Jeffrey Olinghouse

Chicago, Illinois Travel Agent

Croatia Beyond the Cruise

When most travelers hear of Croatia, they think of cruising to its gorgeous port cities along the Dalmatian coast. While Dubrovnik and Split are beautiful, there is so much more to explore. My favorite itinerary starts in Zagreb, and visits the Plitvice Lakes, Split, and Dubrovnik and goes into the interior of the country and south along the coast, visiting many places not accessibly on the typical cruise trip. Along the way, you can discover the remains of Diocletian’s palace, trek through the Plitvice Lakes, learn valuable lessons in history, visit some of the best Christmas markets in the world, and enjoy quaint restaurants and cafes throughout the country. Plus, the U.S. dollar goes far thanks to a favorable exchange rate.

As with any destination I visit for the first time, I hired a private tour guide in each locale. My wife and I were quite pleased with Fortuna Tours. Each of their guides—from Zagreb to Dubrovnik—were extremely well-versed in the nation’s culture and history as well as in their city’s architecture and local spots. Equally important, they were wonderfully fluent in English, exceptionally educated, and personable, and each contributed an interesting local perspective. And while our guides would have been happy to explain Croatia’s history, we would have been embarrassed not to have a basic grasp. So before we left home, we did some reading about Tito and the formation and dissolution of Yugoslavia.

One of the most surprising places we visited was Plitvice Lakes National Park, the nation's largest park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Situated near the Bosnia and Herzegovina border, the Plitvice Lakes is a system of crystal-clear emerald and topaz lakes, cascades, and rivers covering more than 73,000 acres. A popular summer tourist destination for locals and foreigners, it is also breathtaking during the fall and winter months. The park is huge, so I was glad we booked a guided tour of the park.

We also booked a private guided transfers. In addition to safely getting us from place to place, our drivers pointed out interesting historical landmarks and provided insights into local life. Among the more sobering sights were the abandoned villages we passed, with structures still scarred by bullet holes from the Yugoslav wars. But we also drove along beautiful coastal roadways, and passed medieval towns that seemed to have jumped out of a fairy tale. And just for the fun of it, we swung briefly into Bosnia and Herzegovena, had our passports stamped at the border crossing and snapped a few photos.

We were traveling in December, which is a fun time because like most of Europe, during the holiday season, Croatian cities and towns come alive with traditional Christmas markets. The townspeople were selling local crafts, food, treats, drinks, and desserts, and as we shopped, we got to listen to live Christmas music, sung in Croatian of course. Our favorite traditional dessert were fritules, which are a bit like funnel cake, deep fried and drizzled in chocolate or sprinkled with powdered sugar.

Having experienced its gracious people, rich history, and diverse scenery, I can confidently say that this is an ideal destination for couples or families to enjoy discovering together. So be adventurous and take your journey beyond the cruise…Let me help you discover Croatia, its people, its history and its beauty!

For more blog posts, visit my website: http://jsotravel.com/blog/

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