Following the locals to Croatia’s choice coastal towns

—Deanna Palic, Contributing Editor, ITN

Guidebooks point travelers toward the more internationally known Croatian islands and cities on the Adriatic: Hvar, Korcula, Split, Opatija and Dubrovnik. For this holiday, however, my husband, Josip, and I were searching for a destination relatively unknown to international tourists. Our ultimate goal was to alternate between relaxing at the beach and visiting neighboring islands from an inexpensive coastal base.

From Zagreb, we followed the tidal wave of vacationing Croats to one of their favorite local holiday destinations. Crikvenica, a small coastal town only a short three hours away by bus, was an ideal choice. The town was overflowing with national tourism in July 2004. We ran into a smattering of visitors from the Czech Republic, Italy and Germany who found their way via word-of-mouth recommendations. Travelers from North America, however, have not yet discovered this delightful vacation spot.

Jetting there

No airlines fly direct from the United States to Croatia. From Los Angeles, the most convenient routing is on Lufthansa (phone 800/645-3880 or visit, via Frankfurt or Munich, to Zagreb or Trieste, Italy. The L.A. gateway has two daily departures.

Lufthansa has revamped business class (see June ’04, pg. 116), so I decided to splurge (although I was given a discounted rate). On the outbound flight via Frankfurt, business class was not as yet equipped with the new ergonomically designed PrivateBed. (Lufthansa is first equipping their Airbus fleet, then the B-747 fleet will follow.)

For this luxury, I had to wait for my return flight via Munich, and worth the wait it was! Featured is a stress-relieving massage function as well as assorted sitting and reclining positions. The flat-sleeping position measures 6.6 feet, the longest in its class. I arrived in Los Angeles amazingly well rested and well fed.

Rarely can I classify airline cuisine as superb, but the lunch menu on the Munich-Los Angeles sector certainly was. I selected, as an hors d’oeuvre, the superb rabbit roulade plated with a pesto potato salad and pumpkin compote. The entrée, pan-seared breast of duck with a tamarind sauce, was outstanding.

Off to the coast we go

On a sunny Saturday morning in July, we headed to the Zagreb central bus terminal for our 8:30 departure to Crikvenica. As buses are generally full to capacity, picking up a ticket in advance is advisable. The 3-hour journey ($32 round trip) on a cheerfully painted double-decker Croag Line bus included a 20-minute rest stop.

Upon arrival at the Crikvenica bus terminal, we walked a short distance to our hotel, the 2-star, non-air-conditioned Hotel International (phone 011-385-51-241-324, fax 011-385-51-241-681 or visit www. We had reserved a one-week package, including a double room plus breakfast and dinner daily, for $100 per night. The hotel is conveniently located across from a tranquil park and marina where excursion boats sail for the islands. The meals were quite good, but, quite frankly, the hotel is in need of renovation.

More appropriate, in my opinion, would be the 2-star Hotel Crikvenica (phone 011-385-51-241-199, fax 011-385-51-241-129 or e-mail This hotel is located on the bustling main promenade in the heart of the city amongst its many cafés, shops and restaurants. The nightly rate of $120 includes a double room, breakfast and dinner. The hotel’s meal program is a terrific bargain, as they virtually throw in dinner for $3.

Crikvenica is sheltered from strong winds, offering a mild climate. The entire town, squeezed between the sea and an elongated littoral reef, is a riviera of small resort towns: Selce, Dramalj and Jadranovo. Easy access contributed to its early development of tourism, now a tradition for over 100 years.

Crikvenica’s main attractions are sunning at the beach, watersports and its proximity to Zagreb and other nearby sightseeing attractions. The beaches, like most in Europe, are gravelly. Packing plastic shoes for wading into the sea is recommended. Available for purchase in stores and kiosks are beach towels, beach pads and air mattresses. Chaise lounges and umbrellas can be rented.

Local beach vendors sell burek ($1), a delicious pastry filled with various fillings: cheese, spinach or meat. It’s ideal for lunch or a snack.

Our first day was delightful. We boarded the tourist train, pulled by a colorfully rigged tractor, for the short 15-minute ride to Selce, part of the Crikvenica riviera ($5.20 each round trip). Selce is known as a health resort for the treatment of coronary, respiratory and rheumatic diseases. We got off at the Hotel Varaždin and, for an entrance fee of $2.60 per person, enjoyed their pool and sundeck for the afternoon.

We visited a friend from California who moved to Selce several years ago. Sany August (phone/fax 011-385-51-764301 or e-mail sany. built two 750-square-foot apartments to be used as rentals for tourists. Each apartment sleeps up to four persons. I can personally say that they are tastefully furnished and well worth the $102 per night (see Dec. ’04, pg. 50).

One-day excursions abound

We were very pleased with MB-International Travel Service (phone 011-385-51-241-221, fax 011-385-51-241-074 or e-mail mbaricev@, located in the arcade of the Hotel International. The manager, Mile Baricevic, and his staff were most helpful. It also would be advisable to check with MB-International Travel re hotel packages before booking directly with a hotel. In many cases, travel agents have special rates and can pass savings on to you.

For the following, excursion prices are quoted in U.S. dollars per person. Specified distances are one way from Crikvenica.

The area of Plitvice Lakes ($42/153 miles) was declared a national park in 1949. Situated between high-forested mountains, a string of 16 gorgeous, crystal blue-green lakes lie one below the other. The lakes are fed by the many small streams and brooks spilling into each other in foaming cascades and thundering waterfalls. Due to their unique evolution and beauty, the Plitvice Lakes were added to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list in 1979.

A visit to the Postojna Caves will take you into neighboring Slovenia ($50/181 miles). The caves have been carved, shaped and created by water, drop by drop, over millions of years. The 12½-mile underworld system of sculpted galleries and chambers is a miracle in itself. The cave has a consistent temperature of 48°F. Visitors take the 1½-hour tour of the caves in a special train accompanied by experienced guides.

An excursion to Island Krk is $39. We, however, were fortunate to have Ljubica, my husband’s relative, guide us around the island, where she has a vacation home. Krk, linked to the mainland by an imposing bridge, is the largest in the string of Croatia’s more than 1,000 islands and islets.

Local specialties such as sheep cheese, prosciutto and lamb gained fame at Emperor Nero’s Roman banquets. Today, the white wine Vrbnicka Zlahtina and quality extra-virgin olive oil have been added to the list.

Throughout the day we strolled around Njivice, Malinska and Punat. Our stops at the quaint town Krk and the sun-splashed seaside town Baška were my favorites. Baška is home to the oldest written Croatian document, the 900-year-old Stone of Baška and the remains of St. Jerome church dating from the Middle Ages.

At the trendy seaside Cicibela restaurant, we shared a large pizza “Daniela.” Smothered in the local prosciutto, this pizza was one of the best ever. An ice-cold pivo, the Croatian word for beer, was the perfect accompaniment on a hot day.

The boat trip to Island Rab ($45/3½ hours) was on the well-appointed Tim-G. Upon sailing at 8:30 a.m. we were served a welcome drink, šljivovica, a grape brandy that is offered at any hour when the occasion warrants. In this case, it certainly added to the camaraderie of the Tim‑G passengers.

Included in the excursion is a tour of the charming ancient town of Rab, which experienced its greatest development during the Roman reign. There are numerous remains of fortresses, bell towers, monuments and palaces of the rich Rab families. After the tour there was ample time for a swim, lunch (not included) or exploring on our own.

Also worthwhile are the excursions “Rijeka & Opatija Riviera” ($26 — see March ’03, pg. 30, for a description of this area), “The Istra Peninsula” ($47 — Nov. ’99, pg. 47) and “Venice” ($85 — March ’03, pg. 28).

On your own, you can visit the Crikvenica Aquarium (Vinodolska 8), exhibiting fish from the Adriatic and some tropical varieties, including doctorfish, scorpionfish, butterflyfish and triggerfish. The aquarium is open daily.

Ending our trip in luxury

The Regent Esplanade Zagreb (phone 800/545-4000 or visit is one of city’s most famous and gracious buildings. Its distinguished history dates back to 1925 when the hotel was the heart of Zagreb’s social life.

The Regent Esplanade Zagreb opened in May ’04 after more than a year of innovative renovations to the former Esplanade Hotel. The renovation incorporates Art Nouveau architecture with 21st-century comforts and highly personalized service. Room rates vary according to season, with summer rates starting at $180 single/double including taxes.

Zagreb’s historic center, fine shopping and restaurants are all within walking distance.

Deanna Palic was a guest of The Regent Esplanade. See November ’04, page 56, for more information on the hotel.