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The newly independent Croatia, with 1,110 miles of coastline exploration possible along the Adriatic Sea, is a new choice for most American travelers, proving there is more to the Mediterranean than Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal. Formerly part of Yugoslavia and staunch survivor of early 1990s occupation by the Serbs, it's sandwiched between Hungary to the north, Slovenia to the northwest, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina on the southeast. Dubrovnik in particular is an easy choice for tourism, with its pedestrian-friendly limestone streets and medieval walls. Croatia has emerged as a left-of-center hotspot for travelers and although summer is peak season, it's a less obvious choice when those other countries of similar climates are swarming with touring masses. As most American tour packagers have not added it to their arsenal of possible destinations, it can be tricky finding deals.

Picasso Tours (tel. 800/995-7997; www2.picassotours.com/pkg/si/0024/2005_2006.asp?cn=HR), which specializes in European travel, is offering a package for six days, four nights in a deal called "Dubrovnik Forever," for the city situated at the southernmost tip, from $889 per person. The rate includes round-trip airfare from New York, four nights accommodation at a hotel of your choice. It looks like a great deal if you're headed there in the fall -- the rate is good from November 1-December 15 departures. However, June still offers decent rates, starting at $1,459 for the Kompas hotel; the rates dip down again in September after peaking in July and August. There are some parameters for particular hotels; certain rates are only good for mid-week departures. For a longer tour called "Dalmatian Sunshine" (www2.picassotours.com/pkg/si/0025/2005_2006.asp?cn=HR), they are offering a nine night, 11-day trip with flights out of New York to Dubrovnik for three days; stops include Split, Plitvice Lakes, and Postojna and Bled, in the Julian Alps in Slovenia. The return flight leaves from Zagreb back to New York. The tour is similar to the Gate 1 listed below, but for those interested in more departure date options, June 9 & 23, July 7 & 21, and August 8 are all still open and start from $2,259 per person, based on double occupancy.

Paul Laifer Tours (tel. 800/346-6314; www.laifertours.com), which specializes in Europe, is running a three-city deal on Vienna, Zagreb and Dubrovnik, for 11 days, 9 nights from $1,499, if you're booking now and want to travel from Nov 1 through December 15. All these providers seem to vie for your attention with the low numbers, which reflects off-peak season pricing, but nevertheless, there are decently priced packages for summer. Laifer Tours provides four levels of accommodation luxury from which to choose: top value, best buy, superior first class, and deluxe. In each city an English-speaking guide will conduct a half-day tour and there is an option to extend the tour if desired. All prices reflect departures from New York-JFK on Austrian Airlines, and accommodations in the top value category, for travel through June 18, starts from $2,299. Other cities are available for nominal add-on cost, such as Boston for an extra $50, Chicago for an additional $105 and San Francisco for $160, all during peak season. The rates for the packages climb as the barometer does, and ultimately level off in fall. The beauty of these deals is that they're offered through April 2006, so you can literally plan ahead almost an entire year.

For those interested in guided trips to both Croatia and neighboring Slovenia, there is one available through Gate 1 Travel (tel. 800/682-3333; www.gate1travel.com) for ten days, starting at $1,649 for November travel, excluding taxes. It's a thorough tour with stops in Dubrovnik, Split, Plitvice Lakes, Bled and Zagreb, called "10 day Dalmatian Coast." The rates are based on flights out of New York, but other cities are available once you register with the site. The June 10 & 24, July 22 and August 19 trips still have space and begin at $2,279. Rates drop considerably in September and October, to $1,999. All meals, transfers, sightseeing fees, etc., are covered, including an English-speaking tour guide. The trip makes jaunts to an underground tour of Europe's largest caves in Postojna, Slovenia. This package in particular leaves room for your own explorations, so not every single minute of the tour is proscribed with activities.

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