When the majority think of Croatia, they think of crystal clear waters in Hvar, the amazing waterfront in Split or the old town of Dubrovnik. Majority don’t know of all the hidden gems Croatia has to offer, and by gems I mean towns. If you’re looking for an adventure off the radar, or away from the mainstream there are many places that are slightly less known and incredibly amazing.
Rovinj; this town is one of my absolute favourite coastal towns of Croatia, it’s peaceful, its traditional and it has the most amazing cobblestone alley ways, ones you have seen in movies.
The atmosphere in this town is so relaxed I can feel it when I think of it. One of the plus sides of visiting places that are off the general tourist radar is the environment itself, the lack of ‘hustle bustle’ and the lack of being surrounded by people with backpacks and digital cameras. Down by the water front they have market stalls with plenty of handmade goods to buy, not to mention and amazing view of the sea whilst you’re walking through the stalls. There are great places to eat and many beautiful streets to observe.
Umag; another underrated town along the coast of Croatia.
This is a more popular destination but still has that relaxed off-the-radar feel about it. There is so much to do here from finding secluded beaches, the public pool overlooking the beach, the markets, the streets to explore and who knows, you may even come across a random chair in the water that one such as myself went through the effort to sit on just for a cool photo. This area is good for families or friends travelling as there are so many options you can never be bored here. There is also a huge lagoon where you can do water sports or just swim and relax on the pebble beaches.
Pula; known to have been mistaken for Rome due to the Colosseum-replica in the heart of the city.
I know I’ve said the past two towns have been amazing but it’s hard not to use that label, Croatia is full of amazing cities/towns/villages. I haven’t been to Pula for years but I was amazed when walking inside the Arena. They still host major events inside the arena which makes for an incredible atmosphere. The fact that such an ancient part of history can still be viewed and you can still walk around inside is a really great thing. Pula is a thriving town and I would go back in a heartbeat.
Stepping right off the path, I want to tell you about the roads less ventured, the “suburbs” as westerners would say, but in Croatia we refer to them as Villages.
Yes, villages still do exist and one village in particular called Nova-Gradiška which is where my family are from. Nova-Gradiška is the town and Cernik is the village where my Dad and my Grandfather were born. This is where all their family live and I spend a lot of my time when I travel here with all my cousins, aunties, uncles, etc. The villages are the most authentic parts of Croatia. You can go anywhere else but you won’t experience culture the way you do when you’re here. Between 1991 – 1995 there was the Croatian War of Independence against the republic of Yugoslavia controlled by the Serbian army. This war spread throughout many parts of Croatia and completely wiped out entire villages. My dad, he fought in this war when I was still in my mum’s stomach.
My cousins also experienced this terrifying time in history, every house in these villages have underground shelters / cellar / bunker style safe havens where a lot of them hid through this time. The main point to this history lesson is that still, to this day you can drive through my Dad’s village or any village in the area and see the remains or damages from where this war struck. A lot of people do not have the money to restore their homes so a lot of houses, occupied or not have grenade / bullet hole damage still visible on their walls. You can also see where buildings where entirely demolished with the over grown trees and plants have taken over.
In Cernik, there are a couple of really amazing remains from this war, the first being the massive castle situated just a two minute walk from my families houses. It’s completely engulfed in over grown poison ivy and untamed plants and trees but you can still access the drive way and walk up to the front doors. You can see the half crumbled walls around it and a few damaged areas from the war. It’s an amazing piece of Croatian history and I without fail go there every time I visit. I was also taken to an abandoned hotel just a few minutes’ drive out of town. I don’t know the story behind this hotel, but it’s absolutely amazing and also very creepy. I didn’t have the courage to walk through it but it’s fully accessible for those brave enough to snoop inside.
Zagreb; the capital of Croatia is only an hour’s drive from here so if you did want to venture away from the mainstream for a more authentic experience of Croatia you can definitely do so.
Another town worth visiting is only 45 minutes from Cernik, it’s called Slavonski Brod and is less of a village more of a town. It’s very hustle bustle and has a few large shopping centre’s. The main strip of the town has plenty of café’s on either side and if you follow the strip all the way down it takes you to a massive lake. This lake is the divide from Croatia to Bosnia and you can see the bridge where the border crossing is that separates the two countries. As there is a very popular swimming area down further on the same lake, it is absolutely forbidden to swim across to the other side of the land or the other country and you can get in a lot of trouble (best to stick to border crossing the legal way if you want to visit Bosnia).
Croatia is a very amazing Country and I consider myself very lucky to have this as my background. If you ever get the chance to visit and wander off the beaten path to the lesser known places I highly recommend it, you will not be sorry.