‘Heaven on earth’ is what Bernard Shaw once wrote about Dubrovnik and, while no-one could argue with the unconcealed beauty of Croatia’s pride and joy, there’s something to be said for the slightly more ‘hidden’ gems of the Croatian coast. Try as you may, you’ll never come across a truly undiscovered nook of this incredible country’s coastline…if you’ve read about it, heard about it, or googled it, chances are so has everyone else. Croatia may be a relatively new discovery to the Anglo-Saxon traveller, but Eastern and Central Europeans have been vacationing here for over two centuries and, should you make the foolish decision to travel here in July or August, you’ll realize what we mean when we say that Croatia’s popularity is the stuff of legends!
Luckily however, the Italians, Germans and Czechs are a rather fastidious lot, and only tend to come here during the warmest months. So if you wish to have a little more elbow space, discover the splendid Croatian Coast at any other time of the year, when flights are cheaper, prices for everything are lower, locals friendlier, towns much more serene and coastal drives utterly relaxing. Book your flight into Zagreb, hire a car and delve straight into the more veiled treasures of the Croatian Coast.
If flying into Zagreb, you may be inclined to head straight to Rijeka, the closest coastal hub merely two hours’ drive south-west from the capital; yet if you were to continue just 20km west you would come across one of the most charming villages on the northern stretch of the Croatian Coast. Volosko may be a small and unassuming fishing town, but it tends to leave a rather big impression on all who stumble upon it.
Infinitely charming and delightfully quaint, Volosko is home to just a couple of hotels and B&Bs and a handful of port-side seafood restaurants, perfect for anyone who wants an authentic start to their Croatian vacation. Granted, there’s not a huge amount of activities on offer here, but it’s for precisely this reason that we urge you to come check it out! Even at its busiest, Volosko is still sleepy. A walking tour of the pretty city centre ought to take you no more than half an hour and the coastal walk west of the town will lead you to the nearby town of Opatija and gift superb seaside views to boot. Whilst the walk itself is rather stunning, the best part is leaving this infinitely popular town behind and heading back to Volosko! Grab a seat at one of the port-side restaurants, order a glass of the local red and a grilled fish platter (tuna is the local specialty here) and enjoy a superbly relaxing sunset.
Plitvice Lakes National Park
This most incredible National Park may not be exactly on the coast, but considering it takes merely an hour to reach it from Senj, it should really be included in all coastal trip itineraries. This UNESCO listed haven of forests, lakes and waterfalls is one of Croatia’s premier natural attractions, yet still gets overlooked by the millions who holiday on the country’s coast! The sheer natural beauty of Plitvice NP can barely be described in words, just be assured that there’s no photoshop on earth which could duplicate the turquoise colours of its sparkling lakes.
Plitvice is a fantastic destination if walking through pristine nature is high on your priorities’ list; the encompassing hiking trails run for miles so it’s easy to lose yourself in complete solitude even during the busier summer months. Entry fees during off-season are less than 10 Euros per person, and this includes boat rides across some of the bigger lakes. The park is brimming with local flora and fauna, and bird lovers will be kept enthralled for hours on end. This is quite possibly one of the most ecologically enriched areas of southern Europe, and a must-visit for anyone heading to Croatia.
Drive further south along the Croatian Coast and you’ll come across the gorgeous town of Zadar, about halfway between Senj and Split. Considered by many to be a mini-version of Dubrovnik, (or rather what Dubrovnik was like two decades ago), this picturesque hub boasts a brilliant historical centre chock-a-block with ancient Roman ruins and a beautifully landscaped seaside boardwalk.
The pedestrian walled-in centre is a maze of narrow alleyways and blinding white old mansions (mostly restored after the recent war) and the millennia-old Roman Forum takes absolute centre stage in a town besieged by an endless array of trendy cafes’ and local eateries. Grab a selection of delectable bureks at the corner bakery (pekara), recline back on a two-thousand-year-old column and watch the lazy crowds of locals wander by. If you’d like to see something truly extraordinary then head to the northern tip of the old town and experience Zadar’s magical ‘Sea Organ’. Should you happen to visit during the Bora season (end of winter Siberian winds), you may be astonished to hear the music from as far as the city centre itself. The Sea Organ is a complex of organ pipes interred in the pier steps which are open to the sea; as the waves come crashing in, air is pushed out of the chambers and the organ produces the most divine musical score you’ll ever hear. There are only three such experimental musical instruments in the world, and Zadar’s is said to be the best so make sure you pay it a lengthy visit, you’ll be completely mesmerized!
Volosko Port via Travelim
Plitvice Lakes via Wikitravel
Zadar via Discover Croatia