Plitvice Lakes National Park is a World Heritage Site. // © 2013 Thinkstock
Clients looking for a visually stunning and affordable destination in Eastern Europe should consider Croatia. With its historic architecture and delightful Mediterranean cuisine, this once-hidden Adriatic gem has become one of Europe’s hot spots. Croatia is easily navigable by car, providing clients plenty of opportunity for scenic pit stops between larger cities.
The capital city of Zagreb is a bustling hub of cafes, culture, art and cuisine. The area around Zagreb’s center is visibly war-torn, with graffiti-covered buildings serving as stark reminders of the relatively recent political turmoil that freed Croatia from Yugoslavian Socialist rule. The uneasy combination of Socialist structures and beautiful Austro-Hungarian architecture nonetheless reveals a city steeped in rich history and culture.
The major city of Zadar is a three-hour drive southwest of Zagreb. A key transport hub with superb ferry connections to Croatia’s Adriatic islands, Zadar is home to beautiful Roman architecture, quality restaurants and the unique Sea Organ and Sun Salutation attractions.
The Sea Organ, designed by local architect Nikola Basic, is an organ powered by the ocean’s waves. It produces whistles and hypnotic notes that increase in volume when boats and ferries pass by. The Sun Salutation, located next to the Sea Organ, is another fantastic and bizarre invention by Basic. This giant circle cut into the pavement is filled with 300 multicolored glass plates, and sunlight streaming through the plates produces a disco-like light show underneath your feet.
About a two-hour drive south of Zadar is Plitvice Lakes National Park. Plitvice lies roughly midway between Zagreb and Zadar and was proclaimed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Plitvice’s stunning scenery cannot be missed. Forested hills enclose turquoise lakes that change hues depending on the rainfall, the organisms and minerals in the water and the angle of sunlight. The lakes — linked by waterfalls, wooden footbridges and pathways — can be observed via a damp, yet exhilarating, 11.2-mile hike.
Another scenic 2½-hour drive along the coast brings visitors to Split. Probably the most action-packed and diverse area of Croatia, Split features pretty islands, quiet ports, rugged mountains, castles and more.
Diocletian’s Palace, at the city’s center, is built from white stone from the island of Brac, marble from Italy and Greece and columns and sphinxes from Egypt. This imposing Roman ruin is more of a labyrinth than a castle, comprised of passageways and courtyards filled with cafes and shops.
About four hours south from Split is the city of Dubrovnik. The city’s remarkable baroque old town, hemmed in by city walls, was built between the 13th and 16th centuries and remains the city’s main highlight. The old town’s elegant marble streets, high city walls and forts ensconce visitors in the destination’s deep and tumultuous history. The thick walls that enclose the city were built as a defense from Turkish attacks in the 15th century and are often a highlight of the trip. They can only be walked clockwise from Pile or Ploce Gate.
Clients can also take in city views from mountain trails on the idyllic Peljesac Peninsula, or travel by boat to various islands, including the Elafiti Islands, Lokrum Island and the seductive Mljet Island.
Most visitors to Croatia may only see Dubrovnik, but a road trip will reward those who take a bit more time with the opportunity to experience more of the country.