Croatia – a Whistle Stop Tour

Croatia will enthral you when you meet the warm, friendly people, its cultural-historical heritage along with its beautiful coastline.

I first visited Croatia in 2000 when it captured my heart in more than one sense. On my first trip I stopped off on the Northern Adriatic island of Cres, at the tiny village of Beli, to visit a small ecological centre called Eko-centar Caput Insulae-Beli, where volunteers from all over the world can come and help protect the local wildlife and rebuild the local environment. So taken was I with their warmth and friendliness that I also came and volunteered later that year. It was during this time that I met many Croats, who were to become good friends (including one very special person!). If you would like to visit the island of Cres and you prefer a more active vacation of hiking, climbing, cycling, boat and fishing trips and exploring its wild, untouched landscape then the Secrets of Cres agency can offer you more than just

The following year I returned and travelled the country, stopping-in to visit my new friends. First stop was the northern town of Varaždin, probably not on many tourist maps, but a perfect example of baroqueness. I arrived the day before the ‘Špancirfest’ and was lucky to be involved in the preparations. The festival of arts, crafts and music last for a week and celebrates the culture and heritage of this quaint mid-European town, everyone gets into the festival spirit, dressing up in period costumes and promenading through the streets, eating, drinking and playing music.

 After he concluded the opening ceremony and a few glasses of wine, my host showed me the inner city’s Renaissance fortress, which had recently been beautifully restored. Sitting within the original Gothic moat it provides the perfect introduction to the town’s history as each room inside had been turned into a museum with each portraying a different period, fascinating. After a great couple of days I had to leave but my friend said I must come back the following year to experience the world renown Baroque Concert Evenings that the town hosts and feature musicians from all over the world. Ok, so, next time….


Next stop was down south to the Dalmatian coastal city of Split. Travelling by bus (Croatia has a very reliable bus service) another new friend met me and showed me around. She explained to me that Spilt had gained the status of an UNESCO site of World Cultural Heritage due to the Roman Emperor, Diocletian’s palace around which the city had been built. It was amazing to imagine yourself walking alongside Romans over cobblestones and through buildings within the palace’s walls over 1,700 years ago!

More was to come when we visited the ancient city of Salona on the outskirts of Split. Here you can wander over the remains of Roman baths, villas, churches and even an amphitheatre. These areas were amongst the first to be Christianised during Roman rule. Next time I’ll need a bit further down the coast to Dubrovnik, Croatia is simply drenched in history on a par with any other part of Europe. So much to see and experience! Next time, next time, next time…..

Unfortunately with little extra time to spare I travelled back to the northern coastline of the Adriatic to the peninsula of Istria. This area is the closest part of Croatia to Italy and has a touch of Tuscany to it. Inland you can find tiny villages atop hilly outcrops, such as Motovun and Buje, and on the coast small promontory towns such as Rovinj and Umag and even a fjord cut into the land around Lim, but probably the most impressive attraction of Istria is the Roman amphitheatre at Pula. Possibly built in the first century BC it is the best preserved building of its kind in the world. An impressive structure from outside and from inside it is easy to imagine the roars of the crowd during gladiator battles. Today it is well looked after and even hosts rock and opera music concerts as well as the annual Pula International Film Festival, again more history and culture to soak up. Next time, next time, next time…..

From Istria I needed to travel east along the coast to the city of Rijeka and onto the island of Krk to the airport there. As the plane left the tarmac, I was sad to leave and vowed to return as soon as possible to experience more of Croatia and to see a very special person whom I may have mentioned earlier! More of that though next time……..!