Compared to European honey-pot destinations, such as Italy, France and Spain, Croatia is one country that has been largely overlooked – until now.
When it comes to tourism, Croatia may still be finding its feet. However, I recently returned to Croatia for a week-long trip and was pleasantly surprised by my experience. Here are five things I think you need to know about Croatia – and why it needs to be at the top of your list for your next European trip.
1. They have good wine
Scrap that, excellent wine. As almost all our waiters explained to us, Croatia is very fortunate when it comes to climate and conditions that are favourable for growing grapes. With regions similar to that of Champagne, sparkling rosés are popular. It’s difficult to come by a bad drop and most waiters will always recommend the local wines – and for good reason. On the whole, the bar staff’s wine knowledge is impressive. Most of them can perfectly pair a good drop to a specific dish. We were so impressed by the region’s vino, that we named it C-rosé-tia.
2. There is nothing second-rate about the seafood
While some tourists can be a bit funny about eating seafood if it isn’t served in a five-star restaurant, there is no need for this hesitation in Croatia. The country boasts some of the freshest, tastiest and most affordable seafood you will find in the Mediterranean. Don’t leave the country without trying (multiple times) mussels with thick bread for the tomato sauce, octopus on mashed potato and chard (I think I ate this every day), seafood marinara and tuna tartare or steak. Other food highlights include the lamb chops, Caprese salad, olive oil and gelato.
3. Game of Thrones fans will love it
Now that we’ve got the important things out the way, Croatia is also heavily featured in HBO’s Game of Thrones. While I am in the one per cent who does not watch this television series, binge watchers will recognise quite a few streets and areas in the old town of Dubrovnik. I recommend that fans visit Trsteno Arboretum, the Fortress of Klis and St Dominic Monastery in Trogir. Whether you watch it or not, walking around the streets at night yelling “Shameeeeeee” is rather enjoyable, although probably not encouraged.
4. It’s not a tourist trap … yet
While it may sound surprising, Croatian tourism is only making a slow comeback from its pre-war era. Yet, despite the fact that the economy relies on it as a source of income – 19 per cent of GDP to be exact – that doesn’t mean the locals necessarily make this connection. Translated: you may not be welcomed with open arms or always receive service with a smile. However, Croatians are still finding their feet when it comes to tourism, and this ‘treatment’ is almost part of its charm and shouldn’t be taken to heart.
Our skipper (we sailed on a yacht from Dubrovnik to Split) explained a couple of imperative rules when it came to dealing with the locals.
Firstly, as the saying goes, don’t mention the war – literally.
Secondly, while tipping is not required, 10 per cent is the accepted norm and Croatians will take offence if you don’t tip. Interestingly, they will not take offence if you give them negative feedback, as this allows them the chance to sort out your issues and improve for next time.
Aside from the bedside manner of the Croats, the fact that Croatia is not yet teeming with tourists makes for a nice change when exploring this Dalmation Coast country. While Dubrovnik, Hvar and Split are all popular destinations, they still don’t feel overrun in the way Spain and Italy do during summer. Sadly, selfie sticks have somehow found their way to Croatia.
5. The underwater winery
Edivo Vina is Croatia’s first underwater winery, allowing visitors to dive with staff members to the below seabed winery. You’ll also get an up-close look at the wine-making process, as well as take a scenic swim past an old sunken boat.
Less ridiculous than it initially sounds, the wine is aged above ground for three months before being stored in clay jugs under the water for a further one to two years. The owners of Edivo Vina store wine below the water because the sea provides natural cooling. They say the perfect silence underwater also improves the quality of the wine. In addition to a cork, all bottles have two layers of rubber to ensure that salt water doesn’t seep in.
Located on the Pelješac peninsula, the experience is ideal for those who can talk underwater and really tests who will drink or swim.
If these reasons still don’t have you sold on Croatia, a few additional pros include:
- incredible national parks, such as Krka and the Unesco-listed Plitvice Lakes
- the crystal-clear waters
- 12 hours of sunshine per day
- a thriving coffee culture in Zagreb, with residents taking their caffeine as seriously as we take ours.
Have you been to Croatia? What were your takeaways from the Mediterranean’s new golden child?