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Tailor-made Croatia: from Zagreb to Split

By The Kirker Team, 06 December 2016

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Zagreb , Split

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Croatia’s capital, Zagreb, is often overlooked by travellers seeking the more “glamourous” destinations on the Dalmatian coast and the archipelago. However, this vibrant university city – with an attractive café culture and prestigious history – is proving itself to be an eminently enjoyable city break in its own right. A great alternative to Budapest and Vienna, Zagreb consists of two predominant parts. Lower Zagreb is a fitting testament to the Hapsburg Empire with grand architecture bordered by tree-lined streets leading to tranquil neatly-tended squares with local brasseries and cafés. The Mimara Museum is of particular interest in this district – an old restored grammar school now housing a wealth of works from artists such as Rembrandt, Velasquez and Caravaggio and situated merely ten minutes’ walk from the Hotel Esplanade (5*). The Grand Dame of the city, this hotel was a former disembarkation point on the old Orient Express route from Paris to Istanbul. The spacious rooms are furnished in the same Art Nouveau style as the hotel’s façade and there is an exquisite fine dining restaurant which leads to an extensive outdoor patio terrace. The city’s iconic Neo-Gothic cathedral leads to the funicular railway (or a stiff walk for those with the energy) to Upper Zagreb. This district is the capital’s old town or Stari Grad where quiet cobbled streets lead to the 13th Century St Mark’s church with its multi-coloured roof displaying the Croatian coats of arms and The Museum of Broken Relationships, where tales of love are conveyed through objects donated from people across the world.

 

If you have more time to explore beyond the city, then two hours’ drive south of Zagreb lies one of Croatia’s real treasures. Plitvice park is the country’s largest national park and the stunning lakes attract travellers from all corners of Europe. There are sixteen beautiful, UNESCO-protected lakes, with the purest cobalt blue waters and lush green foliage adorning the pathways. It would be a great shame not to spend a night here amid the natural beauty of the park, which would allow you a full day, or two half days, to fully enjoy the scenery from the many forest walkways. I recommend a stay at Ethno Houses (4*), a friendly hotel with six rustic log cabins, all of which are nicely furnished and cosy. Opt for one of the rooms with a private jacuzzi terrace to maximise the experience. The restaurant offers hearty Croatian cuisine and there is a wellness outhouse with private pool. While here I also highly recommend booking a Kirker local guide to explain the scientific context behind the makeup of the lakes and underlying rocks. The four lower lakes are separated by gushing cascades that meander through the dividing rocks and there are sturdy beech wood walkways traversing through the lakes from one side to the other. The twelve upper lakes cover a far larger surface area and locals argue that these offer even greater natural beauty than their lower siblings. Walking trails on both sides of the lakes are easily connected by electrically powered boats and there is a panoramic tourist train that transfers visitors between main entrances to both upper and lower sections.

 

Further south, the city of Zadar has established itself as a destination of huge historical interest and boasts a desirable location on the North Dalmatian coastline next to the crystal waters of the Adriatic. Two hours’ drive from Plitvice and just under two hours from Split, this ancient Roman city provides important respite in any tailor-made holiday combining the north and south of Croatia. The old town is perched on a small peninsula looking out over the Adriatic and a stroll along the Roman built Kalelarga thoroughfare will lead you to the world famous ‘sea organ’ on the promenade. Along the way, stop at the Roman Forum to behold the 9th century St Donatus Church or admire the splendours of Venetian glasswork in the Museum of Antique Glass. The Relais & Chateaux Hotel Bastion (4*) is the most appropriate place for the discerning traveller to stop for a couple of nights. Built on the foundations of a 13th century Venetian Fortress, this boutique residence is ideally located in a quiet residential part of the antique quarter, merely five minutes from the Kalelarga. The twenty eight bedrooms are elegantly furnished and there is a charming restaurant terrace as well as a small basement spa.

 

The dramatic coastal road between Zadar and Split offers convenient stops at the North Dalmatian towns of Sibenik (one hour from Zadar) and Trogir (forty five minutes from Split), to break up your journey. Sibenik is home to an ancient cathedral with Gothic and Renaissance influences, and further afield one is able to catch the ferry to the Kornati archipelago – a group of islands formulating a unique national park. Otherwise the dramatic Krka waterfalls are only one hour’s drive away where swimmers flock to bathe in the cool waters. Hotel D-Resort (5*) is a striking contemporary building located in a private harbour area of Sibenik. Ideal for families, rooms are spacious, minimalist and comfortable. There is a panoramic restaurant with floor to ceiling windows gazing onto the super yacht marina below. A walk along the marina will lead you to the extensive spa facility and outdoor swimming pool. The old town can be reached by taxi in five minutes. Trogir is a charming UNESCO town located on its own islet. A day trip from Split is a must to take advantage of the wealth of sea food restaurants along the central Riva promenade where travellers can observe the yachts coming in and out of the harbour. A labyrinth of cobbled streets will lead you to the impressive 13th century cathedral – home to the chapel of St John, which holds over one hundred and sixty sculptures.

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