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ASK JOURNEYS: Put beautiful, historic Croatia on bucket list

Posted: 02/2/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

Last Modified: 02/2/2013 7:59 PM | Updates

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While February is when most Manitobans are getting ready to leave for their sunspot destination, many others are contemplating spring-through-fall travel to destinations farther afield.

One of the more frequent inquiries I get is about a country that is truly becoming a favoured choice of world travellers again.

What is now the country of Croatia, with its seaport city Dubrovnik a tourist centrepiece, has seen massive annual statistical growth in visitations.

Dubrovnik was once a prime convention destination and cruise port, but the wars between the former countries that once comprised Yugoslavia changed that completely.

Long before those conflicts, one of my most indelible memories comes from my experience as a young man hitchhiking around Europe and ending up in Zagreb, what is now the capital city of Serbia.

Travelling around Europe, I had pretty much fallen off up-to-date news cycles, but in Zagreb I read that my country, Canada, was under the War Measures Act as a result of the FLQ murder of British diplomat James Cross. That was a shocking revelation.

Later that night, an acquaintance introduced me to the hottest disco in the city, where a new song, American Woman, by Winnipeg's own Guess Who, was played incessantly all through the night.

Those confluences made a huge impression on me, and I always wanted to get back to the region that is now Croatia.

Last year, my wife and I had that chance and spent time in Split, Dubrovnik and the area around it.

Facing the Adriatic, the walled fortresses of Dubrovnik represent an imposing presence for cruise ships approaching its port.

Inside the city, remnants of recent wars are evident. Bullet holes dot many historical buildings around the main square. But recent history has not affected the way tourists are welcomed.

Buskers playing unique instruments are scattered through the main thoroughfares. Harmonizing groups offer regularly scheduled performances in the open squares. A walk along the ramparts of the walled structures provides an overview you won't find in many other cities.

Dubrovnik is an exceptionally beautiful city, and perhaps the greatest testimony of that came from George Bernard Shaw when he wrote: "Those who seek paradise on Earth should come to Dubrovnik."

For those exploring the region, there are more than1,600 kilometres of coastline and loads of beach options. The quality of the water is reported to be excellent, but many beaches, though gorgeous, tend to be more pebbles than fine sand.

The view often makes up for the beach quality, and it is the pebbled base that helps make the water so crystal-clear.

A trip to Dubrovnik should automatically include a day or three in the countryside around it. A number of small communities whose economy still depends on the fruits of the sea have also recognized the importance of tourism as an economic generator.

One of these is the seaside town of Catvat.

Situated on the southern portion of the Croatian Riviera, it is a quaint community with spectacular views and excellent restaurants located on a sandy beach in a beautiful bay.

For wine lovers, Catvat is situated near the primary grape-growing area of Croatia, and a number of local wine-region tours will open the doors to some exceptional scenery as well.

The second most popular port city of Croatia is also the second-largest city in the country.

Split has a history that goes back to the third century AD, when Roman emperor Diocletian decided the location would be perfect for his palace headquarters.

Walking along the extremely narrow streets that are preserved in the original palace area, the past seems to come to life, even though many of the structures are now gift shops, restaurants and offices.

Want to gain a bit of extra luck for your future endeavors?

Grgur Ninski, known as Gregory of Nin, a 10th-century religious leader, had a uniquely designed, massive and imposing statue of himself built near his cathedral.

Thousands of people daily seem to be influenced by the myth that rubbing the big toe of his shiny gold left foot will bring good fortune to those who line up to be photographed in the act. Perhaps it is not a myth!

Though we did not get to Zagreb on our recent trip, tourist officials there are working hard to position the city on the same level as Prague and Budapest.

Known as the city of museums, Zagreb is divided into three distinct sections.

Like most cities, there is a highrise area that is really like the heart of many of today's modern cities.

Beyond that, museums and galleries are situated along the cobbled streets that flow through the 1,000-year-old historical area around the presidential palace.

History is kept alive with the use of gas lamps. Galleries and museums, punctuated by numerous restaurants, make it a prime tourist walking region.

I suspect the disco I was in is long gone, but this part of the city is also the prime entertainment area as well.

Forward your travel questions to askjourneys@journeystravel.com. Ron Pradinuk is president of Journeys Travel & Leisure SuperCentre and can be heard Sundays at noon on CJOB. Previous columns and tips can be found at www.journeystravelgear.com or read Ron's travel blog at www.thattravelguy.ca.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 2, 2013 D2

History

Updated on Saturday, February 2, 2013 at 7:59 PM CST: Corrects detail on Zagreb.

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