The phrase “When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade” fully applied to our family’s rather last minute stay in Croatia. Having originally planned to spend the month of July in Portugal, our lemon was the fact that our scheduled days inside Europe’s Shengen area were going to exceed the 90-day limit and we were forced to cut our time there from this trip. Luckily, Croatia turned out to be our sweet lemonade.
We knew very little about Croatia when we made the decision to stay there for a month. Friends recommended it as a safe, beautiful, family-friendly, and affordable place to visit. It required just an easy drive across France and Italy, and most importantly, it is not part of the Shengen agreement. Driving into the country on July 4th we were uncertain as to what to expect of our time there. When leaving the country a very quick month later, we now know for certain we love it and we will find our way back there again someday. I highly recommend any traveler who hasn’t been to Croatia to get there as soon as possible. For families who haven’t traveled internationally, but would like to experience other cultures, Croatia would be a great place to start. Here’s why:
It won’t be this affordable for long
Compared to the rest of Europe, Croatia is extremely well-priced. Everything from parking to lodging to ice cream cones costs significantly less than in neighboring, seaside countries. Unfortunately this affordability can be attributed to the country’s longterm recession. However, Croatia’s improving economy and increasing popularity as a tourist destination means it won’t always be a cheap place to visit. Before too long, a stay in this beautiful country will come at a much higher price.
It has something for everyone
Want to be pampered at a luxurious beach resort? Prefer to rough it in a tent and fall asleep a few steps away from the Adriatic? Do you like exploring ancient civilizations and expanding your historical knowledge? Maybe you’re into hiking, caving or rock climbing? Or perhaps all of the above. As a small country (about the size of West Virginia) Croatia’s diverse opportunities and activities are very easy to access. Our family could easily do a hike in the mountains, explore a Roman coliseum, walk through an art museum and relax on a quiet beach all within a single day.
It’s an easy destination for English speakers
If the idea of a language barrier freaks you out, have no fear of visiting Croatia. We were surprised to find that almost every local we encountered spoke some amount of English. Even if someone says they speak “only a little English” they are likely to understand everything you say. At the same time, the number of native English speakers in the country is fairly low. Until we visited the major cruise ship ports (Dubrovnik and Split), we heard very little English around us. A lot of Italian, German, Polish, and Czech but very little English and practically no American accents. Croatia was kind of the best of both worlds – we could easily communicate, yet we felt immersed in a different culture.
The people and the history are unique and worth knowing
During our month in Croatia we learned about the country’s history, its citizens’ viewpoints, and its opportunities for the future. This rich learning experience can be attributed to the openness and honesty of the local people we met throughout our visit. If you take the time to ask, Croatians are eager to tell you about their country and their own personal experiences. We had many discussions with locals about the war Croatia endured in the 1990s and the benefits and struggles accompanying its independence from Yugoslavia. This openness of its people gives Croatia a culture of embracing hospitality. A typical Croatian won’t bend over backwards to be friendly to a complete stranger (expect no eye contact on sidewalks and few smiles in checkout lines), but once you are under their care, Croatians are the most helpful and welcoming people you’ll meet. The family who owned our apartment was incredible to us. Throughout our stay they provided advice on things to do, brought us fruit and vegetables from their garden, and made our children feel at home and loved. We’ll miss the Ilover family, our neighbors in Labin, and all of our surrogate pets.
Undeveloped natural beauty abounds
It cannot be stated enough that Croatia is gorgeous. You don’t have to search very long to find a beautiful, untouched stretch of shoreline or a nighttime sky where the lack of light pollution lets millions of stars shine brilliantly through the atmosphere. The landscape seamlessly transitions from seaside to mountains to rolling hills, and quiet, beautiful rural areas are never far from the bustling urban centers. We were happy to welcome friends, Andree and Charlotte, from the States during our stay and play tour guide to them. Sadly, their visit happened to be during the rainiest summer week Croatia has ever experienced, but we still managed to dodge the clouds and hit a lot of scenic areas and historic sites. It’s easy to do since Croatia has so many.
My advice for travelers is to spend as much time in Croatia as possible and to rent a car. We were able to access many quaint towns and natural areas which would have been unknown to us had we not had a vehicle. A car let’s you wander and get a little lost – a great way to get to know this country and its people.
Thanks for being our lemonade, Croatia! It was an amazing month for all of us. We will definitely return to Croatia one day, and when we do I expect we’ll find a little more sprawl around its towns and new resorts lining its shores as more of the world discovers this gorgeous country. If you can go, go soon! Should you need a little extra push to book a trip there, just email us. The Carisches will be happy to gush about this amazing place.