Until recently, Croatia’s tourist season ran from July through August, and belonged almost exclusively to Europeans, who clogged border crossings in their annual migration to the country’s endless coastline and clear blue sea. Finally, however, the rest of the world has discovered Croatia’s charms: its wealth of Roman ruins, medieval hilltop castles, and staggering cache of natural wonders. Even though the summer season now runs longer and the crowds are larger and more diverse, it is still possible to find a secluded pebble cove, or a family-run winery where time seems to have stood still. Every town and village has at least one restaurant where the locals hang out and where the slice of life you get with your meal is the best dessert there is. When all the big modern hotels are filled, there is always a room waiting in a private home where the landlord welcomes you like a long-lost friend.
Meander through the streets of Zagreb's medieval Gornji Grad (Upper Town) to the Lotrscak Tower to see the daily cannon fire and a sweeping view of the city. Get up early to watch the fishermen bring in the catch in Rovinj, one of the Mediterranean's last fishing ports. Listen to the gushing waterfalls as you explore the 16 terraced turquoise lakes of Plitvice Lakes National Park. Witness the enthusiastic Moreska Sword Dance at the southern gate of Korcula Town.
Eating and Drinking
Every Croatian town has at least one restaurant where locals hang out and where people watching is de rigueur. In the capital, Zagreb, seek hearty dishes like steak a la Zagreb -- veal stuffed with cheese and ham. Coastal Dalmatian dishes are Mediterranean-inspired, and rich in seafood and risotto. In Istria, wild truffles are the highlight of local menus. On the island of Pag, head to a family-run konoba for paski sir, a pungent sheep's milk cheese served with olives.
Hvar Island, known for its lavender fields, produces sachets and oil worthy of bringing home. The intricate lace from Pag Island is a centuries-old tradition: designs are handed down through generations. Conjure up a region's scent with a local brandy, made with fruit, honey, or herbs. Truffle products from Istria will ensure a rich cooking experience long after your vacation ends. Neckties, descendants of the "cravat" originated in Croatia, abound in specialty shops throughout the country.
Roam through the ruins of the ancient city of Solin (formerly known as Salona), once the administrative center of the Roman Dalmatian province during five centuries of Roman rule. In nearby Split, more than 200 buildings from Diocletian's Palace are still home to people, shops and cafes. Festivals and concerts are held at Pula's Roman amphitheatre, built from local limestone in the 1st century. Stroll atop the walls ringing the Renaissance architecture of Dubrovnik, overlooking the sparkling Adriatic Sea.