Before I get into the details of my trip to Croatia – which encompasses several cities and famous tourist locations –, I would like to start by sharing some general information about Croatia – in case some of you have only a hazy idea of its whereabouts and its history –, and a few other tidbits useful to know of if you are planning to visit.
First of all, it is an Adriatic country situated in southeastern Europe, and is bordered by Bosnia and Herzegovina on the south, Slovenia on the northwest and Hungary on the northeast. It declared its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, making it 25 years old in 2016.
Its capital city is called Zagreb, and it is located in the northern part of the country, its inconvenient location making it an unappealing tourist destination. The official name of the country is the Republic of Croatia, and the official currency is the kuna, which makes for 100 lipas. It is not part of the European Union.
Prices are generally lower in Croatia than in Western Europe; however, Croatian cities are threatening to catch up with their Western-European counterparts, especially the popular tourist destinations situated on the banks of the Adriatic.
Both hotels and apartments fill up pretty soon (long before the tourist season begins), so when it comes to making reservations for your accommodation, the sooner is definitely the better in this case. Moreover, the sooner you make reservations, the more money you will be able to save.
A propos the road networks, you will probably want to put some money aside for the toll highways as they are a bit pricey. The speed limit are sometimes ridiculously low as well, and it might drive you crazy thinking about how much faster you could get to your final destination if only it had been someone a bit more lenient who had decided upon them. Generally, Croats don’t abide by the speed limits, but since policemen are more likely to penalize foreigners for trespassing, it is better not to get on the wrong side of the law if you’re coming here to visit.
Our main destination was Lovran. This epitome of a Mediterranean town is located on the slopes of the Ucka mountains and on the banks of the Adriatic sea. It is only a relatively short driving distance away from Opatija and Pula, both of which are popular tourist destinations in the Riviera and which we have visited during our trip. It was originally a shipbuilding center that developed into a full-fledged tourist destination when the Austro-Hungarian elite of the 19th century began to slowly discover its beautiful waters and favorable climate. The spas and sanitariums the elite of the past had built continue to benefit the town to this day; in fact, tourism is the backbone of the town’s economy. Moreover, the Austro-Hungarian influence is visible in the architecture of many of the villas in the town. The highlight of the town are definitely the beaches, though there are other touristic venues such as the Church of St. John the Baptist or The Church of the Holy Trinity or the Parish of St. George (sv. Juraj in Croatian), the patron saint of Lovran.
Najade Restaurant, Lovran
It was merely by accident that we stumbled across this gem of a restaurant on the coast of the Adriatic, and it was only by sheer chance that we managed to snag a table over-looking the water; normally, due to popularity the restaurant’s favorable location grants it, you have to reserve a table at least a day in advance if you want a table over-looking the sea. The fact that Lovran has a long-standing history of tourism became evident by the hospitality with which the waiter treated us; he was funny and friendly within the limits of his job, making us feel like family members coming over for dinner. The price-value range, however, was rather disappointing. The only reason this restaurant is able to charge this much for their food is because of its location, otherwise, we found the quality of the food disappointingly average.
Hotel Draga di Lovrana
The Hotel Draga di Lovrana is not only an amazing hotel in itself, it also boasts the most spell-binding view of the entire town of Lovran; the restaurant is located 388 meters above sea level on a mountain crest. The view the hotel is famous for extends all the way from the aforementioned mountain crest to the crystal-clear waters of the Adriatic below. The hotel’s restaurant is so popular, in fact, that you have to reserve a few months ahead at least in order to be able to get a table with a good view (some people, we were told, do so half a year in advance.) We found the price value ratio rather favorable as well, as opposed to the Najade restaurant.
I would definitely recommend coming to the restaurant with a car as it is a 7,5 km uphill walk from the beach. The restaurant provides free parking space outside of it, so parking shouldn’t be an issue either.
The menu has both seafood and meat dishes to ensure that each guest will find something to his or her liking. I would recommend ordering seafood dishes, however, as in my opinion the chef is much better at preparing those.
A fun fact for me was that despite the fact that it had celebrated its 100th birthday in 2009, it had only functioned as a hotel for about roughly two decades; the restaurant burned down in 1923, and renovated – with great attention paid to preserving the original design of the place – before its reopening in 2005. For a guarantee of excellence, you may like to know that numerous members of the Austro-Hungarian elite and even Emperor Franz Joseph had stayed here. If that isn’t an indisputable proof of quality, I do not know what is.
Opatija is one of the most illustrious Croatian cities and a most popular tourist destination. Opatija, just like Lovran, has a long history of tourism. Walking through the city, you’re bound to get swept away by the parks, hotels and villas the city is teeming with.
We walked along the 12km long Lungomare Promenade connecting Lovran and Opatija, marveling in the beauty of the beaches and the sea, soaking in the sights. Walking along it, we eventually reached the Hotel Kvarner, one of the hotels where Emperor Franz Joseph used to stay at during the winter during the glory days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire; this is also where he managed the country’s affairs during the coldest part of the year from.
Another hotel that is considered to be one of the main and prettiest tourist attractions of Opatija is the Hotel Palace, right along with the long-stretching Slatina Beach in front of it. Stepping onto the aforementioned beach, I felt as though I was returning to one of my favorite vacation spots, which is Miami, Florida. I think the beach was the favorite part of my trip here.
We also saw the Marsala Tita, which is basically the wealthy district of the city. Walking along it we saw many elegant shops, hotels, restaurants and luxury villas. This part of the city is heavily reminiscent of the French Riviera, and after visiting the Marsala Tita I completely understand why Opatija is sometimes referred to as “the Adriatic Nice.”
Pula is the largest city of the Istrian Peninsula. It does have a favorable climate and beautiful sea, but its main attractions are its historic buildings that date back to the Roman occupation of the city. The city’s most important landmark is “The Arena,” which is the sixth largest of the world’s remaining amphitheaters. Other attractions include, but are not limited to The Temple of Augustus, The Forum, and The Hercules Gate. These buildings are the only things that set aside Pula from its neighboring towns and every other town situated on the Adriatic.
Plitvice Lakes National Park
The Plitvice Lakes National Park is an inarguable must-see if you’re in the area. As in, there is no excuse that justifies missing out on it! I have been to several national parks during my life, but none compare to the Plitvice Lakes National Park. It is a UNESCO world heritage site, and it boasts sixteen lakes inter-connected by a series of waterfalls in a deep woodland area. Each year, it attracts over a million tourists.
The time it took us to explore the entire park by foot was 4,5 hours, and, according to what we were told, this is the average time it takes a traveler to do so. The walk is rather tiring, so it’s advisable to bring lots of water. I would recommend you come the earliest possible, but if you come in the afternoon, definitely pack lunch as the restaurants within the park close rather early.
Afterwards, since you’re bound to be fatigued, it’s advisable to stay in one of the nearby hotels or even one within the park in order to get a good rest.
The park is open-year round; the scenery does change over the course of a year, however, its beauty only changes form and does not fade with the seasons. The best time to visit would be in spring or towards the end of summer, when the weather is still pleasant but there are considerably fewer tourists.
All in all, Croatia is an unique, unforgettable experience and its undeniable and inimitable charm makes one want to return for more. I would definitely recommend visiting any of its cities along the coast of the Adriatic or even just one of its islands, as I am positive it will leave a long-lasting positive impression on anyone who is willing to give this under-appreciated gem of a holiday spot a chance.