Sometimes regarded as the dark horse of the competition, Croatia have become a regular feature at international tournaments.
Donning their unmistakable red and white chequered shirts, Vatreni (translated as The Blazers) have ruffled a few feathers on the big stage in recent years. From Mladen Petric scoring in the Wembley rain to prevent England from reaching Euro 2008 to Davor Šuker’s majestic chip against Denmark at Euro 96 to upsetting the apple cart to finish third at World Cup 1998, the Balkan nation can always have a surprise up their sleeve.
As manager Ante Čačić prepares the class of 2016 to take on Spain, Turkey and the Czech Republic, we’re going to take a look at their homeland. Croatia has become increasingly popular with tourists in recent years and whether you are visiting the unique walled city of Dubrovnik or one of the beautiful islands, there is plenty to see in this jewel of the Adriatic.
Here is our guide to Croatia.
Why we love it
There is something a little different about holidaying in Croatia. Not only does it boast some of the best beaches in Europe, one of which was recently as the very best in the continent, but it also has a unique landscape not seen anywhere else.
It is a hugely vibrant country ranging from the red tiled rooftops of Dubrovnik to the crystal blue waters of the island of Vis; it blends the modern with the traditional. Spend your days wandering around the winding streets of old town Dubrovnik or sample the cosmopolitan delights of the capital Zagreb or just lie back and relax in the tranquil settings of the picturesque Mljet.
Whether you want to soak up culture or just some sunshine, Croatia has you covered. Hire a car and drive along the glorious coastal road taking in the great views of the Adriatic Sea and look out to the islands that live just off shore.
Where to go?
The most natural starting point for anyone visiting Croatia is Dubrovnik. This stunning walled city is a truly unique site and has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Mediterranean. Registered as an UNESCO World Heritage Site and dubbed “Pearl of the Adriatic”, it is Croatia’s answer to Venice.
Take a stroll through the narrow streets and down to the marina and watch the yachts float their way to shore. George Bernard Shaw summed the city up best when he said “those who seek paradise on Earth should come to Dubrovnik and find it”.
While the cities of Dubrovnik, Split and Zagreb are all beautiful in their own right, the feather in Croatia’s cap is its islands. These diverse and quaint strips are all within easy reach of the mainland. There is so much to love about these islands, see the cultural centres of Stari Grad and Jelsa on Hvar, bask on the beautiful beaches of Vis, party the night away in Pag while you can live like the locals do in Lopud.
From the cultural hubs of the big cities to the quiet beaches of the islands there is so much to choose from in Croatia, where will you go?
What to eat and drink?
Like its landscape, Croatian food is hugely diverse taking influences from its past. Mainland cities tend to get their culinary inspiration from neighbours Hungary and Turkey while the coastal areas have a more Roman and Greek flavour to it.
Soups and stews such as goulash are staples across the country using popular Adriatic ingredients such as spring corn and hearty meats. Head to the islands to try some classic Dalmatian Pršut, that’s dry-cured ham to me and you, or sink your teeth in a sardine foccacia pie known as Viška pogača.
Branch out a little and try some delicious Croatian cuisine on your next break.
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