All About Croatia
North Americans have finally discovered why Europeans have been flocking to Croatia since the fall of Tito and subsequent breakup of Yugoslavia: A coastline of crystalline waters strung with more than a thousand islands and postcard Adriatic fishing villages where the pace of life, traditional cultures, and low prices make feel as if you’ve gone back in time decades.
Croatia’s northern Istrian peninsula is a storybook Slavic take on Tuscany, all medieval hill towns, frescoed chapels, church bell towers, truffle hunts, farm stays, and Roman ruins in towns like Pula and Rovinj. The Istrian interior isn’t well covered by rail, but rail passes cover the bus from Rijeka to Lupoglav, where you can hook up with the line from Pula to Buzet and on into neighboring Slovenia and Italy.
The Dalmatian Coast
Your railpass also gives you a discount on ferries between Italy and the most popular Croatian islands of the Dalmatian Coast—Hvar, Brac and Korcula (which claims to be the birthplace of Marco Polo)—as well as to Split, a town whose medieval center was carved from the ancient remains of the sprawling Palace of Diocletian, the Roman emperor who split the Empire in two and ruled its eastern half from here. From Split, you can use ferries to explore the southern Croatian coast all the way down to the red roofs of Dubrovnik, the Pearl of the Adriatic and once a maritime Republic to rival Venice, to stroll its mighty city walls.
The vast majority of visitors stick near the coast, but from Split you can catch a train all the way to Zagreb, a thousand-year-old Hungarian outpost, later Hapsburg regional hub, and now capital city of modern Croatia. Zagreb is lively, if not overly lovely, with an atmospheric Upper Town and thriving contemporary art scene. Between Split and Zagreb, don’t miss Croatia’s scenic natural wonder, Plitvice Lakes, a national park of sixteen impossibly blue lakes stair-stepping down a forested travertine hillside in series of waterfalls and rapids threaded by boardwalks and hiking trails.
When to Go to Croatia: Croatia is at its best from spring through fall—though Western Europeans can crowd the coastal resort towns in high summer.