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A Croatian road trip

One of the most cherished and time honored traditions of vacationing is the road trip. The best road trips having a starting point but no destination. One of the more multi-faceted countries to visit that boasts a wide variety of lovely landscapes to explore is Croatia. Many Europeans know about Croatia’s beauty, but few people from other continents have visited. The country seamlessly blends their Mediterranean facets that date back to the Venetian empire with their proud Slavic roots, creating a rich and diverse culture. Physically, Croatia could be described as the runner up for Miss Universe; everyone knows and adores Italy as Miss Universe, but the runner up is largely forgotten. By actually not knowing much about Croatia and having a clean slate without expectations, this mindset provides the perfect context for a road trip through Hrvatska.

A fantastic start to the road trip begins in Venice. Venice is always a must see, and it’s only a handful of hours up the coast. If you prefer to be a bit closer, fly into Trieste. When you’re done take care of the car hire where you are and start cruising down the Dalmatian Coast. Inevitably, you will slip through a sliver of coast that belongs to Slovenia, before you enter Croatia. The first city you will hit is Rijeka. Continue south and take a small detour to the interior and you will find one of the natural treasures of Croatia’s varied landscapes.

Plitvice Lakes National Park

Don’t bother doing the homework on Plitvice Lakes. Leave your preconceptions at home and go there with open and unbiased eyes. There’s no doubt you will thank yourself. The largest park in Croatia is nestled in the thick, wooded and mountainous interior, filled with towering spruce trees and firs. Once inside the park, wander aimlessly around the track that shadows the dozens of lakes that populate the area. The lakes exude serenity due to their shockingly sapphire hued waters. Each lake seems to glow supernaturally, and appears even brighter due to the contrast against the dark green backdrop. Once up close to a lake, the pristine and crystalline waters amaze, as seeing nearly to the bottom of them is no problem at all. But the showcase of the park is the impressive display of waterfalls.

Walking through the park you’re bound to see the word “slap” on many signs. You will quickly learn that this word means “waterfall” in Croatian. The many lakes that stretch throughout the park form a long series of steps, thus creating a multitude of waterfalls. Imagine nature carving long stairways out of mountains, then pouring pale electric blue water over them. Numerous cascades gently flow downward, connecting one lake to another. However, there are towering waterfalls that loudly cascade down cliff faces, dousing you with crisp, cold spray. Come with some of the local food and drink, like Slivovitz, Croatian paprika sausage and cheese to have a relaxing picnic and taste of local culture.

Jump on a Ferry, See Where it Takes You

Cruise further south down the Dalmatian coast and you will eventually arrive in Split. Split is a lovely, ancient city however the true treasures of the area lie just off the coast. Two gorgeous islands await you with arms open to paradise; Hvar and Brac. Hvar is a bit more upscale and chic than Brac. Brac beckons you with hospitality and a more genuine experience of Croatian culture. Pull up onto the ferry with your vehicle, as your car will provide you with plenty of freedom to explore the island.

Supetar town centreBrac is the largest island in Dalmatia and the third largest in the Adriatic. Supetar lays claim to largest town on the island. Supetar’s Roman roots ooze from its architecture, and with its soothing Mediterranean vibe, you won’t be surprised why people have been living here thousands of years. The local food has little to do with the cuisine of Croatia’s interior. Here you’ll likely dine on fresh fish or seafood, and can expect lots of wine and olives. The culinary experience has much more in common with Italy and Spain than with Slavic meat and potatoes. Be sure to walk around the town center and see the sun bleached church and the local market that inhabits the square nearby, where you can find local craftsman hawking their wares.

BolOf course any road trip to the Adriatic wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the beach. If you’re fortunate enough to meet a local, they can direct you to some quiet beaches near Supetar that aren’t overrun with tourists. The tranquility at these beaches is priceless as opposed to the island’s most well-known beach- Bol. Bol’s popularity reaches far beyond the island and draws sun worshippers from all around Europe. You won’t find a lot of Croatians here because of that, but it’s still a must see. The beach juts out into the Adriatic on a peninsula and provides a magical, sun soaked setting, as the light Mediterranean breezes wash away all your stress. The people here are as gorgeous as the scenery and don’t be surprised about their casual attitude towards nudity. Before you wrap up your stay on the island, be sure to make a couple more stops.

Take the time to wind your way to the top of Vidova Gora. Mt. Vid is the highest point on Brac and the tallest island point in the Adriatic. You can look down on Bol in its entirety, scan the whole of Brac from end to end, as well as scan the Dalmatian coast from left to right, that seamlessly dissipates into infinity. The vistas are breathtaking and the photo opportunities make the special trip up the mountain definitely worth it. Also take the time to go up the road from Supetar a ways and visit the town of Sutivan. Sutivan is a lovely fishing hamlet that harkens back to a simpler, easier lifestyle you might think was extinct. Tiny fishing boats bob up and down in the harbor, rosy cheeked Croatian grandmothers wander the streets and local vendors display their vibrant rainbow of fruits and vegetables in the town square. If you don’t have dinner in the harbor outside and enjoy some fresh fish or seafood with a bottle of wine, you’re missing out on the bounty of pleasures that Brac offers.

Refresh Yourself at Krka National Park

On the way back north, take the time to make a detour to Krka National Park. The Croatians call it the place “Where the river kisses the sea.” Krka stands in contrast to Brac, in that it is a forested area with a large river running through it and you suddenly don’t feel that you’re so close to the Mediterranean. The shade provided by the trees and the cool, crisp fresh waters are a welcome change from the sun drenched Adriatic islands. Enjoy a pleasantly slow ride up the river on one of the boats and drop yourself off at Skradinski buk.

Skradinski BukSkradinski buk is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Croatia, if not in the whole of Europe. The locals flock to the area and set up camp in the nearby shaded groves, so they can go out into the cool water, sunbathe and frolic with friends, significant others and children. After a lot of sun and tanning on Brac, you’ll never be happier to refresh yourself in cool fresh water and lounge on a beach towel in some much needed shade. When you’re done with your leisure time, swing by the nearby food vendors and throw back a Karlovacko or two, one of the local Croatian beers, they go great with the sausages and suckling pig. By the time you leave Krka, not only will you feel that you’ve kissed the sea, but you will also feel you Croatia has kissed your summer, leaving you wanting more.

Adam Miezio is a freelance writer and independent journalist residing in Dunedin, Florida. Born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, after receiving his master’s degree in speech and communication, he lived in Seville and Madrid, Spain for four years. A philomath, and avid writer, he’s always planning his next adventure to a new destination.

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