With the days lengthening and summer beckoning us to take it easy, everyone’s mind seems to be on vacation – and seasoned traveler Kelly Haazen knows exactly where to go. Seasoned traveler Haazen states that this year’s most sought-after vacation destination shouldn’t be Venice, Paris, or the Riviera, but rather the “unsung hero” of European getaways: Croatia.
Croatia may not be anyone’s first impulse when planning a beach getaway, but Haazen explains that the small Balkan nation provides everything vacationers could desire, from the sparkling blue waters of the Adriatic Sea to the artsy, bohemian streets of the capital city, Zagreb.
Facts About Croatia
Croatia, officially known as the Republic of Croatia, is home to more than four million citizens. Crotia, which declared independence from Yugoslavia in June 1991, is nestled between Central Europe, the Balkan, and the Mediterranean Sea. It’s currently the 18th most popular tourist destination in the world, and as such the service sector is incredibly important to their economy. Currently, the country belongs to the United Nations, NATO, and the World Trade Organization; they expect full admittance into the European Union in July 2013, which should only increase the tourism drive in the country. Croatia’s economy is rapidly developing; the government has pumped money into improving infrastructure, and citizens enjoy universal healthcare as well as free quality primary and secondary education. Croatia is proud to have a literacy rate of over 98%, and while Croatian is the official language of the nation, nearly half of its citizenry also speaks English. Situated as it is between several different cultural regions, Croatia has always represented a melting pot of artistic and ethnic influences.
Kelly Haazen’s Preferred Croatian Islands
Croatia’s relatively warm climate and unpolluted marine areas are a large part of their tourist draw; Kelly Haazen fondly recalls her time spent boating amongst the islands in the Adriatic Sea. Here are a few of Haazen’s favorite island getaways from amongst the 50 islands that Croatia claims.
This tiny island is located near the cruise ship port of Korcula, but you would never know that vacationing crowds are nearby when you’re on Stupe. This almost-unnoticeable outcrop has a picture-perfect beach, snorkeling, a shack serving up fresh fish – and not much else. It’s the perfect place to get away from it all.
Istria contains several towns worth checking out while in Croatia. Vodnjan holds several beautiful churches, including St. Blaise – the final resting place of six mummified saints. Vodnjan also holds the secret to some of Istria’s best food: a little restaurant called Vodnjanka. Also on Istria is the town of Lampajina, with white rocks just destined for sunbathing and exhilarating opportunities for cliff-diving.
Hvar Town holds the unique privilege of being a completely car-free town center, providing a quiet, tranquil experience at the end of a busy island day. Don’t miss the stunning architecture, including a 16th-century fortress overlooking the old city.
There’s a town on Mijet known as Sobra that cruise participants will sail right past, giving more intrepid vacationers an ideal experience. Sobra has a beautiful private beach, and Mijet is home to a fascinating Benedictine monastery and a large saltwater lake.
Appreciating The Magic Of Zagreb
Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, is home to nearly 800,000 residents, more than three times the population of the next-largest Croatian city. With such diversity, the city is home to countless intriguing bars and restaurants. However, Kelly Haazen is quick to point out that Zagreb hosts an array of other treasures as well. With nearly a million visitors arriving every year from Austria, Germany, and Italy, the city’s allure already has international renown. Additionally, Zagreb is an important passageway from the Adriatic Sea to Central and Western Europe. More information is available for aspiring tourists at www.zagreb.usembassy.gov. While tourists and travelers are in the city, here are just a few of the can’t-miss cultural offerings:
This art-house cinema is considered by many to be one of the epicenters of Zagreb’s cultural life. It has a café in the lobby, a gift shop, and even a night club where a local film director often makes an appearance to DJ. Kino Europa hosts both the Zagreb Film Festival and the Human Rights Film Festival.
The name is a pun on books and the Croatian slang term for prison, buksa. But the cafe itself is a gathering place for Zagreb’s counter-culture. The three female writers who run the shop host plenty of readings, debates, book signings, and concerts. It’s also the venue that holds the Festival of the European Short Story.
What would a tour of any great city be without a stop in the best thrift shop? Ulicni Ormar is a friendly, cheap spot full of the best steals on anything from boots to blouses.
For those who are truly dedicated to thrifting, Zagreb also hosts two remarkable flea markets. One is on Saturday and Sunday mornings British Square, a mere five-minute walk from the city center. But the most famous is a bus ride away in Hrelic/Jakusevac, a veritable wonderland of clothes, bicycles, and covetable one-of-a-kind finds.
Croatian Natural History Museum
This museum holds a collection of Neanderthal remains widely regarded as one of the most important in the world; it has more than 250,000 specimens.
Between the joys of Zagreb, the mountains available for hiking (and skiing in the winter), and the picturesque beaches, Croatia beckons to visitors as a vacation paradise. Kelly Haazen knows that Europeans have already discovered the joys of this little gem of a country, and encourages her neighbors in the United States to take advantage of its opportunities as well.
Kelly Haazen is a seasoned international traveler who resides permanently in Connecticut with her husband (who hails from the Netherlands) and children. Croatia remains one of her favorite travel destinations.