If your Mediterranean fantasies feature balmy days by sapphire waters in the shade of ancient walled towns, Croatia is the place to turn them into reality.
The Edge of Empires
Precariously poised between the Balkans and Central Europe, this land has been passed between competing kingdoms, empires and republics for millennia. If there’s an upside to this continual dislocation, it’s in the rich cultural legacy that each has left behind. Venetian palazzos snuggle up to Napoleonic forts, Roman columns protrude from early Slavic churches, and Viennese mansions face off with Socialist Realist sculpture. Excellent museums showcase treasures from most key stages of Europe’s history, telling a story that is in equal parts fascinating and horrifying.
If you’re lucky enough to cross the tourist/guest barrier and be invited into a local’s home, you’ll soon become acquainted with the refrain ‘Jedi! Jedi! Jedi!‘ (Eat! Eat! Eat!). It’s little wonder that sharing food and drink plays such a big part in the culture here, when the country is blessed with such top-notch ingredients from the land and sea. Simple home-style cooking is a feature of family-run taverns, but increasingly a new breed of chefs are bringing a more adventurous approach to the table. Meanwhile Croatian wines and olive oils are making their mark on the world stage, garnering top awards.
Why I Love Croatia
By Peter Dragicevich, Writer
I’ll admit, I’m more than a little biased, but Croatia is quite simply my favourite country to visit. For me, it offers a unique combination of all the things I love: breathtaking natural beauty, great swimming, summertime sun, oodles of history, interesting architecture, incredible wine, delicious seafood… I could go on. True, Croats don’t always present the sunniest face to complete strangers, but break through that initial reserve and you’ll discover the friendliest, most hospitable people you could hope to meet. I’m sure that even if my grandparents didn’t hail from here, I’d still adore the place.
Beauty on the Inside
Shift your gaze for just a moment from the glittering waters and chances are an almighty mountain will loom into view. The Dinaric Alps, which stretch all the way from Italy to Albania, hug much of the coast. The limestone karst has bequeathed a wonderland of craggy peaks, underground caverns, river canyons, dramatic waterfalls and ridiculously picturesque lakes. Head further inland and things flatten out again into rolling farmland. Active types will find plenty of chances to get amongst it on the numerous hiking and biking trails.
Croatia’s extraordinary island-speckled coastline is indisputably its main attraction. Part of the appeal lies in its diversity. You’ll find glitz and glamour in places like Hvar, where fancy yachts and fancier threads are de rigueur. In other locales Croatian families get busy with buckets and spades, Aussie backpackers slop about in flip-flops and German naturists free themselves from the tyranny of apparel altogether. For those wanting peace and quiet, there are plenty of secluded coves and Robinson Crusoe–style islets to discover.
Source: Lonely Planet
Hungary has always marched to a different drummer – speaking a language, preparing dishes and drinking wines like no others. It’s Europe at its most exotic.
Hungary’s scenery is more gentle than striking, more pretty than stunning. But you can’t say the same thing about the built environment across the land. Architecturally Hungary is a treasure trove, with everything from Roman ruins and medieval town houses to baroque churches, neoclassical public buildings and Art Nouveau bathhouses and schools. And we’re not just talking about Budapest here; walk through Szeged or Kecskemét, Debrecen or Sopron and you’ll discover an architectural gem at virtually every turn. Some people (ourselves included) go out of their way for another glimpse of their ‘hidden’ favourites like the Reök Palace in Szeged, the buildings of Kőszeg’s Jurisics tér or the Mosque Churchin Pécs. It is almost as if they’re afraid these delightful structures will crumble and disappear unless they are regularly drenched in admiring glances.
Eat, Drink & Be Magyar
There is a lot more to Hungarian food than goulash and it remains one of the most sophisticated styles of cooking in Europe. Magyars even go so far as to say there are three essential world cuisines: French, Chinese and their own. That may be a bit of an exaggeration but Hungary’s reputation as a food centre dates largely from the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th and, despite a fallow period during the chilly days of communism, is once again commanding attention. So too are the nation’s world-renowned wines – from the big-bodied reds of Villány and white Olazrizling from Badacsony to honey-gold Tokaj.
In Hot Water
Hungarians have been ‘taking the waters’ supplied by an estimated 300 thermal springs since togas were all the rage and Aquincum was the big Smoke. They still do – for therapeutic, medicinal and recreational purposes – but the venues have changed somewhat. Today they range from authentic bathhouses dating from the Turkish occupation and Art Nouveau palaces to clinical sanatoriums straight out of a Thomas Mann novel. This is where the older generation like to rejuvenate and catch up on the local gossip. More and more though, you’ll see clear chlorinated waters in organically-shaped pools that bubble, squirt and spurt at different rhythms and temperatures alongside the requisite wellness centre offering a myriad of treatments. Good for the kids, good for the grown-ups, good for the whole family.
Source: Lonely Planet
An earthly paradise of snow-capped peaks, turquoise-green rivers and Venetian-style coastline, Slovenia enriches its natural treasures with harmonious architecture, charming rustic culture and sophisticated cuisine.
Slovenia is first and foremost an outdoor destination. Local people favour active holidays, and you’ll be invited – even expected – to join in. The list of activities on offer is endless, with the most popular pursuits skiing, walking and hiking in the mountains, and increasingly, cycling. Fast rivers like the Soča cry out to be rafted and there are ample chances to try out more niche activities like horseback riding, ballooning, caving and canyoning. If all this sounds a bit much, you can always decamp to the coast and sunbathe on the Adriatic.
Architectural & Cultural Treasures
You might be forgiven for thinking that anything of beauty in this greenest of green lands is, well, all natural. But it ain’t necessarily so. Where man intrudes is often to good effect, such as at Lake Bled, where a tiny baroque chapel on a picturesque island and a dramatic castle looming above complete a harmonious whole. The architecture is wonderfully varied – from the Venetian harbour towns of the coast and the rustic Hungarian-style farmhouses of Prekmurje to the Gothic church of Gorenjska and art nouveau splendours of Ljubljana – the museums are rich and the culture vibrant.
Why I Love Slovenia
By Steve Fallon, Writer
Even serial visitors to Slovenia like myself often stop and stare, mesmerised by the sheer beauty of this land. The wondrous bucolic valley of Logarska Dolina brings heaven to earth, and at the dramatic Vršič pass through the Alps I feel on top of the world in every sense. I can never tire of the wonderful and varied architecture, excellent wines and traditional dishes, and vibrant folk culture. But for me the country’s greatest attribute is the Slovenes themselves: quietly conservative, deeply self-confident, remarkably broadminded, especially tolerant and very, very hospitable.
A Matter of Taste
Slovenian cooking borrows a little something from each of its neighbours – Italy, Austria, Hungary and the Balkans – synthesising and reinventing dishes that emerge both familiar and unique. Slovenians have an obsession for using only fresh and locally sourced ingredients. The result is a terrific foodie destination, where you’ll sample dishes in unusual combinations featuring items like scrumptious pasta dumplings of potato, chives and bacon, salads drizzled with nutty pumpkinseed oil, and multilayered gibanica, a wildly decadent dessert. Slovenian wine is an unheralded strength, and regional whites and reds pair well with local specialties.
From the soaring peaks of the Julian Alps and the subterranean magic of Postojna and Škocjan Caves, to sparkling emerald-green lakes and rivers and the short but sweet Adriatic coast, Slovenia has it all. An incredible mixture of climates brings warm Mediterranean breezes up to the foothills of the Alps, where it can snow even in summer. And with more than half of its total surface covered in forest, Slovenia really is one of the greenest countries in the world.
Source: Lonely Planet