“The Mediterranean As It Once Was,” “Europe’s Summer Home,” “Ethnic Battlefield,” “War-Torn Nation.” Croatia has been labeled all these things, but which identity is correct, and is the country worth visiting when there are so many exciting but less controversial destinations vying for a traveler’s time and dollars?

The answer is that Croatia is a little of each but not dominated by any, and that’s part of its allure.

Where else can you spend the night in a room on a working farm, then spend the day poking around an intact Roman amphitheater? How many places let you walk atop a massive fortification in the footsteps of a guard on the lookout for invaders from the sea, then sip martinis at midnight watching models strut down a runway in a square surrounded by churches and remnants of the Renaissance? Is there another destination where you can hike through a forest to the tempo of water rushing from falls too numerous to count, then dress for dinner on a candlelit terrace where passengers from the Orient Express once mingled during a layover?

Italians, Austrians, Hungarians, Germans, and other Europeans know Croatia as the sun-drenched land where their ancestors spent more than a century of August vacations frolicking in the sea and dining on just-caught seafood. Other foreigners know Croatia as the site of one of the most vicious wars in European history. For Croatians, the country is simply home and heritage, and they are proud of who they are, what they have endured, and who they have become.

Contemporary Croatia is a product of its history, its present, and even its future aspirations. It is a country that is embracing the challenges of the 21st century, but hasn’t forgotten its past. That’s no different from the histories of Italy, France, Germany, or any other popular destination. The difference is that Croatia’s struggles are more recent and have not yet faded to black.

My advice is to put aside labels and preconceived notions about Croatia and plan to experience the country “as is.” Seek out experiences that appeal to you as you read this book, then be prepared to be surprised, stay open to a change of plans, and don’t be afraid to pursue your own discoveries. Head for the coast and bask in the sun, but take a day to explore villages in the inland hills, too. Book a room in a slick design hotel, but carve out time to have lunch at a family-run inn in the country. You might wander a bit in Croatia, but you’ll never feel lost.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.