Travel

Croatia is a beautiful little country from your dreams

Croatia is filled with hidden natural and cultural gems

Croatia has long been on my bucket list, but I did not have a chance to visit this country in the north-western part of the Balkan Peninsula until recently.

My dream was to visit at least one of its coastal towns that has been featured so prominently on my social media feeds.

And with its national football team coming in second at the 2018 Fifa World Cup, my interest level only escalated.

Croatia - with its 1,246 islands and islets in the Adriatic Sea - has almost 6,000km of coastline and deciding on which town was no easy feat.

We narrowed our trip down to Rovinj and Croatia's capital Zagreb.

We chose the former for its quaint, laid-back charm and it was close enough to the Slovenian border where we were coming from.

IN ROVINJ

Our chartered ride dropped us right in the centre of Rovinj, with its cafes, shops and banks.

You could instantly see Italian influences in its decor and vibe, given that as recent as the end of World War II, Rovinj was still a part of Italy. The Venetian architecture and influences are unmistakable.

As no vehicles are allowed beyond the town centre, our host picked us up in a buggy, taking us through narrow cobbled alleys to our waterfront apartment.

The view that greeted me - dotted with sailboats and rugged cliffs - exceeded my expectation. Each corner revealed a hidden gem and it was just one breathtaking discovery after another.

With so many Instagrammable shots, this picturesque town is a haven for that perfect holiday photo.

The crystal clear turquoise waters were warm enough for a swim in October.

Every evening, a crowd would form at the breakwater to watch the spectacular sunset at Rovinj.

Before making our way to Zagreb, we took a guided tour to Plitvice Lakes National Park, known for its 16 natural terraced lakes - all inter-connected by waterfalls that extend into a limestone canyon.

That alone is enough to make it a Unesco World Heritage Site and one of Europe's most beautiful national parks, which also houses Croatia's tallest waterfall, the Veliki Slap.

The stunning teal waters and the rustic wooden boardwalk meandering in and out of the lush greenery makes this a picture-perfect attraction.

The park is great even for the elderly as the boardwalk goes all along the route taking visitors through its many lakes.

The park has two main sections - the upper and lower lakes. If you do not feel like walking - there are several signposted trails that will take you anything from two to six hours to complete, there is a 10-minute boat ride that connects the two sections.

The park is open daily with longer opening hours during summer. It is best visited during the off-season to avoid the crowds that often cause congestion along the boardwalk.

OFF TO ZAGREB

After a full day of immersing ourselves in nature, we headed to Zagreb, which often gets overlooked in favour of the many coastal towns.

Possessing an understated mediaeval vibe, Zagreb is divided into the Upper Town and Lower Town: The former is the older, historic part of the city and the latter is where you can find its most prestigious hotels and many of Zagreb's manicured gardens.

Distinguished by its 18th- and 19th-century Austro-Hungarian architecture, Zagreb's main square is lined with pastel-coloured buildings, tiled roofs and cobblestones galore.

Culture vultures will find a haven there as there are a host of museums here.

A must-visit would be the Museum of Broken Relationships. As the name suggests, this quirky place features mementoes left after a relationship ends, donated by people from all over the world.

Besides its artistic and cultural attractions, Zagreb bustles with charming hospitality and has a vibrant cafe culture.

You can spend an afternoon people watching from one of the many sidewalk cafes and restaurants, or take a romantic amble along its cobbled, gas-lit alleys.

The national football team's official 2018 slogan - "Small country, big dreams" - describes Croatia aptly, as it is exactly what this beautiful place is.

TOURISM & TRAVEL