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Most visitors to Croatia know something about the country's stunning Adriatic coastal scenery and its sophisticated capital, Zagreb, but they know little about what lies beyond. In general, there is much less tourism chatter about Croatia's inland towns -- both close to Zagreb and farther away -- than there is about the coast, even though these inland regions are rich alternatives to the sun-and-fun culture.

Croatia away from Zagreb and the coast dances to a much less frenetic beat than its glamorous siblings. The atmosphere in the cool, green hills is more down to earth and less commercial than it is on the white-hot Adriatic beaches. Inland Croatia is where working towns and farms are juxtaposed with castles and medieval fortresses built long ago to protect the country from foreign invaders. This is where pristine homes stand adjacent to houses bullet-pocked by wounds inflicted during the 1991 war.

The northern regions of the Zagorje and Medimurje are where many of Croatia's heroes were born and where many patriots died fighting for Croatia's freedom. There, hilltop towers stand sentry as if to protect the land against harm and tiny klets stand between crop rows to provide shelter for farmers and their tools.

Towns among the rolling hills and flatlands outside Zagreb are beginning to actively court tourists as the capital spreads outward to meet fields of yellow sunflowers waving in the wind. So get out of town and take a trip to the country, where the roads less traveled will lead you to the "real" Croatia and the genuine people who live there.