* These images have been featured in Esquire UK, Mutti Magazin Germany and Men’s Club Japan
Fifteen years ago was the last time I set foot on Croatian soil. I was born in the former Yugoslavia and at the age of 9 fled the country with my family when the war broke out in the Balkans. Going back for the first time after the war was surreal. I had expectations in my mind of how things would be but nothing was the same. Places had changed, people had moved away, I was met with a different ‘home’ than the one I had left.
This time around I tried my best to leave my expectations behind but it was impossible not to reminisce back to the late 80s when as a child I spent summers on the Croatian coast. I was very young but I still remember balmy evenings visiting seafood restaurants, buying ice-cream from beachside ice-cream trucks, floating in the blue Adriatic sea and getting sunburnt one too many times.
Croatia was the last stop of our European trip. After a week visiting family we drove to Plitvice Lakes. The Lakes are a UNESCO World Heritage site and it’s nothing like you’ve ever seen before. Visit Croatia describes this wonder as “sixteen lakes, inter-connected by a series of waterfalls, and set in deep woodland populated by deer, bears, wolves, boars and rare bird species.”
The Lakes are joined by narrow wooden walkways, a bit of a challenge to navigate in the busy summer season. My first experience of the Lakes took place sometime in the mid 80s, and the story goes that I refused to walk and my father had to carry me on his shoulders through the whole park. While I’d like to say this is not true, sadly for me there’s a photo to prove this.
We spent two days at the Lakes and then began our coastal trip. Our first stop was Split, a harbour city in northern Croatia. The old part of Split is filled with ancient architecture, Roman ruins, and cobblestone streets. Split was also the place of the best tuna dip I have ever tasted.
From Split we boarded a Jadrolinija ferry which took us to magical Hvar. The island is pure heaven on earth. Turquoise waters, little fishing boats dotting the harbour, a picture perfect town square and the smell of island-grown lavender in the air. Stari Grad, Hvar’s old town centre, with its homes made out of stone and quiet alleyways, is perfect for a peaceful stroll and some down time.
We rented an apartment in Hvar and I felt like a true Hvar local. The owner of the apartment lives next door and we adopted her tabby kitten Rex during our stay in Hvar. By the time we left, Rex had made himself quite at home with us and would come looking for me in the morning, while meowing very loudly! I wanted to put him in my suitcase and take him home.
During our stay in Hvar we also took a day trip to the nearby Pakleni Islands. We swam at Mlini Beach and had lunch under old pine trees. To my delight I also noticed I was getting a tan!
Our next stop was Dubrovnik, often called the Pearl of the Adriatic. We stayed in the Old City, surrounded by century-old stone walls and a maze of narrow alleyways. We walked the old city walls during a blistering hot afternoon but reminiscing back it was definitely worth it. The views over the Dubrovnik coastline were surreal.
Before heading home we made a stop in Zagreb, Croatia’s capital city. As it was August, the city was quiet, many locals away on summer holidays. The city nonetheless was gorgeous. The architecture has an obvious Austrian influence, a mark of the region’s history. Zagreb has a really cool cafe scene, cultured locals and an air of sophistication that would make it a great place to come back to no matter the season. I imagine that winter in Zagreb would be beautiful.
There is so much more to see in Croatia, we really only got a very a small taste of the unbelievable beauty the country has. So many more coastal towns to visit, islands and mountains to explore.
Maybe I am biased (or not travelled enough) but I can’t say I’ve seen more beautiful coastal towns anywhere else. There’s a magical vibe on the islands, a kind of feeling that you’re not on this earth. Perhaps my childhood memories are playing tricks on me but whatever it is, I can’t wait to go back.
I hope the images below will give you a glimpse of this little corner of the earth, a place I hold very dear to my heart.