With its sublime stretch of Adriatic coast, Croatia has long been regarded as one of the most beautiful parts of Europe. Despite the tragedy of war, its charms remain largely intact; most of the tourist areas have been lovingly recreated. However, reminders of the country's painful history abound.
The aura of medieval Croatia endures in the cobbled streets of Rovinj and the recently restored other-worldliness of Dubrovnik's Stari Grad. The country is also home to some of Europe's finest Roman ruins, including the immense palace of Diocletian in Split.
Pre-1991 Croatia (then part of Yugoslavia) was shaping up as the new Costa del Sol. Planeloads of tourists - 10 million a year - were hitting the Adriatic shores in search of sun, cheap living, medieval quaintness and perhaps a spot of naturism. But with Croatia's push for independence during the violent break-up of Yugoslavia, war inevitably soured the tourism boom. However, European holidayers are being lured back by its irresistible coastline and cruisy Croatian charm.
Some remote areas of Croatia, even though safe and welcoming, remain uncleared of landmines. These include the Danube region in eastern Slavonia and Krajina. It is unwise to stray into fields or abandoned villages.
Full country name: Republic of Croatia
Area: 56,542 sq km
Population: 4.42 million
Capital City: Zagreb (pop: 777,000)
People: Croatian (78%), Serbian (12%), Slavic Muslim (Bosniac), Hungarian, Slovenian, Italian
Language: Croatian, Serbian, Italian, Slovenian, Hungarian
Religion: Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Islam
Government: presidential/parliamentary democracy
Head of State: President Stipe Mesic
Head of Government: Prime Minister Ivo Sanader
GDP: US$43.12 billion
GDP per capita: US$9,800
Annual Growth: 3.7%
Major Industries: Steel, cement, chemicals, fertilisers, textiles
Major Trading Partners: EU (esp. Germany, Italy), Slovenia
Member of EU: No
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Visas: Citizens of Australia, Canada, Ireland, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, the UK, the USA and most continental European countries can enter Croatia for stays of up to 90 days without a visa. However, visitors must hold a return/onward ticket, all documents required for their next destination and sufficient funds.
Time Zone: GMT/UTC +1 (Central European Time)
Dialling Code: 385
Electricity: 220-240V ,50Hz
Weights & measures: Metric
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From 21 March to 4 April, Zagreb snaps its fingers and nods knowingly to the groovy toons of Spring Time Jazz Fever. For still more improv, try Zagreb's International Days of Jazz in mid-October. It's worth checking out spotty pop Dalmatian-style at the Split Summer Festival, which goes from mid-July to mid-August, and Zagreb's Summer Festival, from early July to mid-August, where you can hear classical works by Croatian composers. Dubrovnik's Summer Festival, held in July and August, showcases the country's dramatic and classical music stars. In July and August, Omis throws its tambura out the window for a festival of acapella vocal music.
Zagreb hosts an International Festival of Animation and an International Folklore Festival in July, as well as EUROKAZ, a European theatre festival held in June. In Sibenik, the International Child's Festival is held in the first week of July.
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Currency: Croatian kuna
The government deliberately overvalues the kuna to obtain cheap foreign currency. Hotel prices are quoted in euros and thus are fairly constant, though you actually pay in Croatian kuna calculated at the daily official rate. Budget accommodation is in short supply but transport, food, and concert and theatre tickets are reasonably priced. It's not that hard to travel around Croatia on US$35 a day if you stay in hostels or private rooms - even less if you camp. Double that if you want to travel in comfort and triple it if you want to indulge in a little luxury.
There are numerous places to change money, all offering similar rates. Exchange offices charge commission but some banks do not. Banks are the only place you can change kuna back into hard currency. You can get a cash advance on your credit card at banks throughout the country, though Visa credit cards are not accepted by all banks.
If you're served well at a restaurant, round up the bill unless a service charge has already been added. Bar bills and taxi fares should also be rounded up. Tour guides also expect to be tipped.
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Zagreb, the capital since 1557, is finally coming into its own as an intriguing combination of Eastern and Western Europe. The sober Austro-Hungarian architecture in the town centre houses newly opened boutiques displaying the latest fashions from France and Italy.
The twin neo-Gothic spires of the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (formerly St Stephen's Cathedral) were built in 1899, but you can still see elements of the medieval cathedral that was once on this site. Particularly interesting are the 13th century frescos, Renaissance pews, marble altars and a baroque pulpit. North-west of the city centre, climb the Lotrscak Tower for a sweeping 360° view of the city, or visit the Galerija Klovicevi Dvori, which hosts superb art shows. Also in the area is St Mark's Church, with its colourful painted-tile roof and sculptures by Ivan Mestrovic, and the Natural History Museum, Historical Museum of Croatia and the City Museum, housed in a former convent.
In the Lower Town you can wear down your shoes and your attention span at a whole host of museums, although many remain closed, some for 'reinterpretation'. The Art Pavilion hosts temporary contemporary art exhibitions, the Strossmayer Gallery features paintings by the old masters and an ancient inscription in Croatian. The Archaeological Museum, like its contemporaries around the world, has exhibitions of prehistoric and medieval artefacts and Egyptian mummies. Out the back there's a Roman sculpture garden.
Before you get a gutful of museums, head to the west of the city where you'll find the Museum Mimara. This is one of the finest art galleries in Europe. Housed in a neo-Renaissance building, the gallery is the private collection of Ante Topic Mimara, who donated thousands of priceless objects to his home town. The Spanish, Italian and Dutch paintings are the highlight, but there are also displays of glassware, sculpture and Oriental art. The other real highlight of Zagreb is Mirogoj, one of the most beautiful cemeteries in Europe - it's in the north of the city. There are some gorgeous mausoleums here, and the English-style landscaping is enclosed by a long 19th century neo-Renaissance arcade.
Dubrovnik's appeal lies in the old town of Stari Grad, with its marble-paved squares, steep cobbled streets, tall houses, convents, churches, palaces, fountains and museums, all cut from the same light-coloured stone. Although Dubrovnik was heavily shelled in 1991 and '92, it has been largely restored.
Dubrovnik's city walls were built between the 13th and 16th centuries, and are still intact today. Arguably the finest city walls in the world, they are 25m (82ft) high, with 16 towers. You can't beat the view, and a walk along the walls will probably be the highlight of your visit to Dubrovnik.
Relaxed Rovinj is a picturesque town of cobbled streets on the coast of Istria, a heart-shaped peninsula in Croatia's northwest which borders Slovenia. Wooded hills punctuated by low-rise hotels surround the town, while the 13 green islands of the Rovinj archipelago provide perfect sea vistas.
The largest baroque building in Istria, the 57m (187ft) high Cathedral of St Euphemia, dominates the town. Built when Rovinj was the bulwark of the Venetian fleet, the saint's remains were brought here from Constantinople in 800 AD, and on 16 September every year devotees congregate at her tomb.
Split is the heart of the province of Dalmatia. Located 150km (95mi) north of Dubrovnik, it's the largest Croatian city on the Adriatic coast. It became a popular retirement destination in the 4th century for Roman Emperors such as Diocletian who had run out of Christians to feed to his lions.
When the nearby Roman colony of Salona was abandoned to the barbarian hordes, many of its inhabitants fled to Split, enjoying the safety of its high palace walls. Now an industrial city, the old town, the air of exuberance and some great sights make this one of the most fascinating cities in Europe.
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