I've spent a good chunk of my vacation in one of Europe's newest hot spots: Croatia. Being born here and having returned a dozen times, through communism and burgeoning capitalism, it's fascinating to witness the changes and recognition Croatia is receiving. So in the final few days of my vacation, I'm inspired to share with you all what I call Kristina's Croatia!
Most travel articles cover the obvious places to visit, like the island of Hvar, the beach in Bol and the walled city of Dubrovnik. While these destinations are undoubtedly beautiful and worth a look-see, there are also some other locales that deserve a visit.
Baska, Island Krk
Baska (pronounced Bash-ka) is perhaps my most favourite place on earth. We have a small, centuries-old house here that’s been in my mother’s family for generations. It’s just metres from the water and I spend most of my time sitting here under the shade of a tree in our courtyard, reading, and watching the boats bob in the harbour and people shuffle by in the hazy heat of the day. (It’s 46 degrees in the sun!)
For me, incorporating time in Baska is obligatory, but I don’t think it’s for everyone. (Baska has long been popular with German, Austrian and Italian families who descend on this small town in droves.) I think it has one of the nicest beaches in Croatia: a two-kilometre long pebble beach that fans out in a crescent shape. There isn’t that much else to do here but lie in the sun, swim, eat and sleep. And that’s alright by me.
I am perpetually amazed by Croatia’s capital. Each time I return (and this time, it’s two years in a row) there is something new: cafés, restaurants, bars and stores are popping up at lightning speed. More building façades have been restored and the city seems increasingly cleaner and more cosmopolitan. Many flights to Croatia land here and I think it’s worth the stop. Stay at the Palace Hotel, a 100-year-old hotel with refurbished rooms. The location is very central and across from a beautiful green space.
Istria is the westernmost region of Croatia, neighbouring Italy. Rovinj is a seaside town that’s been called the most picturesque spot in the whole country. I definitely agree and it rivals any Italian coastal town I’ve been to. (Yes, that includes Portofino!) We stayed at Casa Garzotto, a boutique hotel in a 15th century house in the old town. For $200 a night we got a beautiful room, the biggest I’ve ever stayed in in Europe. And I can’t say enough about the staff, who were extraordinarily helpful and pleasant. (*More on service later…)
A few other stops on most Istrian itineraries are the town of Porec and the city of Pula. I think Porec has nothing on Rovinj but Pula is worth a stop for its Roman coliseum. While it’s not as large as Rome’s, it’s much better preserved and even used as the site of concerts and movie screenings during the annual Pula film festival. (The night after we left, Elton John was scheduled to perform. It’s a two-thousand year-old amphitheatre. How cool would that be!?)
Near the much publicized island Hvar, I find Korcula Island and town a quieter alternative and definitely more picturesque. For accommodations, try the Royal Apartments in the old town. And if you’re looking for something different to eat (and trust me, after you’ve been in Croatia for a while, you will be) visit Fresh, which serves wraps, sandwiches, smoothies and drinks. It’s a refreshing change. (Though, in the interest of full disclosure, some of my friends from Vancouver own it!)
If you’re doing the entire coastline, this famous walled city is a must. Be sure to take a walk on the wall around the city for some amazing vantage points. The quality of hotels and restaurants here is becoming world-class, but be prepared to buck up. I stayed at the Excelsior Hotel just outside of the old city walls. This was a few years ago and prices have certainly gone up. But be sure to have a drink at the hotel’s piano bar for one of the most spectacular views in the country.
Three important travelers’ notes about Croatia
First, the food. It’s improving. I’ve had better meals on this trip than on any other to Croatia. That said, do not expect the menu variety you see at home. Most restaurants serve very similar things and it can get a little tiresome. But along the coast the fish is always fresh; I love the squid, done calamari style, on the grill or stuffed. Don’t miss the truffle dishes in Istria, one of the truffle capitals of Europe. And pastas, salads and pizzas are always a safe bet for finicky eaters. Don’t pass up the gelato. It was a constant on my daily menu!
Second, the service. While things are improving in this arena as well, some establishments have a ways to go. I speak Croatian and while this does help, it doesn’t guarantee good service. The allegedly “best” restaurant in Baska – Cicibella – had the worst service. Hence my note about Casa Garzotto where we stayed in Rovinj. Exemplary service really stands out.
Third, prices. Croatia is still a very affordable place to visit, especially when compared to much of Europe. In a café, a cappuccino is about $2, a beer about $3, and a pizza for one, about $9 or $10. This is in the smaller towns. Prices are much higher in bigger cities and vacation hotspots like Hvar and Dubrovnik.
Memories and Plans
If you’ve been to Croatia I’d love to hear your thoughts. And if you have any questions about an upcoming trip, let me know if I can help!