Croatia Krk

Balkan beauty

The pristine allure of Croatia’s meandering shores and rugged inland provinces are drawing visitors by the millions to experience the cultural delights of this formerly austere tourist spot. HOUSING’s Editor recently returned to her homeland for a family ‘vacay’ and explains why this bustling destination is currently all the rage.

family photo
                         HOUSING Editor Laura Valic with her husband Lawrence and son Julian.

Author

Laura Valic

Destination: Croatia 

For a small nation, Croatia punches above its weight when it comes to offering travellers sublime beaches, distinctive foods, unspoiled national parks and old towns steeped in history. In 2019 my husband and I spent three amazing weeks on the tail end of peak season exploring the country – with a toddler and my mother in tow no less! – expanding our horizons (mostly waistlines) and reconnecting with our roots.

Ask any Aussie Croatian and they’ll say September is one of the best months to visit – it’s warm and lively enough to enjoy the beach and nightlife, but not quite as overcrowded in the main cities as the summer months. Croatia has become so popular in recent years they get about five times their population in visitors – around 20 million – annually. Some of the favourite spots, such as the southern port of Dubrovnik, just about burst at the seams when cruise ships and tour buses arrive (this is Game of Thrones country for the fans out there). 

We learnt there’s so much to uncover in Croatia, so read along for some of my recommendations for this gem along the Adriatic Sea.

Cosmopolitan culture: Zagreb

Zagreb, the inland capital, is an easy starting point for international travellers thanks to an upgraded airport. We flew Emirates via Dubai and hired a car, but if you’re not keen on driving then use the bus network or domestic flights to get around. 

With strong influences of Austro-Hungarian architecture, Zagreb is dotted with smaller versions of stately buildings found in other cities like Vienna – according to my local tour guide (ahem, cousin). Many of these house art galleries, museums and theatres. But that’s not to say the city isn’t without its unique landmarks. 

We stayed in a charming apartment near Ban Jelačić Square – a central starting point for exploring the city on foot – and by wandering the stone-cobbled streets nearby we stumbled upon St Mark’s Church. The thirteenth-century building is a Zagreb icon, with an amazing emblematic coloured tile roof. This impressive sight might only be surpassed by the ornately carved Zagreb Cathedral, Neo-Gothic in style, and the tallest building in Croatia. 

For an excellent pedestrian street head to Tkalčićeva, a boulevard lined with eateries and bars. Here you can get breakfast at Otto & Frank; worth a mention given most places don’t serve meals until lunch. One evening we craved authentic cuisine and found, to our delight, Stari Fijaker, featuring traditional decor and a menu of North-Croatian staples such as goulash. We felt inundated with choices to eat out in Zagreb, and most places were very reasonably priced.

Other attractions to be found in and around the city include hiking Mt Medvednica (unfortunately, out of the question with a toddler) or the quirkier option of the Museum of Broken Relationships – an exhibition featuring personal break-up stories and artefacts. I hear it’s worth a visit though we superstitiously chose to give it a miss. 

Zagreb Cathedral Croatia
Old city walls, ZAGREB.
St Marks church Zagreb Croatia
St Marks Church, ZAGREB

Island life: Krk

Croatia is home to more than 1000 islands and one of the biggest is Krk in the north. If I didn’t have family who lived here already, I’d still add it to the itinerary. You can drive over the bridge from the mainland, catch a ferry or fly in, and there are plenty of holiday homes or camping sites once you arrive. We stayed in Linardići, a quaint village lined with dry stone walls and fruit trees, the old houses starkly contrasted with modern apartments. A small konoba (restaurant) down the road was perfect for dinner and it’s only 15 minutes from the city of Krk. 

This historical township paints a pretty picture against the harbour. Here we strolled through the old town and markets, grabbed gelato and followed the esplanade around the shoreline. More cafes and bars mean you’re frequently tempted to stop – so we did. It’s a lovely spot to go swimming or jump on the semi-submarine for a boat ride. Beachgoers also head to beautiful Baška to the south, but there are plenty of coves to explore all around the island.

 
Krk Croatia travel
The historical township of Krk paints a pretty picture against the harbour.
Image: supplied
Krk Croatia travel
Stroll the promenade around the city, take a boat cruise or go for a swim in Krk's pristine turquoise waters. 
Image: supplied

The seaside towns: Zadar, Split and beyond

The coast gets the lion’s share of Croatia’s tourism, and for good reason – much of it is World Heritage listed, the seafood is delectable and the old cities are magnetic with their historical remnants of the Roman and Byzantine Empires. 

We drove from Krk to Zadar, a smaller Dalmatian port less crowded and better priced than Split and Dubrovnik. You can satiate your hunger for traipsing stone pavements in the old town and stroll by the rounded ninth-century Church of St Donatus or walk up the Cathedral’s bell tower. We stopped for coffee at Pergola along the main promenade to people watch, and followed up this arduous activity by lounging on day beds sipping cocktails at The Garden Lounge. One of Zadar’s main attractions is the Sea Organ at the wharf, which releases harmonic sounds as the water laps the edge, and a large, solar-powered disc feet away. Known as the ‘Monument to the Sun’, it unexpectedly lights up like a disco dance floor at night, though unfortunately was out of commission when we were there. 

Zadar Monument to the Sun
Monument to the Sun, ZADAR
Zadar church Croatia
Church of St Donatus, ZADAR 

Zadar is only 45 minutes from the stunning Krka National Park, where you can swim under the waterfalls, which you can’t do at the more famous Plitvice Lakes to the north, and only an hour from Pag, an island known for its cheese and party beaches. (We went for the cheese of course.)

If you’re interested in travelling down the coast, then Split and Makarska are worth a stop in. Split is home to the remains of Diocletian’s Palace, built around 400AD. We got lost in the old town but that’s part of the fun! The harbour is impressive, lined with stalls and restaurants, but you’ll also want to find the grand statue of Gregory of Nin and his shiny gold toe, turned that way from the many hands that have rubbed it for luck over the years. 

Makarska is less than two hours from Split, majestically nestled between Mt Biokovo and the sea. It’s a lovely town in its own right but you can also catch a ferry to the island of Brač from there too. Brač is known for its local produce and stone (imported as a building material for the US White House) as well as the famous Zlatni Rat (Golden Horn), a picture-worthy beach shaped like a finger. 

No matter where you go, there are so many wonderful and unexpected finds along the coastal route or up through Croatia's central regions. We’ve certainly come away with a more profound appreciation of its history and culture, and plenty of family-filled memories that will make us smile for years to come. 

Plitvice Lakes Croatia
More than one million people visit the Plitvice Lakes National Park every year.
Krka National Park Croatia
Krka National Park
Diocletian palace Split Croatia
Diocletian's Palace, SPLIT
Makarska Croatia travel
Makarska is a lovely coastal town squeezed between the ocean and Mt Biokovo.
Image: supplied

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