Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Exploring Croatia – How Independent Travellers Can Get the Best Out Of It

Croatia Online - Omis Square

Croatia Online’s editor is living proof of how safe, easy and delightful it is to explore Croatia as a single independent traveller. Having just completed a nearly three week trip there, even as a seasoned Croatia lover, she’s still finding wonderful surprises and still feeling that however long she spends travelling around Croatia, it’s never long enough. There are a few rules however and below are ten of the best tips to help independent travellers get the most out of Croatia:

1. Don’t judge the book by its cover

We’ve heard so many people dismiss a certain destination because they drove past it on the way to somewhere else and it didn’t look very appealing. Many of Croatia’s best destinations don’t show themselves off at their best from the main road – in most cases the main road came along long after the destination developed. Before you dismiss anywhere, park the car near the city centre, amble around and discover a few secrets.

2. Make friends with a local

Even if you think you know somewhere quite well, take some time to chat to the locals and the destination will reveal several more layers. If you can’t find a friendly local, use the tourist boards – most of them are really helpful and delighted when visitors want to get under the skin of their home town.

3. Be flexible and don’t chase an itinerary

Preparation is important to get the most from your trip but don’t try to cram to much in and give yourself plenty of time at each place. With an open mind you’ll find plenty to interest you, even in the smallest of towns.

4. Leave your laptop behind and use internet cafés

They’re a great place for swapping travel notes and travelling without a laptop is liberating.

5. Get the best guide for your circumstances

If you’re backpacking it’s probably the Rough Guide or Lonely Planet, however Time Out’s Visitors Guide To Croatia is hard to beat for almost all independent travellers. Here we have to declare a vested interest as we write for them however, as objectively as possible, it scores high on keeping up with the trends, identifying the best restaurants, hotels, bars and clubs for visitors and locals alike, being bang up to date, and is written by people who live in the destinations they cover. If you’re a sailor or a landlubber travelling around the more remote Dalmatian islands then you’re unlikely to find much to compare with the Croatia Cruising Companion (vested interest again but we aren’t aware of any other book that covers this subject in so much depth).

6. Make use of the Croatia Tourist Board

We’ve already mentioned the local tourist boards above but many people just aren’t aware of what a wealth of information the main tourist board has. Whilst a few of the local offices seem to have almost no information at all, many, even in the smallest villages, have fascinating literature on things you might otherwise never discover. It seems that the proactivity of each local tourist board depends very much on its leader and who you talk to on the day so, as in 1 above, don’t be put off if you get the cold shoulder at the odd one or two. If you persist you will encounter encyclopaedic resources! And finally on this note, we were told by one enlightened local tourist board that it is not their practice to recommend or book accommodation – as part of the state run agency, they take money from the local businesses towards marketing the destination and thus deem it unfair to “prefer” individual organisations. Instead they pointed us in the direction of a private agency. If you have time, raid the local office for all the free information you can get, READ IT, and then go back and ask some questions.

7. Make a base for a few days

Instead of travelling around from a to b on a daily basis (tiring, often more expensive, and you normally only scratch the surface) find a good base for a few days and explore from there. You’ll have a better chance of getting to know a few locals and one place in depth, it’s much more relaxing and you’ll live a little more like the locals do.

8. Rent a room or studio instead of staying in a hotel

There are some remarkably comfortable and luxurious rooms available these days if you steer clear of the less scrupulous widows in black who greet you from the ferry. You can get the best of both worlds here – privacy, comfort, and a budget that stretches further, as well as the chance to try and engage your landlord or landlady in conversation. Again, we shouldn’t generalise, especially about the widows in black, many of whom rely on renting out much of their house in the summer to eke a living, and most of whom have more moral fibre than most of their guests . Their rooms are mostly clean and comfortable so don’t discount them entirely but don’t be rushed into any decision until you have seen them and had a chance to think about it.

9. Try anything (almost – common sense and rules of safety apply!)

Go with the flow and, as long as you’re sure its safe and fairly priced, take any opportunities offered to you to try something new. If you’re looking for a specific konoba (family restaurant sometimes in a private house) in a quiet village, the person you ask for directions may frequently offer to take you there. If there’s a chance to visit a cave or try a new sport, try that as well – just bear in mind that the western obsession with health and safety has fortunately not pervaded Croatia yet. Common sense rules here as well though, refreshingly, Croatians are like we were before the days of health and safety – ready to have a little adventure and take measured risks.

10. Remember you can always come back

If you don’t get everywhere you’d planned to visit, just book yourself another trip to look forward too. Better to get under Croatia’s skin over a number of visits than keep scratching the surface and never quite fathom the magic of what makes it tick.


We chose today’s photo as a great example of tips 1 and 2 above though we won’t be revealing all until a later posting. Driving through Omiš from Split, to Makarska or Dubrovnik, you’d be tempted to feel well shot of it. A busy road with a few market stalls, a small and not very appealing port, seems about all it has to offer through the passenger window. Step inside the old town and you’ll get an extremely pleasant surprise; sit down at a café in a square you’ve walked through a hundred times and you’re suddenly aware of the most fantastic view; spend an hour walking around with a local expert and you’ll live its colourful and unique history; visit during the annual klapa (multi part harmony singing) festival and see the place come alive as all the squares become “quartiers” for different groups of people and styles of music; drive along the Cetina river and discover another world….the list goes on and on. We thought we knew Omiš pretty well before we had the chance of a tour with a kind, generous and knowledgeable tourist board official. On top of everything else (and it also has a great city centre beach as well as a couple of great hotels) the pirate history of which we were already aware is even more fascinating when you get into the detail. Keep reading the postings on our summer trip – Omiš comes towards the end but it’s well worth waiting for. In our next posting we’ll give you a quick summary of our route so you have an idea what to expect.


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