If you’ve even spent a brief amount of time exploring my site, then you will have no doubt noticed my love affair with Croatia. I’ve visited a couple of times and each visit, and every new experience, seems to be better than the last. Like any place though, there are certain things I enjoying seeing, doing and eating more than others, so I thought today I’d share my favorite experiences in Croatia – for now at least.
1. Sunset in Zadar
If you spend any amount of time in Zadar, someone will at some point tell you of a famous quote associated with the city. In May 1964, Alfred Hitchcock checked into Room 204 of the classic and now closed Hotel Zagreb on the waterfront in Zadar. The hotel’s location was one of the best in town and it was from there that the famed director opined that “The sunset of Zadar is the world’s most beautiful and incomparably better than in Key West, Florida.” This is a fact that Zadar residents have long known, but which the celebrity mention made world famous. In an effort to determine the truth of this grand statement, I climbed to the top of the St Anastasia Bell Tower in the middle of town for the best view in Zadar. Standing there watching the sun slowly fall into the sea, the colors and effect on the surrounding buildings was nothing sort of magical. Walking down the stairs to the main street that evening I thought to myself that no, Mr. Hitchcock was not embellishing when he named this one of the most amazing sunsets in the world.
2. Eating Sour Cherry Strudel
While many visitors to Croatia’s beautiful coastal regions immediately see the strong Italian influence in Croatian cuisine, the distinct culinary traditions inland are sometimes ignored. The sour cherry strudel is one of these authentically Croatian dishes that many people miss. Cherries are an important fruit in Croatia, in fact what we know as Maraschino cherry originated from how cherries are treated in Croatia, the local variant though is the Marasca cherry. Used in everything from liqueurs to desserts, cherries can be found when in season sold by the bushel in markets around the country. In Croatia one of the most popular cherry based deserts is the strudel, which I was lucky enough to see made while eating at a restaurant in the heart of the Plešivica wine region. Making this tasty pastry is an art form, passed from one generation to the next and the result is tarty perfection. You’ll find it served in a lot of restaurants, but be sure to visit eateries like Karlo for the freshly made version.
3. Hiking Through Plitvice
I am not what one would ordinarily call an outdoorsy guy, and yet I seem to constantly find myself a willing participate on hikes and other woodsy explorations. Of course, no trip to Croatia is complete without visiting what is arguably it’s greatest natural wonder, Plitvice Lakes National Park. A series of cascading lakes and waterfalls, Plitvice is massive and almost impossibly green. The brightness of the verdancy so extreme that at times I thought my sight marred in a sort of green blindness. It’s also a very busy place, with hundreds of thousands of people visiting each year and the day I visited was no exception. There was a moment though as my small group walked along a wooden walkway with a small lake to our left fed by waterfalls that I understood the magic of this place. I was enrobed in green wonderland, a place just as fantastical as Croatia’s coastal cities. But this was a natural fantasy, which of course made it even more special. The moment didn’t last long and before I knew it another school group was rushing past us, but the spirit persisted and transformed what was a nice walk in the woods to a wonderful day of exploration and wonder at nature’s beauty.
4. Kayaking around Dubrovnik
The most visited city in Croatia, Dubrovnik (in my opinion) never fails to disappoint. Sure, it can be busy at times but for me that has never detracted from the intrinsic beauty of the city – a town that seems trapped in a different era. The golden hues of the ancient stone and the astonishing views of the water and the red roofed buildings are all reasons to spend some extra time here and if you do, don’t miss the opportunity to see a different view of the city – from the water. Several companies operate kayak tours around the walled city of Dubrovnik, from a short paddle to all-day adventures. Setting out past the busy shipping lane, once I got close to the massive walls of the city I could see why no enemy ever invaded. Even though they were defensive in nature, one can’t also help but appreciate their beauty, especially on a beautiful day while you’re out getting some exercise. Little details that one would never notice inside the city suddenly become apparent from the kayak and for me, helped foster an even deeper love of the city. Plus it was just a lot of fun, so there’s that too.
5. Café Culture
Croatia enjoys my favorite aspect of European life, cafe culture. There is absolutely nothing better than enjoying a coffee, meal or glass of wine outside, under a big umbrella while talking with friends. Like their Italian neighbors, Croatians aren’t in any hurry when they sit down to chat and a simple espresso can easily turn into an hour-long conversation. They also take their coffee very seriously, and finding the right cup is a thing of pride for most locals. Espresso-based coffees are the most popular and are ubiquitous, a small cup easy to find no matter where you are. My favorite moments in Croatia all seemed to center around enjoying a hot beverage with friends at an outdoor café, talking and just watching the world walk by.
Have you been to Croatia? What would be on your list?