croatia_sm02We first visited Croatia in June of 2003. Croatia covers approximately 65,500 square kilometers of area with 31,900 of this located along the Adriatic Sea, with a population of 4.7 million people. Zagreb is the capital. There are numerous off shore islands but only a few are inhabited. The water along the coast is crystal clear and clean but don’t look for sandy beaches - only some with stones and most are just rocky shelves leading into the water.

The high coastal mountains help shield the coast from the winter winds of the north which makes for early spring and late autumn. The coast tends to be hot and dry in the summer and the warm Adriatic water never falls below 10 degrees Centigrade in the winter and has been know to reach highs of 26 degrees Centigrade in the summer.

Known locally as Hrvatska, the international identification symbol for the country (which is what you see on vehicles) is HR which was a bit confusing for us until we realized how different the name of the country was in English and other languages compared to the local spelling.

When Yugoslavia split into multiple countries in 1991 Croatia wound up with 80% of the tourists resorts. There are numerous “naturist” resorts along the coast and as a result, Croatia has become the place to go in Europe if you are a nudist.

In 1989 the end of the Yugoslav Federation drew near as repression of the Albanian majority in the Kisovo province revived old fears about Serbian hegemony. This coupled with the political changes sweeping Eastern Europe at the time led to free elections in 1990 which the communists lost and and a new Croatian constitution was enacted which changed the status of Serbs in Croatia to a national minority. In 1991 when Croatia declared independence the Serbian’s also proclaimed independence from Croatia.

Heavy fighting broke out and it was not until 1995 that things finally began to settle down and tourism is just now starting to revive. Along the coast there are reminders of earlier tourist facilities that went bust during the war. Restaurants, shops and some hotels that were thriving now sit abandoned, slowly decaying after years of neglect. Inland we saw many empty houses shot up, burned or almost roofless from artillery fire.

We spent about 2 weeks in Croatia, riding through Istria, then down the Dalmatian coast to Dubrovnik at the very southern end of the country. Coming back north, we hopped a few ferries to Split and enjoyed a half-day cruise along the coastal islands. At Split we turned inland toward Zagreb.

Overall, our impressions of Croatia are very favorable. The land and scenery are beautiful and varied. The entire time we were there the temperatures ranged from 30 to 36 Centigrade and everyone agreed it normally is not this hot this early in the year. 

The people are extremely friendly and thankfully many of them speak at least some English. The country has a lot of Italians living along the coast and both the Germans and Italians vacation there, so either of those languages will also work well. And even if we couldn’t communicate verbally, all were more than willing to help with our pointing and gesturing.

Accommodations in Croatia are comparatively expensive. Hotels and private apartments are the most expensive while private rooms are a bit less. Our tour book explained that an easy way to find a room in the large towns is to accept an offer form one of the many women at the train station advertising their rooms. While we didn’t try this tactic, we saw some interactions while in Dubrovnik: as we arrived in town, several men were on the road holding up signs for rooms. We found our own by simply stopping at an advertised room further up the road. That evening while sitting out on the terrace, we watched a tourist driving up the road, obviously looking at room signs. Soon there was was honk from behind and a local couple got out of their car and began to market their available room to the tourists. In a few moments, another man who had been advertising his room along the road came running up to the car and now the tourists had 2 sellers. The tourist man got out and walked up the road to check out a few of the houses advertising rooms. Meanwhile, the man from the car brought out his notebook and began showing pictures of his room to the tourist wife. Finally the tourist wife said, “Please, let us find one ourselves.”, at which point the sellers both backed off. However, neither seller left until the tourists had driven off (just in case they might change their mind).

Because of the fine weather, we chose to camp a lot. Camping is reasonably available along the coast, but relatively rare inland. Most of the campground are set up for motor homes and trailers so we tended to be in the minority with a tent. All of them had reasonable facilities with hot water showers (if not too many people were taking them). They all had separate sinks for washing clothing and dishes. Many had small refrigerated lockers available for rent which we found quite handy for those of us traveling without refrigerators. Almost all of them had a small market that was open from at least 7 am to 9 PM. And all of them had easy access to the beach for swimming. The big surprise for us was the pricing structure. You don’t just pay for a camping site - everything is paid for separately. Depending on the rates, this can get expensive. As an example, the bill for one of our stays was like th


Rate (in Kuna)

Day use

5.50 per person


13.60 each


19.00 each


22.50 per person


1.00 per person

Residence Tax

6.00 per person


Now while each charge is not much, it certainly can add up so we quickly learned to ask at check-in what the total would be. The first time we hadn’t done this and were surprised at all the extra charges.

The food we found to be good and not too expensive (if you shopped around for restaurants). Along the coast fish and shellfish is plentiful and very good. Although a lot of it is fried, the batter is very light and thin so it doesn’t tend to be greasy nor does it overpower the flavor of the seafood. The calamari was our favorite as it was tender and tasty with fresh lemon squeezed over it. Sometimes the entrees and side dishes needed to be ordered separately while other times they came together. We found the portions to be large as a general rule so we never left the table hungry. Fresh salads are available everywhere and fresh bread is always served (sometimes you are charged a few Kuna for it, although not always).

The supermarkets have a ready supply of fresh breads in a wide variety. Even their plain white bread is dense and moist with a good flavor. Whole wheat, multigrain and rye breads are usually available as well. Every supermarket has a meat and cheese counter where you can get as much or as little as you want. A wide variety of sausages and salamis are available and the ones we tried were quite good. While the fruit and vegetable selection in some supermarkets is not the best, most towns had an outdoor market with very fresh fruits and vegetables, much of it locally grown. We especially enjoyed the fresh peaches and cherries that were in season.

We found the roads to be in good condition and found many of them were being repaved as we traveled along. Along the coast the road got a bit bumpy at times but we understand that a rebuilding project is underway to improve the road from Split to Dubrovnik where some of the worst sections were. The drivers sometimes tended to be a bit impatient and would pass in what we would consider unsafe situations (like on a blind corner!) and we had a couple of close calls where we had to pull over to avoid being hit. Thankfully, however, we found there to be an active police presence and saw many people pulled over for either speeding or unsafe maneuvers. Hopefully more drivers will get the message and the roads will become safer. We also found the road surface to be extremely slick even when it was dry; when it became wet it could be deadly. One day Jim almost went sliding into a van before his ABS kicked in on the dry road. Later that same day we hit a small rain shower and watched in horror as a bicyclist went sliding across the highway; luckily he was not hit by oncoming traffic.


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