You know where Italy is on the globe? Okay, I'll wait while you pull up an internet map. Got it? Yep it's the one shaped like a boot. Find Venice and follow the coastline eastward, around the Adriatic and past Slovenia. Tucked between Slovenia to the north, Bosnia and Herzegovina to the east, and Montenegro to the south is where you'll find miles of dynamic coastline, jagged mountains, and rich culture.
When I met the woman that would later become my wife, we had the typical lengthy, getting-to-know-you, conversations. I asked her once "if you could go anywhere in the world, where would you want to go?" Without hesitation she said "Croatia." I was intrigued by this answer because she had spent little time in Europe and most people would choose high-traffic tourist destinations like Paris, London, Amsterdam, Rome, etc.
I learned that her family came from that region with her Grandfather born and raised in Croatia (though it wasn't called that at the time). The region's history is riddled with conflicts dating back hundreds of years and stretching forward to Napoleon and again occurring as recently as the 1990's. Needless to say, it didn't seem like an obvious choice to me.
So a year after we were married, we saved up and went. We spent two and half weeks traversing the country. From the inland capital of Zagreb, to Dubrovnik at the very southern tip, and even Rovinj on the Istrian Peninsula we took in the sites, the culture and the remarkable history. All along the way, I had my cameras in tow. Everything seemed photo-worthy.
This was the cheapest airport to fly in and out of at the time. Since my wife's Grandfather was born in an inland village, I figured "why not see the inland portion of the country." In short, it felt like most Eastern European cities to me. It was neat, and the people were pleasant, but it wasn't terribly unique to me. We quickly moved on.
This was by far the most interesting place we visited in Croatia. Not just because it's the setting for King's Landing in "Game of Thrones." It's a walled city, build largely in to a rocky port at the base of a mountain. The whole area is navigated through a series of pathways, stairs, more stairs, and alleys. People still live within the walls of this city. It is a UNESCO world heritage site, but that didn't stop it from being nearly destroyed in the 1990's. Repairs have been underway to restore this amazing place, and it looks great. Traveling there will force you to traverse a few miles of Bosnia as well. It's weird, but not terribly difficult with a US or EU passport. While there, I highly recommend taking the gondola to the top of the hillside above the old town. There's an oudoor café up there, perfect for sipping wine and taking in the tremendous views and sunsets.
In the waters Just a few hundred yards away from Dubrovnik is the island of Lokrum. Accessible only by boat (there's a ferry for tourists that departs from the city), the island houses the ruins of a Napoleonic fort, hiking trails, and fun wildlife. Worth doing once, but I wouldn't necessarily go back if I were to find myself in Dubrovnik again.
This is a major port city and home to the retirement palace of the Roman emperor Diocletian. This was a really cool city that offered visuals similar to Dubrovnik but on a smaller scale. Unfortunately we were there right as the summer weather was turning to that of autumn and it rained. This meant I didn't use my cameras as much as I would've liked. It's a great place to stay, especially if you intend to explore any of the islands positioned off its coast and accessible via ferry, which we did. Not far from the spot pictured below is where we stayed. A gorgeous B&B called "Palace Judita." Absolutely incredible staff and amenities. They made us feel like royalty.
One of the many islands in the Adriatic is Hvar, arguably one of the most trafficked of the islands. There are only two mid-sized towns, Starigrad and Hvar. To us the island felt tropical. We stayed several days here exploring the quaint towns, beautiful waters, and epic vistas. This is the place to sit back, put your tourist wary feet up, and soak up some sun. There's not much else to do and that was the idea for us after the stairs in and around Dubrovnik.
The trek from Split to Rovinj took us from sunny beaches, over snowy and windy mountain tops, and again back to the sea on the Istrian Peninsula. While it's still a Croatian city, the Venetian influence is obvious. The old part of the town is built on a hill and it's edges sit on top of the water making parts of the city look like a set for Waterworld (terrible movie). On the very top of the hill sits a church with a typical Venetian tower. Much like Split and Dubrovnik, the city streets more closely resemble alleys and walkways but those of Rovinj are made with stones that have been worn and polished over time to behave more like ice when they get wet. Walk with care, my friends. The area is known for, among other things, truffles. The farmers market and many of the neat little shops on the way up the hill sell truffle oil. We definitely brought some back with us. At the top of the hill you'll reach the church where you can (for a small price) ascend the scariest steps ever to reach the top of the tower. The views make it worthwhile as long as you avoid being there on the hour (or half hour). The church bell can be deafening.
As a photographer based in the US, it's easy to be enamored with the everyday history Europe has to offer. That said, after having traveled through much of Europe and Asia on a number of occasions, Croatia still stands out as being among the most enjoyable, beautiful, and easy to travel destinations I've had the pleasure of visiting. With the friendly and largely English-fluent population, and the modern and efficient freeway system, there's very little effort required to enjoy the fullness of the this incredible country.
If you like seeing new things and taking pictures of them. I can't recommend Croatia enough. To see more of my photos, including more photos of Croatia and other world destinations, people, and things visit my website www.elldubphoto.com