Behind the overwhelming beauty of Croatia lies a tumultuous history of conquest by Greeks, Romans, Venetians, Turks and Hapsburg emperors, to name just a few. The result is a country that has ancient ruins and medieval cities set against a backdrop of sparkling seas, forests and waterfalls. The culture and cuisine are equally diverse – like pastries crammed with cherries and fish straight from the sea, sizzled in local olive oil. At the southernmost tip sits the Pearl of the Adriatic, Dubrovnik, deservedly a UNESCO World Heritage City. Perched on cliffs above the ocean, Dubrovnik’s stone walls encircle a 14th century town of towers, monasteries and gardens. Terracotta roofs glow in the sunlight while church bells chime. It would be easy to stay within Dubrovnik’s encircling walls but to do so would be to miss out on cities such as Split, which recently celebrated its 1700th birthday.
Then there are the islands: Hvar, where the air is fragrant with lavender and rosemary; Korcula, said to be Marco Polo’s birthplace; and the vineyards of Vis. Take a ferry, charter a yacht or join a cruise and explore them yourself. Venturing inland, the capital Zagreb is a rapidly developing vibrant, modern city, and gateway to the Plitvice Lakes National Park. This is Croatia’s most popular attraction, and another of the country’s UNESCO World Heritage-sites. Sixteen lakes are linked by spectacular waterfalls tumbling over travertine cliffs. The whole park, clad in dense forest, is still inhabited by bears, boar, wolves and rare birds.