in fact the cuisine is now one of my favorites anywhere in the world. Inland you’ll find hearty dishes like stews, red meat and game dishes. Along the coastal areas though you’ll find a much more Mediterranean and Italian influence to the cuisine. It’s common before most meals to enjoy some bread, cheese and olive oil – all made in Croatia of course, along with some stunning Croatian wines. We in the West don’t know a lot about Croatian wines because they just aren’t widely distributed yet. But wine making in this country goes back to the Greeks, and they definitely have some outstanding varietals on offer. My favorite experience though was the truly excellent, Italian inspired dishes I enjoyed. Located opposite the Adriatic Sea from Italy, the two countries have had a long and complicated past, but one of the great results of this history is the culinary influence. Without exaggeration, some of the best Italian meals I’ve ever enjoyed weren’t found in Italy, but in Croatia. (Don’t tell the Italians, they’ll get mad.)

 zadar sunset


Just like in food, travel has a special hidden sense that I call umami. It’s when the totality of everything far exceeds its components and a very unique experience and feeling is created. This happened to me in Croatia. I don’t know if it was the mind bogglingly beautiful sunsets, the wine or too much Pag cheese, but I was supremely happy and content throughout my time in Croatia. The memories I have are almost all happy and warm, a rare occurrence if you think about it. It’s a country I came to know in a very short amount of time and one I want to revisit and get to know even better. It’s this feeling of umami that ultimately drives us all to travel I think; to experience even fleetingly that moment of travel joy.

Croatia is a place that just has to be visited in order to appreciate, and I hope you’ll make plans to add it to your travel bucket list.

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

16 thoughts on “My Favorite Destination of 2013”

      1. Addictive ?
        Croatia addictive ??
        It’s more than that, it grabs you and doesn’t let go !!!
        Any cure than ?
        Nope, no medicine, no therapy, just surrender and live with it.
        Reason why we moved a couple of years ago from Holland to Dalmatia, and now live here :-)
        No, before you ask, nót at the coast, but just behind it, in a tiny but great village.

        And Matt, should you decide to return, contact me, and I’ll show you a couple of less known gems.
        Cheers, or like the say here, pozdravi, Pim.

  1. Hi Matt, I loved your post earlier this year about the Game of Thrones locations in Dubrovnik. It’s helped Croatia creep up my travel wish list. Hopefully it doesn’t take me as long to visit as it takes George RR Martin to write a book.

  2. Croatia is on my wish list – which part of the country would you recommend for a first-time visitor if I were only able to go for 4-5 days? Beautiful photograph of the sunset by the way!

      1. Wrong Matt, so terribly wrong :-)

        Ok, start in Dubrovnik, like so many do (and with good reasons), and even work your way up to Zadar is a good idea.
        However………only five days ?????
        Oooohhhh Matt, that’s only just enough for a “quicky”, and I know what I am talking about, as we moved from Holland to live here.
        And you know, now in my sixties+, I need a hundred more years to discover at least a bit of it :-)
        Recently a site called Total Inland Dalmatia was set up, thank heaven, so you and all other finally get to know inland Dalmatia (just behind the coastal mountains, that’s where the true fun starts.
        See “Secret Dalmatia”, see my miserable blog ( and you get an idea.
        Five days, holy macaroni, you’d better say five weeks (however that might be to short).
        Saw them South African potholes, great pictures by the way, but if you like to sit in a pothole, I can lead you to some :-)
        Guess I am a lucky bastard, as I now live here.
        Send me a not, and I’ll give you a couple tips, or better, be our guest and I’ll have the honour to show you what made us leave Holland.
        Cheers Matt, pozdravi iz Svinisce, Pim.

    1. If you only have five days I would do it this way as Croatia has too much to cover in 5 days even if you stick to one part only. I would fly into Split, spend the morning and afternoon checking out Diocletan palace and then board a ferry to Hvar Island for two nights, whilst there can even do a day trip by smaller boat to Bol beach on island of Brac if going in Summer. I would then board ferry to Korcula Island which continues down to Dubrovnik. You may even get a chance to quickly have a look around the core of the town of korcula(birthplace of Marco Polo. Spend two nights in Dubrovnik before flying out from Dubrovnik airport. This will give you a taste of the best Croatia has to offer and leave you wanting to come back for more. If that is too much for you maybe spend 3 days in Dubrovnik with day trips to Eliphate island and Kotor in Montenegro and then drive up the coast to Split and leave from Split airport. One of the best coastal drives in the world.

  3. I’m glad I found this post. Croatia and Plitvice Lakes have been on my travel wish list for several years now; seeing your post has reminded me make sure to include them next time I’m in Europe, summer 2015. It looks amazingly beautiful, and amazingly beautiful gets my adrenaline pumping! I just need to find the right home exchange there, as that is how my family affords to visit such amazing places.

    1. I’m so glad to hear that! Home exchange is a very smart way to go and frankly I don’t think you can go wrong with Croatia, but that’s obvious I guess :)

  4. I’m reminded that the best Italian food I’ve ever had was in Croatia as well; in Dubrovnik, a simple, yet utterly delicious Gorgonzola pasta. It was about 10 years ago, but I still remember the flavour.

      1. Hi Matt, it’s me once more :-)
        if you accept my invitation (best would be in let’s say May/June, I’ll cook you some meal accompanied by local wine, that knocks you of your socks.
        Yep, I can cook, and yep, the basics for a super meal make Dalmatia (sorry Croatia), the place to be !
        Even a lousy cook can prepare a delicious meal here, simply because the ingredients are great !
        (And I am not even a lousy cook).
        Cheers Matt, Pim.

  5. Croatia is indeed beautiful. I might be a bit biased because I’m from there.
    I just wanted to say that, the coast is amazingly beautiful, but so is the continentla part. Zagoroj, Prigorje, Lika, Gorski Kotar – beautiful and completely different from the coast.

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