When you move abroad, of course your friends and family will want to plan a trip to come and see you. When Bill and I have visitors, we try to plan a few days for them to visit where we live in the Netherlands and then, if possible, coordinate travel to another nearby European country. Our most recent visitors were my sister and two of Bill’s closest friends. Initially we planned to spend a few days in Amsterdam and then travel to Copenhagen and Berlin but then we realized it was the end of summer and maybe we needed to have a more beach-focused vacation. Thus we settled on the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia with stops in Dubrovnik and Split.
I say settled because Croatia is not a top travel destination for many Americans. Let’s face it, it’s barely on our radar. Okay, maybe Croatia is becoming more familiar to Americans as due to the setting and filming of Game of Thrones, not to mention a recent visit by Brad Pitt. Still, many folks of my generation may not fully appreciate the country’s history. Prior to 1990, Croatia was a part of the former Yugoslavia. In the early 90s, there was a terrible and bloody civil war between the Serbs, Croats and Bosnians which was finally put to an end in 1995. Fast forward two decades and Croatia (now a part of the EU) has settled into an independent, safe, and tourist-welcoming country.
5 REASONS TO VISIT CROATIA NOW_
1. The landscape
You know the default desktop wallpaper that everyone has used at one point or another? It’s a tropical scene with the bluest water, greenest trees and rich, golden sand? Why stare at your computer screen when you can seek out these kaleidoscopic Croatian views in the flesh. The city of Dubrovnik was particularly breathtaking with its most formidable landscape, from the mountains to the azure sea to the stone and brick work that forms the ancient city walls. If you like to swim, relax on the beach and/or explore historic sites and interesting architecture, Croatia has something for you.
2. It’s safe and clean
Probably one of the things I was struck most by when visiting Dubrovnik and Split were the spotless city centers with their polished stone walkways that shined and sparkled in the sun. Seriously, I was so fascinated by the fact that every night, they clean and polish the ground because I have never seen anything like it! In both Dubrovnik and Split, we stayed in Airbnb’s that were just a short walk to the city center. The people we encountered were welcoming and friendly and we felt completely safe walking around the city. Many locals speak a least some English and restaurants often have English menus as well.
3. It’s cheap
For a group of 5 sharing the cost of accommodations, food, drinks, and activities, this was an extremely affordable trip. Most meals cost between 15-30 USD per person (this included our endless supply of house white wine). Our AirBnb’s were modern, spacious, well-equipped and cost each person about 45 USD per night. Seriously, after reading this, did you plan your next vacation already? You will be required to obtain some Kuna, the official Croatian currency. ATMs are accessible throughout the major destinations and most restaurants and stores take credit cards. I even found that some local vendors (in places like the market) would accept Euros. Probably the biggest adjustment is keeping the coins you receive as change from the paper currency and remembering to use them!
4. Seafood, seafood, seafood
We were lucky enough to meet up with an acquaintance, who is a Croatian-American and was also visiting Dubrovnik and Split the same time as our group. His first recommendation to us — always order seafood! Some of our main staples throughout the trip were octopus salad, grilled tuna and swordfish, prawns, and cuttlefish risotto. We also dined out with sushi and oysters one night in Split. Because I try to eat healthy most of the time, sometimes on vacation I can feel overwhelmed by eating every meal out at a restaurant. Yet due to the fresh seafood, healthy options and adequate portion-sizes, I was quite happy to indulge in the Dalmatian cuisine.
5. It’s hasn’t yet been taken over by the tourist industry
Croatia expected 2016 to be one of the best ever for the tourism industry and though tourists were visible in cities like Dubrovnik and Split, there were plenty of ways to bypass the crowds for example, by staying just outside of the city walls and wandering through the small cobblestone streets to find a hidden restaurant. I also visited Venice for the first time this year, and while I was still able to appreciate the extraordinary beauty of this water-logged city, my view was clouded by a substantial body of tourists. While Croatian cities like Dubrovnik and Split remain largely uncommercialized, it also seems it is only a matter of time before their historic charm and local culture is challenged by the development of new luxury resorts, an increasing amount of tourists and Game of Thrones attractions. My advice to Americans (and really anyone) contemplating a trip to Croatia — visit now and treat yourself to a slice of paradise!