Earlier today I signed on to update the next edition of Lonely Planet Croatia, with research scheduled for the spring. It’s always exciting to revisit the motherland and discover new things about my country. For someone born and raised there, the challenge always is how to see it from a tourist’s perspective.
That all got me thinking about how much I appreciate Croatia’s interior – the tame hills of Zagorje, the medieval hilltop towns of Istria, the rugged mountains framing the coast of Kvarner and Dalmatia, and the rolling flat lands of Slavonia. I’ve been on a mission to get visitors to leave the overcrowded coast and islands of the Adriatic and explore the countryside that remains practically untouched. That’s not easy, due to the world limit issue when I do guidebooks and the general hype surrounding the Adriatic. So to entice you to check out what Croatia has to hide beyond its beaches and seaside treasures, I thought I’d share a few photos of what awaits if you get off the beaten track.
The hills of Zagorje, just north of Zagreb, Croatia’s capital city, hide bucolic landscapes, church-topped hills, rustic taverns, natural hot springs, and medieval castles, such as Veliki Tabor pictured above. An international short film festival takes place at the castle every summer – a great time to be there.
In this photo, I was researching the area of Kvarner in the north of the Adriatic. I had been told to check out the Učka Nature Park, an hour from the port city of Rijeka. When I got there, surrounded by sheep, with stretching views of the sea in the distance, I was stunned by how untouched it all seemed – alpine meadows dotted with wildflowers, half-abandoned shepherd’s villages where you can get fresh sheep’s cheese…
In the swamplands of Kopački Rit Nature Park , located in the fertile region of Slavonia east of Zagreb, you can spot 141 species of birds – including the rare black stork – on a scenic boat tour around the series of lakes right where the Danube and the Drava rivers meet.
One of Istria’s many offbeat treasures, the town of Raša is a surreal showcase of Fascist architecture. Purpose-built to house the area’s mining community in the 1930s under Mussolini (Istria was once part of Italy), this now sleepy place still has the mining theme running through it, although the last mine was closed years ago. The town church has the shape of an upside-down wagon, with the belfry reminiscent of miners’ head lights.