The beauty of this country not only consists of the splendour that we see, feel and taste but equally in the attractiveness of the people born there, a beauty of soul and body. But most of all, the beauty of Croatia is the one we bring back with us to share with our closest friends and to keep in our memories.
In the beginning of the 7th century, Croatians settled in the present-day Republic of Croatia. In the early Middle Ages, leading numerous defensive wars, Croatia was on the boundary of civilizations. In the 9th century its territory passed through the boundary between the Frank and Byzantine Empire, in the 11th century between the Catholic and Orthodox Church, and from the 15th to 19th centuries between Christianity and Ottoman Islamism. From the 9th to 12th centuries, Croatia was an independent and self-sufficient princedom and later a kingdom, which are witnessed by many written testimonials. Endless, armed conflicts with Venice, Byzantines and Turks, forced the Croats into closer ties with the Austrian and Hungarian dynasties which resulted in new, bigger or smaller, battles for territorial sovereignty and the restoration of independence. Croatia gained full national independence in 1990.
Numerous powerful empires and countries which governed in these parts left their visible marks on some distinct cultural heritage monuments. Cities on the coast are mostly from the Ancient Times and Middle Ages. The City of Pula with its extremely well-preserved roman amphitheatre, Arch of the Sergians and Temple of Augustus, as well as the Roman Emperor Diocletian's Palace from the 4th century in Split (later adapted into a medieval city, and today under UNESCO protection) are the biggest monuments of ancient culture on the Croatian coast.
The Basilica of Euphresias in Poreč is the most beautiful, preserved early byzantine art on the Mediterranean built in the 6th century. This mosaics of the Bishop Euphresias Basilica are comparable to those of San Vitale church in Ravenna; together these are the most significant examples of mozaic art in all of Europe. The complex of this triple nave basilica is even regarded throughout the world as an important historical monument which UNESCO declared a World Cultural Heritage in 1997.
The Romanesque Period characterizes Krk, Rab and Trogir. Trogir is the best preserved Romanesque-Gothic city in Central Europe. It's Medieval nucleus, surrounded by walls contains well preserved castles and towers along with numerous buildings and palaces from the Roman, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque periods. The most important building is Trogir's Cathedral with its portal from 1240, a masterpiece by the mastermason Radovan. It is the most significant example of Romanesque-Gothic art in Croatia.
The Renaissance characterizes Osor, Pag, Šibenik, Hvar, Korčula and Dubrovnik. The planned city of Dubrovnik built in the 13th century, is recognized by the best preserved renaissance walls and towers, famous public buildings, churches, palaces and renaissance summer homes of the nobility. All of these buildings were built during the existence of the independent Republic of Dubrovnik which paid high taxes to the Turkish Empire in order to keep its independence and undisturbed, developed thanks to trading, fishing and plans for the acquired wealth for the adorning the city. Today, the whole city is under UNESCO protection.
It is important to mention, among the remainder of cultural monuments, the large number of old Croatian chapels from the time of national rulers. Especially interesting are the stone relief which are characterized by braided ornamentation. The wooden doors of the Cathedral in Split, showing scenes from the life of Christ and made by artist Buvina in the beginning of the 13th century, are in exceptionally fine condition.
Today's contemporary art is interwoven within the historical, cultural and architectural heritage. Palaces, atriums and squares become stages in traditional festivals and international plays: Dubrovnik's Summer Festival, Pula's Film Festival, Summer in Split and Musical Evenings in Zadar and Osor, Days of Croatian Theatre...Sometimes along with live classical and techno urban music, you can come across traditional music and along with world-class trained vocalists, the local young men of the "Klapa" (a Dalmatian vocal tradition) which every town, including the smallest of seaside places, offers.
The population of the coastal region of Croatia and the islands since time immemorial have been involved in seamanship, ship-building, fishing, wine-making and olive-cultivating. From the clean seas the people still collect salt through a drying process and in ancient times it was the object of exchange for other goods. The oldest salt works are in Ston (dating from the 13th century) and today Croatia's sea salt is supplied from the island of Pag. For centuries, olives have not only been a considered as food in Croatia, but as a sign of life as well as medicine. The beautiful and long-lasting olive trees are still planted and irrigated with love so that our descendants can enjoy its fruits, whether eating them fresh or pickled, marinated in oil, and enjoy the delicacies which, without olive oil, would not be what they are.
The wild aromatic herbs of rosemary, basil and fennel are as integral to the distinctive taste of the native dishes of Istria, and of Dalmatian cooking as are the wines offered with them. Through their colour and taste, these wines are a witness to the power of the sun which, also thanks to the hard work of man and tradition, is enveloped in every drop. There are also many vineyards and grapevine and vineyards on the islands appear, from the sea, to be sliding into the water. The Croatian wine-growing tradition has carried its influence around the world thanks to the significant emigrations of people from the islands to new seas and new islands. Today the most famous wine-grower from New Zealand is Grgich (Grgič) from Brač and there are also many Croats in the Californian wine business.
Fragrant scents of the Mediterranean are suspended over Hvar's wonderful fields of lavender, whose sheaths, essential oils, aromatic creams and soaps may be purchased everywhere on the coast to take home either as a gift or simply to enjoy for oneself. In the sea, other than fish, mussels, squid and urchins, it is possible to find - thanks to the warm and clean Croatian waters - sponge and coral. Sponge-growing has for generations been a local profession of the islanders from Krapanj (although much less frequent today) and the people of Zlarina extract and process the deep-red Adriatic coral.
Seamanship and ship-building are in the blood of the local people and the example most frequently referred to is the world famous seafarer from Korcula, Marco Polo. Dubrovnik was also home to renowned ship-builders and today there exist a number of small shipyards, one of them on Rab. Fish are found in some places and, due to the rocky ground and the lack of rain, and have been the main food and sustainers of families. Fishing is carried out in all weather conditions, although nets have not often been full. The descendants of the ancient fishermen from Salije and Komiža now fish in the ocean next to the American or Chilean coasts and the remaining locals supply the fish industry in Rovinj as well as a number of restaurants...
Today, fish are caught by long-line, fish-trap and lamplight, but it is mostly for tourism and more out of pleasure than necessity. Yet a mouthful of fish that has been freshly caught by ourselves, say the local connoisseurs (and one must believe them), whether grilled or in a fish-stew, is simply exquisite... All these rich activities exist, and still develop themselves, thanks to the tourism on the Croatian coast whose 130th anniversary has long been celebrated. Aside from the hotel business, there are other developments that have evolved with the times. While the 20th century predominantly saw classical, medicinal and 'congress' tourism, in this century there is more demand for nautical, rustic and so-called 'Robinson' tourism. Here in Croatia you can find all this and a lot more. The natural beauty provides well-preserved and diverse surroundings which offer the possibility of alpine sports, hiking, rafting, diving, sailing, paragliding and more. If you are not familiar with any of these and would like to learn, there are many schools available, such as for diving or sailing. Lovers of antiques and art, or archaeology-enthusiasts can set off to discover of old coastal towns that speak their own story, such as Split, a city 1700 years old.
The people of the islands are distinguished by many virtues and are, apart from hard workers, people who know how to enjoy beauty and life. In the towns by the sea, as everywhere on the Mediterranean, life is lived on the streets - whether for merriment or argument. Here people discuss, gossip and sing. Our songs, especially the Klapa, can be heard all the time. It is sung at work or in leisure, in happiness or in sadness, for oneself or in company. For this reason it is hardly surprising that the most famous Croatian singers are predominantly from the coast and the islands. In their spare time, men, although mainly those of more mature years, still play bowling as in older days. In bowling, as well as in the sports generally, Croatian men have been very successful. Women from the coast also have their own fame and achievements. The fact that they are claimed by many to be exceptionally beautiful is confirmed by results of local and international beauty contests. We can also assume that they are equally good mothers, judging by the fact that most of our local songs, aside from speaking of the sea and love, are odes to them! Women have long been involved in a profession that has now generally been forgotten: silk and lace-making. In the Dubrovnik area, Konavle is famous for its preserved silk works which are the pride of every household. The women of Konavle breed their own silk worms, feeding them, cooking the cocoons, spinning out the silk thread and colouring it in yellow, red and black. Lace is the speciality of the island of Pag, where the women's involvement in threading lace is such an old tradition that it virtually takes on mythical undertones. Today this lace is equally precious, although not as precious as in previous times.
Croatia enjoys 5.835,5 kilometres of coast or, in terms of percentage of the entire sea, as much as 74% of the Adriatic (the others are the following: Italy 16 %, Albania 5 %, Montenegro 3.3 %, Slovenia 0.5 %, and Bosnia and Herzegovina 0.3 %). This coastline is also among the most indented in the world. The Istrian peninsula covers a surface of 3.476 square kilometres and borders on three countries: Croatia, Slovenia and small part of Italy.
From Croatia, the proximity of Italy offers the possibility of discovering the Italian side of the Adriatic. The city built on a marsh is the inevitable first choice. Venice, once the true ruler of the seas, is now a renowned Italian town located on four islands. Throughout the whole town, in which cars are forbidden, is a labyrinth of canals predominantly travelled by gondolas and vaporettos. The principal tourist attractions are: a gondola trip, feeding the pigeons on St Mark's Square, the Bridge of Sighs and the innumerable churches... Venice is the city with the most epithets. One of them is La Serenissima - 'the most serene' as it has for centuries been the synonym of the city of lovers and artists. Equally, it has been a place of writers, musicians and painters, of the magical glass from the island of Murano and the home of a renowned artistic film festival. In the days of the carnival, one can experience - as much as in Rio - a climax of partying and enjoyment before the beginning of the Easter celebrations. This week gives a full display of various types of enjoyment and endless partying.
Croatia shares the Adriatic Sea with the Republic of Slovenia, whose coast is also blessed with beautiful nature and cities of fascinating history. More precisely, the Slovenian coastline, with Koper bay and part of the Piran bay, spreads up to the mouth of the river Dragonija. Piran is the coastal town with well preserved late-medieval walls surrounding the town. The walls consist of two parallel ramparts from the 15th century (around 1475) and 16th century. Some prominent sights are Tartijev Square and, on the hillock outside the town, the complex of the county church of Sveti Jurja known as the 'Venetian house', built in the middle of the 15th century as a residence in the Venetian gothic style. From the Baroque age are derived the draw-well on the square and the 'Baroque house' from the end of the 18th century.
Exploring the Adriatic also requires examining the south and visiting the Montenegrin coast. One of the most extraordinary Adriatic gulfs, Bokokotorski (also known as the Gulf of Croatian Saints) is today the territory of Montenegro. Igalo and Herceg Novi are the most attractive tourist locations on the Montenegrin Adriatic coast. One can easily reach Igalo from all directions and by any mode of transport. Thanks to the proximity of two international airports (the Dubrovnik Čilipi airport is 26 km away and Tivat 22 km), the Adriatic road called the 'Magistral' (connecting in all directions including Dubrovnik with Mostar, Trebinje and Sarajevo), as well as with the Montenegrin capital Podgorica, Igalo is connected with Croatia, Bosnia and other parts of Europe. There is a ferry that establishes a marine connection between Italy and the ports of Dubrovnik and Bar (in Montenegro). Such a connection also exists with other Croatian islands.
Igalo and its neighbour Herceg-Novi are located in a picturesque small gulf in the south-western coast of the Bokokotorski gulf at the foot of the mountains of Orjen (1982 m). The ancient Greeks, Romans and Illyrians had their settlements in the gulf as well as in the neighbouring hills. Since that time, the big powers of Byzantium, Venice, the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires conquered and ruled this area. By walking through the streets and squares of Herceg Novi you can stroll through the history of the Mediterranean. You must see the Roman mosaics in Risan, the church of Our Lady of The Rocks, the exhibits of the church's museum and the wonderful church of Orovac built on a sheer rock face from which there is a splendid view of Kotor bay. After this, you can visit Dobrota and the old town of Kotor, 'Budva', which in summer is thriving with life, as are the towns of Bečići, Milo, Sveti Stefan and Petrovac. When visiting Bar, the town will proudly present its 2000 year old olive tree whose trunk has a girth greater of over 10 metres.
Your exploration of the Adriatic must conclude either in the north or south, depending on your place of departure. Since, when you think that you have seen everything there always remain many places, many monuments as well as people who deserve to be seen... Although the Adriatic Sea and its coast are shared by many countries, the small pockets of different cultures, habits and traditions that history has superimposed in this region creates a mosaic whose fate is one of everlasting beauty.
Croatian gastronomy, especially from the coastal region, developed in a tradition of natural, healthy food based on meals of vegetables in olive oil, seafood and fish, accompanied with wine and sheep and goats cheeses. The specificity of the local cooking is in its preparation of meals. Vegetables are cooked in a small amount of water with a seasoning of olive oil and aromatic herbs and fish is prepared by stewing, boiling or grilling. Meat, usually lamb, is roasted on a spit to get a unique taste.
The northern and southern areas of the Adriatic are characterised by differences in taste and preparation of food, meaning one can distinguish between the cuisine of Istria, Kvarner and Dalmatia.
The distinguishing feature of Istrian cooking is in its abundant use of the natural gifts of the given season, so that the Istrian gastronomic experience is different at every time of the year.
If you visit the northern Adriatic you must try Istrian 'Pršut', a ham dried in the 'Bura' wind and an original Croatian product by geographical descent. Another local dish is pork sausages grilled or cooked in wine, although the most famous Istrian dish is certainly 'Maneštra', a thick soup of vegetables and dried meat. This region also offers a wealth of fish and seafood specialities. Salty whitebait, a mollusc salad, fresh fish - grilled or cooked - and Kvarner scampi are some of the dishes enjoyed by the neighbouring Italians who often visit on weekends. Various risottos and pastas served in olive oil and with local truffles - these first-rate mushrooms which emit a wonderful aroma - and divine asparagus are only a fraction of the gastronomic wealth which must be explored here.
Traditional Istrian deserts are straightforward and modest, yet are perfect as the finishing touch of an outstanding Istrian meal. 'Fritule' (deep-fried doughnuts) are a favourite in winter and 'pinca' (sweet bread) is prepared for Easter celebrations, consisting of pastry and apples. Cooked or grilled sweet ravioli are also enjoyed in every season.
Dalmatian cooking is less aromatic and lighter than in Istria. The abundance of fresh or lightly cooked vegetables has made them the garnishing for the following diverse dishes: grilled fish, fish soup, octopus, oysters from Ston, scampi and mussels 'na buzaru' (stewed), 'pašticada' with gnocchi (also known as Dalmatian goulash), barbecued meat marinated in rosemary or the famous Pag cheese. These are some of the specialities which everyone will love. Olives are also inevitable - fresh or salted - and olive oil is one of the foundations of Dalmatian gastronomy.
A typical Dalmatian desert is a delight due to its simplicity. The most usual ingredients include Mediterranean fruit, dried figs, raisins, almonds; honey and a well-known sweet is the Dubrovnik 'rožata' (caramel pudding made from eggs) or gingerbread from the island of Hvar.
To accompany every good meal, but equally preceding or following it, you can enjoy a glass of truly excellent wine. The wine cultivated in the Croatian coastal region, as well as on the whole Mediterranean, is a product which demands hard-work, knowledge and respect. The first vineyards in the area were first established by the ancient Greeks. The wine from their colony of Issa (on the island of Vis) was considered the best wine of the ancient world. The expansion of wine-making was carried about by the Roman army when they brought seeds for grapevine and planted vineyards. The fertile earth and the abundance of sun enveloping every grape resulted in exceptional wines which were exported to every corner of the Roman Empire.
The great adventurer and seducer Giaccommo Casanova has written in his famous memoirs that he drank 'a fantastic refošk wine' in Istria. Neither the nobility, travellers nor adventurers of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy have resisted Istrian and Dalmatian wines which they have tried with delight while on their journeys in the area.
Grapevine and wine are an inextricable part of the history and the present of this rich wine-growing region of diverse landscapes, climate and earth, which gives such variety to today's wines and offers to those who try them the discovery of so many new tastes. The white Istrian Malmsey wine wonderfully complements a wide range of seafood-cuisine. 'Teran' is a dark wine of ruby colour which has been noted as having medicinal characteristics and which goes exceptionally well with meat dishes, goulashes or game. The 'Zlačani Muškat' from Istria, with an intense smell of wild carnations, is to be drunk with sweets and refined dishes as is Dalmatian 'Prošek' which, with its expressive aroma, offers to every connoisseur an intense pleasure. The renowned 'Plavac' from the island of Hvar is an inevitable choice to accompany cooking and goats cheese. Its pleasant dryness and distinctive bouquet stimulate every palate. Primošten's native wine 'Babić' is known worldwide and the wine-producing peninsula of Pelješac will offer a real wealth of wines, under the names 'Postup', 'Dingač', 'Kneževo' and 'Carsko'.
The wine trails of the Adriatic will lead you to the discovery of wine cellars and their mild wines, preserved in the traditional manner and with centuries-long traditional methods of preparation and which you can, after having tried them, bring back to your friends as a part of your truly unforgettable holiday.
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