Road Trip Along the Croatian Coast
Take a road trip to Europe’s newest culinary hot spot! The Croatian coast overflows with beaches, islands, ancient ruins and delicious foods.
Croatia quickly surprises visitors. The northern towns have an undeniably Italian ambiance thanks to Venetian architecture, and the Dalmatian Coast has ancient Roman ruins as well as hundreds of islands, ranging from party isles to wine-tasting retreats.
The E65, Croatia’s coastal road, cuts across the jagged cliffs of mountains while the blue waves of the Adriatic Sea lap hundreds of metres below. Cocktail lounges spill onto pebble beaches, and the entire country’s cuisine is blowing up right now; quaint fishing villages serve fresh Mediterranean flavours, from olive oil, sea bass and white truffles to squid-ink risotto.
Northern Croatia: Istria
I’d read that Croatia’s roads were full of potholes and donkeys. Not true. Smooth pavement and conscientious drivers are the norm. I did run into the bora wind last October, which was so strong that it closed a highway, but this forced detour took me along a less travelled portion of the coast, where the towns are comprised of whitewashed homes, palm trees, and outdoor rotisseries large enough to roast entire goats.
I actually fell in love with every one of the coastal towns I visited on the Istrian Peninsula, which constitutes Croatia’s northern coast. A part of Italy until WWII, Istrian towns have road signs in Croatian and Italian, and they are full of traditional Italian eateries. There are numerous roads zigzagging across the peninsula, and a road trip should include a mix of the interior and exterior towns (towns are never more than 40 minutes apart, the peninsula is so small!).
The Dalmatian Coast
The lower half of Croatia’s coast is known as the Dalmatian Coast. Here, the E65 winds 600 kilometres from Rijeka to Croatia’s southern border with Montenegro. On this stretch, car ferries whisk travellers away to numerous enchanting islands; Croatia has more than 1,200 islands total, so road trippers will have to pick and choose. Pag is famous for its hard cheeses and summer-long beach parties, Vis has a blossoming culinary scene, Hvar has beautiful resorts and fashionable cocktail lounges, and Rab is famous for its nude beaches.
Some of the best known cities along the Dalmatian Coast are Split, Zadar, Sibenik and Dubrovnik. Split holds the ruins of Diocletian’s Palace; Zadar also has ruins, as well as a charming city centre; Sibenik is where travellers can enjoy the Krk Falls National Park and delicious shellfish; and Dubrovnik is the famous walled city.
Croatia’s coastal towns are very popular in the summer, and one of the best parts about taking a road trip is the freedom to stop anywhere.
I recommend visiting the tourist attractions during the day, and staying in a quiet village at night. For example, the town of Cavat is just 15 minutes from Dubrovnik, yet it offers less expensive accommodations that are also away from the crowds.