Croatia is not just a pretty face, and by that, I mean a beautiful beach destination. Many people hear the word “Croatia” and either say “what’s that” or “oh yeah, that’s the place with the pretty beaches! Where is Croatia again?” I could also be speaking on behalf of Americans who are notorious for their poor geography skills. But I digress. If you Google image Croatia you will find beach images and sites that list coastal hotels. However, tourism has risen in Croatia and the beautiful beach destination is becoming a new hot spot for not only beach goers but also adventurers.
I have to admit—I have never been to Croatia. A typical blog consists of experiences a traveler writes about after visiting a certain location. I decided to research so I could write and learn about Croatia. I’ve only just begun my relationship with a complex and beautiful country before ever meeting it.
When tourists visit countries, they shy away from and even despise identifying with the word “tourist.” Why? Travelers want to think and look like a local. When in Rome, right? So, I figured, why not explore Croatia through the locals’ perspectives. With the help of social media and search engines, I contacted Croatian locals. I emailed wineries, oil vineyards, dairy farms, restaurant and bar owners, adventure companies, ex-pats, national park public relation offices, farmers, and more.
What I learned was very interesting and not all rainbows and butterflies.
Many of those I talked to have such different lives than me and I wish they would write books with how interesting their stories are.
Aleksranda, the sales owner of Kezele and daughter of the owner, helps run her family-owned farm that specializes in rural tourism. While the family focuses on their wine, cooking, and boarding tourists, they also offer many other activities such as hosting weddings, hiking, horseback riding, and more. While learning about her family’s business growing and adapting over the years, I picture their business now as a cozy and relaxing getaway in a quiet town tucked away in a Croatian landscape.
Dejan, the founder of Red Adventures Croatia, also started a business that is Croatian inspired. He and his partner have created an adventure company that allows travelers to experience Croatia’s beautiful landscape through relaxing and partaking in leisurely eco-tourism with local guides. This company focuses on respecting the land and truly wanting their tourists to sense the peace and beauty of Croatia.
Veselka is another innovate entrepreneur. She is the Director of CroActive Holidays and &Adventure—an adventure company hosting tours for those interested in sailing, kayaking, hiking, and more. She recently had an interview focusing on her success and adventure tourism. She says of Croatia, “we are still in the shadow of beach, sea and sun,” which is the main Croatian tourist focus. However, adventure tourism is a year round activity while the beaches are only popular during the summer. She explains in the interview, “word is slowly getting out internationally on the tremendous unfulfilled potential Croatia has in the field of adventure and activity tourism.” Veselka hopes for change in that Croatia becomes an adventure destination. The entire interview is here at http://www.total-croatia-news.com/travel/2422-the-road-less-travelled-the-rise-of-adventure-tourism-in-croatia.
In Croatia, you also have the option of castle tours, popular festivals, and zip lining!
Did you know that you could also experience dairy farm tours? Sirana Gligora is a dairy farm on the Croatian Island of Pag and is the most awarded dairy farm in the world. They are known for their specialty—Paški sir. Trying this local cheese and touring the farm is an authentic experience. And you get to eat cheese. Let me accentuate. You get to eat cheese. I’d say this tour is on my bucket list.
Before contacting these locals, I had no idea there were so many other options to partake in besides sun tanning on the Adriatic Sea.
What do the locals do for fun, you ask? A local told me they drink coffee!
“In Croatia we all go during the day to have a coffee with friends, which is equal to having a beer with friends in a bar after work in U.S, and some of us do that like it’s our full time job,” Nenad, a local, explained to me in which I laughed and completely understood.
Many other locals told me they love to hike, bike, kayak, windsurf, and walk on the beach during their days off. Sounds a lot healthier than binge watching Netflix, eh? Take note, America.
I also asked many locals what would we do in one day if he or she were my tour guide. I’m curious to experience the popular and historical site seeing as well as maintain an authentic Croatian experience.
Dejan replied with a beautiful answer of what we would do where he lives in Split. First, we would begin at the seafront promenade Riva and then explore the old Diocletian Palace. Next, we would hit up a fruit and fish market (I LOVE food so absolutely yes) followed by a coffee break overlooking the sea. Siesta time, which America sadly misses out on, is a must. After resting, a bike ride to Marjan hill to explore the beaches and climb the peak for a great view of the islands is the best way to end the day.
After Dejan told me of this hypothetical plan I began looking at plane tickets to Croatia.
Now you can catch my drift with why Croatia is not just a beach destination but also much more, right?
Another topic of interest for me is that Croatia prides itself on food. Unlike my American experience, many Croatians focus on farm-to-table, homegrown cuisine. Their diet, generally speaking but of course regions within Croatia may affect this, consists of olive oil, sea food, vegetables, and, my favorite, wine! Dejan told me that many families produce their own wine. You can just imagine me sitting here reading about food, because food is my source of motivation and happiness throughout the day, and then learning that wine is so commonly consumed and grown. My jaw dropped, I began drooling, and again I was looking for plane tickets to Croatia.
I asked the locals what made them proud to be Croatian. Many responded with similar answers while a few hesitated. An outsider must acknowledge that identity and pride in one’s country can be of grey matter due to politics, war, economy, and social issues. Croatia has a tumultuous past and many locals informed me of their dealing with corrupt government and poor politics. Having to move in and out of the country for a better life during hardship, losing loved ones in war, and not being able to find a job are all issues that plague plenty of citizens in Croatia. Identifying with one’s country while these issues transpire can be difficult. However, I did see a pattern in answers from each local and it restores faith in humanity. Each person said they were proud to be Croatian because of the people and their country’s beauty. More so, Croatia possesses a rich culture, a profound history, and generous, hard-working people.
Croatia also takes a lot of pride in their sports, as they are very successful worldwide. I mean, when leisurely activities consist of kayaking, hiking, windsurfing, and rock climbing, I can’t say that I’m not surprised! Between their healthy Mediterranean diets, geography, and active lifestyle, I can easily assume that many Croatians are naturally athletic. I also found out from locals that Croatians invented the tie, parachute, and the ballpoint pen. Other interesting facts were the Moslavina region’s wine production dates back to Roman times and the Croatian enginner Ante Šupak built one of the world’s first hydroelectric power plants, which is still preserved at the beautiful national park in Krka. I don’t know about you but I find fun facts interesting and if I were Croatian then I would surely be proud of the people.
After connecting with locals and talking to them about their jobs, personal lives, and relationship with their country, I truly feel connected to a country I have never even visited. I was greeted and talked to with such generosity. Steeped in each conversation were vigor and vehemence as well as humor and honesty. I have been welcomed to Croatia by those I talked to and have fallen for its beauty. It is like reading a book. Through personal stories and unique connections, I have painted this story of Croatia in my head. Between coffee and wine, sea-salted air and exhilarating outdoor adventures, siestas in the sun, and home-grown food, I have began a story that can only be completed when I step onto Croatian soil. And who is to know what that soil may bring? Maybe, just maybe, a more vivid and brilliant story will then begin.