Croatia: See, Feel, Enjoy

| April 5, 2013 | 0 Comments

Split is a Mediterranean city on the eastern shores of the Adriatic. A well-known song says the Roman emperor Diocletian built his palace, pictured above, in “the most beautiful part of the world, in the heart of Split.”

By Veselko Grubišić
Ambassador of Croatia

“On the last day of the Creation, God desired to crown His work, and thus created the Kornati Islands out of tears, stars and breath.”

When describing my country, I often borrow this famous quotation made by Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw when he visited the Kornati archipelago off the Dalmatian coast. One could suggest that as a Croatian ambassador, I am biased when it comes to my country’s beauty, but this is why I chose the words of Mr. Shaw to help me convince you to visit.

Pula is the largest town in the region of Istria. Visitors will be impressed by the Roman amphitheatre, the sixth largest in the world.

Less poetically, Croatia is a central European and Mediterranean country that extends from the easterly edges of the Alps in the northwest, through the Pannonian lowlands to the banks of the Danube in the east. The Dinara mountain range extends over its central region (its highest peak is 1,831 metres above sea level), while the southern region ends on the Adriatic coast. Croatia has a surface area of 56,594 square kilometres and 4.4 million inhabitants. It has no fewer than 1,244 islands, and 6,278 kilometres of coastline — surely impressive figures.
Some of you may not know Croatia’s cultural and natural heritage as well as that of some larger countries, perhaps because we only regained our statehood in 1991. Since then, Croatia has been involved in the process of Euro-Atlantic integration. My country became a NATO ally in 2009, and will be joining the EU as a full-fledged member in July 2013. The fact that it coincides with Canada Day is another big reason to celebrate together.
Croatia is becoming increasingly noteworthy, especially as an attractive tourist destination. Only last year, more than 12 million tourists visited my country, among them 60,000 Canadians. I often joke that in Canada, I have encountered only two groups of people — those who have been to Croatia and those who are eager to go.

The Old City of Dubrovnik is one of the six most important places showcasing Croatia’s cultural heritage.

My country is characterized by exceptional diversity in its cultural heritage. It boasts monuments from all periods of civilization — ancient history to recent times. There are ancient Roman and Greek monuments and medieval Christian and Renaissance monuments as well as those of the middle European baroque and modern secessionist eras.
The six most important places that showcase Croatia’s cultural heritage are: the Old City of Dubrovnik, a historic complex in Split with Diocletian’s palace, the historic town of Trogir, Euphrasius’ basilica in Poreč, the Cathedral of St. James in Šibenik and Starigradsko polje on the island of Hvar. Each is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can imagine how hard it is for me to begin with one region, or with a specific monument, so instead, I shall simply begin with the capital — Zagreb.

A solar-panelled sculpture that greets the sun and emits colours and patterns. It sits next to the sea organ, which you can hear from this vantage point.

Zagreb is a modern capital city with a preserved medieval heritage. It ranks among the oldest cities in Central Europe, a fact borne out by documents from 1079, when a diocese was established. Its old core is comprised of the medieval Gradec — today the seat of the Croatian government and parliament — and Kaptol, the seat of the archbishop. Following the administrative unification of the two entities in the 19th Century, the city experienced a surge in the construction of prestigious buildings, squares and fountains, as well as the establishment of beautiful parks that make it one of the greenest cities in Europe. Zagreb attracts visitors with its lively streets of coffee shops, restaurants and shopping. It is worth visiting at least one of its numerous museums and galleries and tasting some of its culinary specialties. Try the prized roast turkey with mlinci (boiled rolled pastry), roast lamb, roast suckling pig and boiled and baked štrukli (thinly rolled pastry, stuffed with fresh cottage cheese and cream).
From Zagreb, you can easily reach the historical region of Slavonia, in the east, known for its wide plains, oak forests, picturesque vineyards and old cellars. Slavonia has a couple of natural parks, the most famous being the Kopački rit. You must try unique culinary delicacies, such as Slavonski kulen (a spicy cured pork). Or go north of Zagreb, and in less than an hour by car, you will find yourself in the small, well-preserved Baroque town of Varaždin (Croatia’s 18th-Century capital). Don’t miss orehnjača or makovnjača (walnut loaf, or poppy seed loaf) and cheese or fruit strudel.

The cathedral in Zagreb, the largest city and capital of Croatia.

Most visitors go to the Croatian coast — to Istria, our biggest peninsula, located on the north coast, or Dalmatia, the central coastal region, or Dubrovnik in the south. You can take a short flight from the capital with Croatia Airlines to the major cities on the coast or you can easily reach the area via our new motorways. On your way to the south, don’t miss Plitvice Lakes National Park, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, blessed with the natural beauty of a string of lakes and waterfalls.
Istria is often described as Croatia’s Tuscany. It is separated from the rest of Croatia by the massive mountain, Učka. Cultural richness and heritage abound on this magical peninsula and are perhaps most apparent in the town of Rovinj. Istria’s largest town, however, is Pula, where visitors will be immediately impressed by the Roman amphitheatre, the sixth largest in the world, and also one of the best preserved. Going inland is equally breathtaking. Don’t miss the romantic hilltop town of Motovun. Truffle hunting is a must while in Istria.
Dalmatia is the largest and most famous historic region of Croatia. It is also culturally the richest part of Croatia. Here you’ll find five of the six previously mentioned UNESCO World Heritage sites. The largest city in Dalmatia is Split, the heart of the Mediterranean. From here, the main Dalmatian islands are easily reached by ferry. A well-known song says the Roman Emperor Diocletian built his palace in “the most beautiful part of the world, in the heart of Split,” and believe me, it is not far from the truth. In Zadar, where my family has a summer residence, you can enjoy the most beautiful sunsets (so said film director Alfred Hitchcock), while sitting on the sea organ, the first of its kind in the world. It produces sounds using only the power of wind and sea waves. Younger visitors will probably go to the island of Hvar, known for its superb beaches and parties. For a more quiet vacation, one can go to the island of Vis, or visit the island of Korčula, the birthplace of Marco Polo. While in Dalmatia, indulge yourself with dishes based on fish and other seafood, or meat dishes such as pašticada (a stewed beef dish) or Dalmatian prosciutto.
Dubrovnik, “the pearl of the Adriatic,” according to UNESCO, hardly needs an introduction. It is one of the most attractive and best known cities in the Mediterranean, with the preserved state of its rich heritage inside of the famous Gothic-Renaissance town walls.
For souvenirs, track down some licitarsko srce. A gingerbread biscuit made from honey pastry, dyed bright red and colourfully decorated, it is traditionally presented to one’s beloved or to a dear friend. Or you can buy a cravat. Croatia became known as the “homeland of the cravat” after the look was embraced by 17th-Century soldiers. In 1667, during the reign of Louis XIV of France, a special regiment was formed and named after Croats: the “Royal Cravates.” The new fashion attribute, worn à la Croate was adopted by the people of Paris and soon the expression became the root of the new French word, “cravate.”

Veselko Grubišić is Croatia’s ambassador to Canada. Reach him at croemb.ottawa@mvep.hr or (613) 562-7820.

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