I've been to Croatia a number of times and have really fallen for this gem of the Adriatic. Cruise ships bring hordes to Dubrovnik and other popular spots like Zadar. But the country offers so much more to explore.
Here are five reasons you need to make plans to travel to Croatia.
History Comes to Life in Zagreb
Croatia is unlike any other European destination. It offers a mix of Old World European charm, easy Mediterranean lifestyle, a stunning 3,625 miles of coastline dotted by more than 1,000 islands, islets and reefs and fascinating history, rich culture, delectable cuisine and natural beauty. Croatia features 10 UNESCO World Heritage sites and eight magnificent national parks. These are considered to be some of Europe's most well-preserved sites.
The capital city of Zagreb offers the chance to explore the nation's rich history and culture, as well as architecture that is reflective of significant periods. The bright yellow Croatian National Theatre building, built in the 1800s, is the cultural heartbeat of the city and reflects the Viennese style.
Check out the iconic neo-Gothic cathedral and St. Mark's Church from the early 13th century or the red umbrellas of the Dolac open-air market and lush greenery of its public parks and gardens. Zagreb is also a city of contrast -- old and new architecture, upper and lower towns, modern and traditional events and festivals and an emerging food scene grounded in centuries of deep traditions but with modern approaches.
A Spa Retreat in Slavonia
The Slavonia region, with rolling wine trails and the stunning Kopaki Rit Nature Park, is also home to Bizovacke Toplice, a well-known thermal bath and rehabilitation destination and spa. The healing waters are pumped from a depth of almost 2,000 meters from the remnants of the Pannonian Sea, which contains an abundance of healing minerals.
Treatments in the thermal waters have been known to help give joint relief to sports injuries and aid in rehabilitation; this has been a destination for athletes seeking a place to prepare and condition for seasons and events.
Set along the western part of the country is Istria. It's the largest peninsula and a destination that is both a feast for the eyes and palate. Explore medieval hilltop towns perched high above valleys of ancient forest, award-winning olive oil groves and beautiful vineyards.
Don't miss out on storybook Motovun, the charming artist community of Groznjan, or Livade, a destination for those seeking Croatia's illustrious white and black truffles. Coastal towns like Rovinj offer some of the country's top cuisines, best enjoyed while sipping regional wines and soaking in some of the most magnificent sunsets in the world.
For those interested in history, explore the amphitheater in Pula and other fishing villages along the coast -- like Umag, Porec and Novigra -- that were once Roman settlements. These destinations reveal a calmer Mediterranean lifestyle.
Make it a Wellness Vacation
Croatia's epicenter for wellness is the Kvarner region and the city of Opatija, which is acknowledged as the wellness oasis of the country. Opatija owns a history as a wellness center dating to 1873, when the Imperial Train was built and vacationers from Vienna and Hungary came to the region to recover from seasonal ailments. The region's history as a wellness and hospitality destination can be seen in the beautiful Austro-Hungarian architecture of luxurious hotels, wellness spas and splendid villas that dot the coastline and hillsides.
Visitors to this region are drawn by the benefits of the captivating phenomenon known as the "Kvarner Effect," which embodies all elements that are so special to Croatia. The densely wooded mountain forest of Gorski Kotar is known as the "Lungs of Croatia," and fresh crisp air, coupled with the healing effects of the northern dry bura wind have helped those with respiratory ailments. The air quality also helps those who prefer a more active lifestyle to experience the ultimate benefits of the region while enjoying various active outdoor activities from cycling, hiking, swimming, sailing, skiing and of course, yoga. Plus, the charming port city of Rijeka has been named a European City of Culture for 2020.
The Dalmatian coast has some of Europe's most sought-after destinations and dramatic coastlines, lined with vineyards, olive oil plantations, natural beauty and the crystal clear waters of the Adriatic Sea.
Evidence of Roman and Venetian influence can be seen along the coastal towns full of rich history, medieval architecture, islands, award-winning beaches, world-class diving and snorkeling, awe-inspiring sunsets and delectable cuisines and wines. Explore Zadar's two renowned art installations the Sea Organ and Sun Salutation. You can also discover Sibenik's UNESCO World Heritage sites at the Cathedral of St. James and St. Michaelâs Fortress or stroll through UNESCO-protected Trogir.
Roman Emperor Diocletian retired in Split, and you can visit his Palace along the famous Riva or take ferries to explore islands of Hvar (the country's sunniest) and Vis among others. The most-touristed site is Dubrovnik and its white marble streets, historic 16th-century battlements and scenic surroundings.
One Festive Nation
Year-round, Croatia is constantly brimming with cultural events from museums and gallery exhibitions to festivals and cultural events. Istria's Pula Film Festival, held in July, is the oldest film festival in Croatia and one of the oldest in Europe.
The country also is a cool destination for music festivals, especially during the summer. Try the Hideout Music Festival on Zrce Beach on Pag Island. In May, Split celebrates Sudamja, the centuries old celebration of Day of St. Domnius, held every year on May 7.
The biggest and most well-known summer festival, ULTRA, is held during July in Split, Hvar, Vis and Brac. Also, travelers can experience Dubrovnik's Summer Festival, which features music, theater, dance and other cultural events among the backdrop of the Old City's iconic marbled streets. During the holidays, Zagreb is the destination to get into the spirit of the season, as winner of Best European Christmas Destination for three consecutive years.
Thanks for reading,