Practical informations

Crystal clear seas, lush islands, unspoilt fishing villages, beaches, vineyards, Roman ruins and medieval walled cities are some of the many treasures that make Croatia a traveller's paradise. Yet the birth of one of the world's newest countries was agonising. Convulsed by the simultaneous implosion of former Yugoslavia and the fall of Communism, Croatia's well-publicised strife in the early 1990s saddled it with a reputation as a war zone. Peace settled on the country in 1995, followed by rebuilding and a determined effort to regain the 10 million visitors a year who were flowing into the country in the late 1980s. Germans, Italians, Austrians and Slovenians are once again crowding the coastal resorts, especially in July and August, but even at the height of the summer rush, Croatia's forested interior and remote
islands offer plenty of chances to get away from it all.

A glance at a map will explain a large part of Croatia's appeal. With a surface area of over 56,538 sq km, the country is not large but it has a spectacular 1778km coastline on the Adriatic and 1185 offshore islands. All told, almost 6000km of coastline winds around innumerable bays and inlets, rising to steep mountainous backdrops or flattening out to shingle beaches. An abundance of natural harbours lures yachties, and naturists have a wide choice of secluded coves. There's an island for every taste, ranging from stark, sunbaked outcrops to softly contoured Shangri-las replete with meadows, lakes and forested hills.
It's easy to binge on sun and sea in Croatia but that would mean missing out on the country's rich cultural heritage. Evolving from centuries of occupation by foreign empires, Croatian culture is divided between the Latin-influenced coast and the Central European-style interior. Along the Adriatic coast, you'll find remains of palaces, temples and amphitheatres from the Roman Empire as well as forts, fishing villages and fortified towns built during the many centuries of Venetian rule. The Austro-Hungarian empire left a strong imprint on the architecture of the interior, particularly in the baroque cities that flourished in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Now that Croatia has achieved its hard-won independence, there's a new emphasis on the traditions that have kept its sense of nationhood alive throughout the era of foreign domination. Religion, in the form of the Catholic Church, has been essential to the Croatian identity and many of the recently revived folk traditions revolve around religious holidays. Carnival festivals marking the observance of Lent are becoming increasingly popular and the Holy Week that precedes Easter is celebrated with songs and processions. Many towns celebrate the feast day of their patron saint, while others commemorate historic battles. Colourful embroidered costumes, traditional music and dances and regional culinary specialities link today's Croats with their ancestors.
But Croatia is no Balkan backwater locked in a time warp. Croatians perceive themselves as part of modern Europe, not the troubled Balkans - a region they would cheerfully snip off and mail to another part of the globe if they could. Croatia's historical ties to Western Europe were maintained throughout its absorption into Yugoslavia as many Croatians worked and travelled abroad and Europeans vacationed in Croatia. Whether or not it bears any resemblance to the reality of modern Europe, Croatians model themselves after their idea of European values - good food and wine, nice clothes, vacations at the seashore, attention to the environment, preservation of historical treasures and a calm, polite demeanour.

All this adds up to a relaxed, easy-going country. Croatians are justifiably proud of the wealth of vacation opportunities they can offer - from national parks, modern beach resorts, hiking and scuba diving to museums, churches and archaeological sites. All the country lacks is the kind of clearly defined image that has turned more modest European destinations into international hot spots. No famous writer has extolled its culture, no film-makers have set car chases on its dramatic coastal cliffs, and bikini-clad movie stars are not regularly photographed on its shores. Yet the absence of a prepackaged fantasy can be liberating. Unburdened by preconceptions and expectations, a visitor to Croatia can experience the increasingly rare sense of wonder that transforms mere tourism into travel.

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