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Top Destinations for 2016: Northern Croatia

17th February 2016

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Following on from our sojourn in the often-overlooked enclave of Montenegro, we’re hoping across the Balkans to its better known neighbour – Croatia.

And more specifically, Northern Croatia: a stretch of land that includes national parks, lakes and private islands where you can lap up the sun to your heart’s content. Oh, and it’s home to some of the most unique museums you’ll ever encounter. Day trip to the Museum of Broken Relationships, anyone?

Northern Croatia is split into various provinces, including Slavonia, inland and known for its food, architecture and raw beauty, and the central region which houses capital city Zagreb.  

Where to go

Your top port of call in Croatia proper - and with new flights opening from Heathrow, probably your landing location - is the country’s capital, Zagreb. With more museums than hotels, a funicular to whisk you above the speckled orange rooftops into the heart of the church-filled old town, and numerous foodie hotspots to boot, you’ll be glad you made the time to visit.

An hour and a half south of Zagreb is the UNESCO-listed (since 1979) Plitvice Lakes National Park – Croatia’s number one tourist attraction, according to the Croats themselves. Located between the capital and the coastal city of Zadar - a worthy spot in itself, but slightly too Dalmatian for our Northern Croatia guide - Plitvice does exactly as its name suggests: 16 lakes over 300 square kilometres, connected via waterfalls (the highest, the wonderfully named Veliki Slap, is 70 metres high) and wooden walkways. If you’re in doubt about whether to include it on your Northern Croatia itinerary, we direct you immediately to Google Image search.

Slavonia is much less geared towards tourists than its neighbouring northern Croatian regions, but is likely to still be worth a visit if you’ve got extra time, or are feeling particularly like you want to get off the well-trod path. The area is known for its food, and its largest city is Osijek – the fourth largest in the country.

What to do

Croatia is known for its festival culture, and this party spirit is alive and well in 2016. With events taking place on beaches and aboard boats, there’s a whole lot to recommend on Croatia’s festival circuit – our particular recommendation though would be InMusic Festival in Zagreb, which takes place between 20th and 22nd of June.  On the line-up this year? Florence + The Machine, PJ Harvey, Skunk Ananise, The Kooks and The Coral, amongst others.

If one of your top reasons to travel is to sample the local cuisine (we’re not judging – it’s ours too), you might want to tailor when you visit Croatia. Restaurant Week, when participating eateries dish out a three course meal and a glass of wine for 100 kuna (around £10), takes place throughout the country and sees hundreds of venues taking part. The next event is in Zagreb between 4th and 13th March, so if you want to take advantage you better get your skates on.

Visit the capital at Christmas and you’ll get the full extent of Croat advent. Book yourself on the Advent Foodie Tour, and a local chef will whisk you around the Dolac market whilst he/she barters for vegetables and selects the best of the day’s catch. You’ll then cook it all up at a local restaurant before consuming it alongside a specially selected wine. Our meal consisted of octopus followed by sea bass – a traditional Croat Christmas Eve dish. End your evening with a browse through the market stalls and a whiz around the ice rink in King Tomislav Square.

At any other time of the year, start your day in Croatia’s capital by grabbing some munch at one of the Time Out Zagreb-recommended breakfast hot spots – cafe/patisserie Oranz, pancake haven Bonita, Istrian restaurant (and later in the day, wine bar) Luna Rossa, or semi-secret cafe Jutro, that caters to those of us who like to sleep in by not opening its doors until 10am.

Powered by pancakes, spend the rest of the day getting lost in one of the city’s utterly unique museums – the nostalgic and unexpectedly moving Museum of Broken Relationships, a funicular ride above the city in the old town, the newly opened museums of Illusion and of Torture – both of which launched in 2015 – or one of the many other unique offerings: the Croatian Post & Telecommunications Museum and the Museum of Street Art sit alongside traditional galleries showcasing Old Masters and national history.

The city might have more museums than hotels, but stay at the Esplanade Zagreb and you’ll feel like you’re in the presence of greatness. Opened in 1925 as a stop for those heading east on the Orient Express, guests have included Elizabeth Taylor, Orson Welles, Vivien Leigh, Alfred Hitchcock and Ella Fitzgerald. In true Eastern European style, a room won’t even set you back that many kuna.

Before leaving head out of the city to Dragon’s Nest, a self-sufficient farm that welcomes its guests to feast on a limitless supply of homemade bread, cheese, meat and wine alongside a roaring fire. Nourishing isn’t enough to describe the evening you’ll have.  Yes, we’re obsessed with the food of this country – but with good reason.

Of course, we can’t end this guide without reminding you to visit the aforementioned Plitvice Lakes. If the wonder of a world heritage site national park isn’t quite enough, see if you can spot the deer, bears, boars and wolves roaming through the woodland. Go on, we dare you...

Fancy indulging your sense of wanderlust further? Check out our full list of top travel destinations for 2016 here.


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