Imagine a place where you could enjoy all that Croatia’s popular Dalmatian coast has to offer without competing with the hordes of tourists that flock to its historic sights and iconic coastlines.
If you want to experience an authentic slice of the pomalo (slowly, don’t rush) way of life, Croatia’s northern coast is the ideal location for a truly laidback escape.
I recently spent a week in Croatia’s Primorje-Gorski Kotar region, an area packed with beautiful scenery, delicious food, dozens of beaches and friendly locals all without the crowds you find down south. Aside from a handful of German and Italy families, and, of course, holidaying locals, the area remains largely undiscovered by travellers.
With various budget airlines now flying into the region and US$1 getting you nearly 6 Croatian Kuna there are plenty of bargains to be had.
Must-visit highlights of the region include the resort town of Opatija, travel hub Rijeka, the pristine beaches of Kostrena, old town Lovran and the island of Krk.
Beaches & bars, bars & beaches
Built in stages from the late 19th to early 20th century, the Lungomare (Seaside Promenade) stretches from Preluka in Opatija to Lovran, hugging the water’s edge and weaving through leafy outcrops.
The 11km track is best undertaken at a leisurely pace with plenty of pauses for swimming, sunbathing, drinking and eating.
For lunch, sit down to a traditional peka barbeque meal at Lučica in Ičići. Built onto the track, the restaurant and it’s thousands of colourful shells is hard to miss.
Another favourite, especially with locals, is Kostrena with its own mini seaside walkway. A beach for every mood, pick between family-friendly bays with boats and pedalo for hire, isolated rocky outcrops and lazy beach bars.So clear! Lungomare, Rijeka, Croatia. Photo Kara Segedin The perfect spot. Lunch at Lučica in Ičići. Photo by Kara Segedin My lunch at Lučica in Ičići. Photo by Kara Segedin So pretty! Lunch at Lučica in Ičići. Photo by Kara Segedin
You can drink in a castle, an actual castle
Sit down for an ice cold beer, glass of wine or a finely brewed espresso in the courtyard of an actual, real life castle.
The 13th century Trsat Castle has its very own café and is free for visitors to explore, oh, and the views, especially at sunset, are to die for.
Situated high above Rijeka’s port, do your legs a favour and buy a 15 kuna return bus ticket rather than walking up the hundreds of steps to get there.
The castle hosts various musical performances throughout the summer so it is often closed to the public from around 8pm.
Price may be relative, but the cost of food and accommodation is certainly a lot cheaper than in the world’s other top seaside destinations.
A large beer or glass of local wine costs around US$2.50, a pizza large enough to feed at least two (and tasting as good as anything found in Italy) around US$6, and a full meal, including drinks, will set you back about US$12 per person.
There’s no shortage of beaches to swim at, villages to explore and natural beauty to enjoy on Croatia’s largest island.
Connected to the mainland by bridge, start your day in walled Krk town, sample local wines in the hilltop medieval village of Vrbnik, book a traditional rustic meal at Dvori Sv Jurja (Courts of St George) agritourism or head slightly further afield to the tiny island of Košljun, a 10-minute boat ride from Punat, and its 16th-century Franciscan monastery.
The coffee is really, really good
If you’re expecting your coffee to come in anything larger than a small coffee cup you’re in the wrong place. Croatian coffee is either espresso, macchiato, cappuccino or Turkish – no venti or grande here.
Served with a shockingly large sachet of sugar (their packs contain a massive tablespoon) and a glass of water, coffee is sweetened to taste and sipped at the slowest pace possible (some consider it an insult to drink your coffee too quickly).
Croatian coffee culture doesn’t rush.
Take a seat in your favourite spot and the waiter comes to you. Don’t worry about sitting too long – once your drink has arrived no one will bother you unless ask for the bill or another drink. No subtle “can I get you another drink” hints here. Take your time, relax and watch the world go by.
Travelers arriving from long-haul destinations may find it more cost effective to fly into one of the major European hub airports (such as London, Paris, Frankfurt etc) before switching to a low cost provider.
- Rijeka is well connected to the rest of the region, and country, by bus. Tickets can be bought from drivers, but it is cheaper to purchase a return ticket (15 kuna) from the little tisak stands (newsstands) you’ll find all over the city.
- For a trip to Krk you’ll need to buy tickets from the main bus station.