5 adventures to have in Croatia

A pristine patchwork proudly crafted by Mother Nature herself, Croatia is a giant natural playground begging to be explored. Here are five ways to do it...

4 mins

Plitvice National Park (Aleksandar Gospić)

1. Hiking

Mountaineering in the Northern Velebit National Park (Predrag Vučković / Adventure of Life)

Mountaineering in the Northern Velebit National Park (Predrag Vučković / Adventure of Life)

Step away from Croatia’s sparkling coastline and famous medieval towns and you’ll find a land of dramatic mountains, canyons, lakes and forests that are perfect for hiking.

The country boasts over 4,000 hiking trails. Some are within easy reach of Zagreb, Ogulin, Split and Omiš. More adventurous hikers will want to head to Velebit, Učka, Dinara or Mosor. The best five hiking spots in Croatia are Učka Mountain, Risnjak National Park, Northern Velebit, Paklenica and Biokovo Mountain.

Island hopping? Most islands, including beautiful Vis, are criss-crossed with trails offering history, nature and a glimpse of the Adriatic at every turn. On Brač, the hike up Vidova Gora passes an old Illyrian fortress, a medieval hermit cave and a mountainside monastery, founded in 1551.

In the heart of the country, hikers can explore the vast empty woodlands of Velika Kapela and discover the jagged and other-worldly beauty of the White and Samarske Rocks. The Dinaric Alps are made for hiking with countless trails as well as welcoming settlements offering hearty meals and rustic accommodation.

Or why not attempt the Croatian Long Distance trail? It is more than 2,250km long and runs from Ilok in the north-east to Prevlaka in the south. Whether you complete a section or walk the whole lot, you won’t see an asphalt road in sight but instead the finest nature Croatia has to offer.

2. Rafting

Rafting on the Cetina River (Ivo Biočina/CNTB)

Rafting on the Cetina River (Ivo Biočina/CNTB)

Dramatic karst canyons, mighty emerald-green rivers and churning rapids, Croatia is made for white-water rafting. One moment you’re winding you way through a calm valley and the next you’re tumbling through turbulent waters, squeezed between narrow gorges and canyons. Then, around about lunchtime, a hidden beach on a riverbank will appear just around a bend.

There are rivers for rafters of every level. The Mecca of rafting in Croatia is Cetina, particularly the 11km stretch of river between Penšići and Radmanove Mlinice. The Korana River starts at the spectacular Plitvice Lakes while the river Mrežnica is famous for its canyons and waterfalls. Rafting the river Zrmanja takes you through the Velebit Nature Park, home to one of the most beautiful canyons in Europe.

The river Kupa is the longest in Croatia and offers rafting at every level. One stretch wends its way through the ‘Valley of Butterflies’, home to more than 500 different species of these creatures. 

3. Kite surfing

Kite surfing off the coast of Korčula (Shutterstock)

Kite surfing off the coast of Korčula (Shutterstock)

Kite surfing is one of the fastest growing watersports in the world and with over 5,700 km of coastline, the popularity of Croatia as a kite surfing destination is growing, too. From Istria in the north to Dalmatia in the south, kite surfers are spoilt for choice.

The most popular spots are Premantura in Istria, which gets the winds from north Atlantic, and Medulin which is a great spot for southern winds. Bol on Brač is ideal for both beginners and experienced windsurfers. Outside of the busy summer seasons, kite surfers are allowed to launch directly from Zlatni Rat, the island’s iconic Golden Horn Beach.

Having said that, summer is the best time to kite surf in Croatia. Everything is just right – the wind, the weather and the water temperature – and a number of companies offer kiteboarding cruise packages where you get to cruise Croatia’s islands and kite surf off them at the same time. No two days will be the same.

4. Thermal spas

Istarske Toplice (Shutterstock)

Istarske Toplice (Shutterstock)

Croatia is dotted with charming and therapeutic thermal spas, built beside mineral springs famous for their healing powers and beloved by the Romans. Known locally as toplice, they continue to soothe all kinds of ailments from chronic rheumatic diseases to post-op rehabilitation.

Istarske toplice is perhaps the most famous. Tucked up near the Italian and Slovenian borders, it is surrounded by lush forest and towered over by an 85-metre-high rock formation called Gorostas (Giant). The healing power of the water is rated amongst the top three in Europe and the spa is renowned for innovative therapies like sulphur fumes inhalation. You can also hike in the forest, scattered with Roman ruins.

Most of Croatia’s thermal spas are surrounded by nature. At least four are within easy reach of Zagreb. Stubičke Toplice has an outdoor pool that is open all year, offering visitors in winter the experience of bathing in 37°C waters while snow falls on their head. Tuheljske Toplice, also in Krapina-Zagorje, offers mud treatment for adults and a water slide and zorbing for the kids. Varaždinske Toplice sits beside the Bednja river at the base of the Hrvatsko Zagorje hills, near the remains of an ancient Roman settlement.

Terme Sveti Martin in Međimurje county was discovered in 1911 when prospectors were looking for oil. Now it is famous for its massages, 16 types in all.  

5. Diving

A coral reef near Lastovo Island (Shutterstock)

A coral reef near Lastovo Island (Shutterstock)

Diving in Croatia offers everything from underwater caverns, canyons and reefs to plenty of shipwrecks to explore. There’s something for divers of all levels, with the most spectacular dive sites within reach of Croatia’s most famous coastal cities and towns.

The Vodnjak Reef, for example, lies near the Pakleni Islands, right opposite the entrance to Hvar Town’s harbour. Enjoy a strong Croatian coffee for breakfast and within an hour you’ll be diving among a kaleidoscope of coral on vertical reefs with schools of colourful fish darting in and out.

Just ten minutes from Dubrovik, Lokrum Island offers some of the most accessible wreck diving in the Mediterranean. Beginners can explore the SS Tomislav on the south-west side of the island, while more advanced divers can venture a little further out to the Taranto, an Austro-Hungarian ship now festooned with octopus, lobsters, corals and sponges.

There’s an underwater museum just off Mali Lošinj on an island of Lošinj, featuring a Venetian cannon and an exceptional amphora. There is a tunnel you can swim through to the Te Vega underwater sea lake off Sušac island, near Korčula as well as a plethora of dive sites and wrecks scattered off the seafloor near Rovinj. Over in Trogir, don’t miss the Via Crucis underwater musuem. Found in Jelinak bay, the incredible sight features 14 Stations of the Cross with more than 50 life-size statues and an statue of Jesus Christ that is eight metres tall. Croatia is even home to an underwater cellar in Pelješac. The wine is ages at the bottom of the sea in glass bottles and can be sampled at the Navis Mysterium.

Feeling inspired? 

For more information and inspiration about this incredible country, head over to the official Croatia website. 

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