“When you can’t change the direction of the wind, adjust your sails”
Croatia is a beautiful gem in the Balkans with plenty of small villages and cities to visit and a vast and interesting history. If you’re traveling to Croatia for the first time, this post should be a helpful starting point. My husband and I have spent a cumulative total of one month in this beautiful country, and in this post I will outline what to expect when traveling in Croatia, including driving, local economy, prices and food!
During our first trip to Croatia, we rented a car and explored various cities, and our second visit several years later, we based ourselves in Split for just under a month and worked remotely on our business. (You can read more on Why Split is One of Our Favorite Places in Croatia.) The cities we visited included: Trogir, Plitvice Lakes National Park (which was so beautiful it deserved its own blog post!), Pula, Kamenjak, Rovinj, Zagreb and Dubrovnik (read more on why Dubrovnik was not worth the hype for us in this post: Dubrovnik Has Become One Of Europe’s Most Overpriced Cities.) Most of Croatia is a UNESCO world heritage site, and the origin of Dalmatian dogs! It is also the home of Nikola Tesla, from which the electric car company derived its name.
DRIVING IN CROATIA
What is like to drive in Croatia? Like most countries in the EU, be prepared for tolls, though not nearly as many as we encountered in Italy. The roads and highways are in great condition, though sometimes Googlemaps steered us in the wrong direction because maps were not always updated with modern roads, so your best bet is to follow the signs on the road that point in the direction of your destination. We were even surprised to find some views such as this one that made us feel as though we were in rural Colorado:
Most of our drives were along the coast, so you’ll be treated to wonderful views like these:
As you wander through quaint towns on the Istrian sea, you will be surrounded by the aroma of two wonderful smells: lavender and truffles (sorry chocolate lovers, I’m not referring to the sweet ones!) Both lavender and truffles grow prolifically here, and are sold at nearly every shop and market. There are several stores where you can sample both white and black truffle spreads and olive oils, and every restaurant serves something with the delicacy integrated into the dish. Cherry tomatoes are also utilized in many dishes, and they are the sweetest, most plump, radiant red cherry tomatoes I’ve ever seen!
Croatia is known for their fresh seafood, and mussels (pictured in the cover photo of this blog post) are gorgeous! During September when we visited, seabass was the most commonly found fish on a menu.
After having spent four weeks in Italy, there’s no topping gelato! We were colossally disappointed by “home made Italian gelato” in Croatia, as it had a powdery consistency and tasted unnatural. The only good gelato we found was in a dessert joint in Zagreb called Amelie.
Fish soup is to Croatia what pelmeni is to Russia, gelato is to Italy, and saganaki or Greek Salad is to Greece. We ordered fish soup as a starter at nearly every restaurant we dined, and it was fun to taste the various preparations.
It is fairly well known that the further South you go (anywhere in the world), the saltier the food typically is in those regions because it tends to be hotter, and salt helps you retain water. However, Croatia is not particularly far South, so I’m not sure how they explain the overly salty food. We found the food to be overly salted in almost all of Croatia. The only city we found the food to be normal-tasting was in Zagreb.
Many fish soup dishes come with rice, and risotto is also a common dish, drawing culinary influences from Italy. However, we noticed that rice in Croatia is a bit undercooked and on the crunchy side. This was strange to me, especially since risotto is typically prepared as a creamy, soft dish.
Pancakes are a common dessert item in coastal cities. We’re not huge fans of pancakes, but we decided we should probably try it before we leave the country if it’s a local favorite! We tried walnut pancakes with powdered sugar topped with walnut cream, and it was surprisingly unsweet, which was completely unexpected. We found it more similar to a crepe, but with not enough flavor or sweetness to be considered a dessert. Perhaps they would be better in a different restaurant, but we wouldn’t order them again.
Sea Bass is the most common fish (at least in September when we visited). It is typically prepared with potatoes and/or vegetables and comes in a variety of cooking methods (poached, fried, grilled, etc.)
Click on each photo below to enlarge it and view the description.
GENERAL TIPS ABOUT CROATIA
Economy & Prices
Croatia’s integration into the EU back in 2013 has been slow and drawn out over the past four years. In many establishments, Euro are not accepted; they only accept their local currency which is the kuna. Prices in coastal cities tend to be highly inflated because they operate on a seasonal basis, which means that they have a certain window of time to earn all their revenue since they slow down significantly during the winter season. While Zagreb is the country’s capital (and foodie city!), prices for food are significantly cheaper and more reasonable.
Servers & English Speakers
Servers typically work summers seasonally and take time off to travel during the winter, so many are well-traveled and speak English perfectly. We found that they enjoyed sharing their opinions with us regarding politics and the problems of the local economy.
Swimming and Jellyfish
Jellyfish of the non-stinging kind clutter the shores of many swimming areas along the coast. While they are completely harmless, it feels totally freaky to swim through swarms of them. I was afraid I was killing them in my swimming path, touching their slimy consistency with every swim stroke I made. They are very fragile, and it quite literally feels like swimming through jelly. However, you only have to get past the rocky area where they like to hang out; once you’re a bit further out into the sea, you’ll be jellyfish-free!
Hopefully this provides some insight into helping you plan your trip to Croatia!