Croatia Map: 5 Croatian Regions You Need to Know Before You Plan Your Trip
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When planning a trip abroad, it can be really useful to have a basic knowledge of the main regions in which the country you are visiting is divided. In order to help you get a better understanding of the distinctive features that characterize different Croatian locations, we designed a short guide with some useful background information about this fascinating country. Hopefully, this guide will serve as a sort of map giving a brief description about Croatia’s 5 main geographical regions: Istria, Dalmatia, Slavonia, Central Croatia and Kvarner.
Located on the western part of the country, between the Adriatic Sea and the Kvarner Gulf, Istria is the location where gourmet food and wine, beautiful landscapes and ancient history meet in one place.
Warm summers and mild winters characterize the climate of the region, that from typically Mediterranean along the coast gradually changes into continental as you go towards the Istrian inland hills. The Istrian hinterland, also known as the Tuscany of Croatia for its rolling hills filled with vineyards and olive trees, offers many opportunities for nature lovers that want to enjoy the outdoors. And by combining amazing views of the countryside with food and wine tasting, all travelers and foodies interested in exploring the local gastronomy will have the opportunity to learn more about Istria’s culinary tradition and ancient truffle hunting techniques.
When it comes to gourmet cuisine in Croatia it is impossible not to talk about truffles. The deep Motovun Forest hides some of the world’s most prized truffles,– an exciting addition to any Istrian dish– as well as chestnut trees and wild asparagus, known in Croatian as šparoge.
For history lovers, the Istria offers great opportunities to explore the History of the Roman Empire. The Istrian peninsula was infact conquered by the Romans in 177 BC and became a strategic location for the Romans to exert and maintain control over the Adriatic Sea. The rich historical and cultural heritage left by the Romans is still clearly visible in two of most relevant maritime ports during that time. The cities of Pula and Porec still preserve magnificent Roman ruins, including the imposing Roman Amphitheater (Pula) and the 2nd century BC Roman Castrum (Porec).
Located along the Danube river, Slavonia is the Easternmost part of Croatia, on the border of Hungary and Serbia. With its moderately warm and rainy continental climate, it is particularly rich in agriculture and is often nicknamed ‘the golden land’ due to its vast corn plains and Graševina vineyards, one of the most appreciated white wines of the region.
Fairy tale-like castles left by the Habsburg dynasty dot the idyllic landscape of the region, whilst baroque Austro-Hungarian architecture characterize the fascinating cities of Osijek, Vukovar, and Slavonski Brod.
Slavonia has also long folkloric traditions, with traditional feasts involving humorous chants played with the tamburica, a mandolin-type instrument. During these occasions, it is normally possible to discover the many flavors the region offers in terms of food and wine. If you are willing to explore the rich gastronomic heritage of the region, Select Croatia’s Danube Kingdom of Food and Wine Tour will guide among the ancient cellars that have been used for the maturation of high quality wines (in traditional wooden barrels made from Slavonian oak) and traditional Slavonian dishes including fish-paprikash and Slavonian kulen (a sausage made of minced pork and ground beef flavored with various spices).
Dalmatia, located in the Southern part of the country, is mostly a coastal region characterized by coves, secluded beaches, islands, and inlets. Due to its warm sea and climate, many outdoor activities including diving and kayaking are very popular in this part of Croatia. Summers are normally hot and dry and winters are mild, especially towards the Southern part of the region.
The picturesque city of Dubrovnik, with its famous red rooftops and medieval walls, is probably the most famous location in this part of the country. The ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’, Dubrovnik’s nickname, is also well known among Game of Thrones fans, as the city has been widely used to represent King’s Landing, the Capital of the Seven Kingdoms, with the stunning Lovrijenac Fortress featuring in the show as the Red Keep. If you want to learn more about the places used for the filming of the show, check out our blog Following Game of Thrones Locations in Croatia.
The physical splendor of many well-preserved medieval cities will accompany you as you travel across the region. From Diocletian’s Palace in Split and Marco Polo’s house in Korčula to the untouched Pakleni Islands and magical Krka waterfalls, Dalmatia spans a vast area with several must-see attractions.
Although many people split Croatia into the three main regions we mentioned above (Istria, Slavonia and Dalmatia), it is actually possible to recognize other 2 main regions: Kvarner and Central Croatia (probably for the sake of simplicity, many people include Central Croatia under Slavonia and blend Kvarner between Istria and Dalmatia).
Although its borders are slightly ambiguous, Central Croatia is the region between Istria and Slavonia with the country’s capital of Zagreb tucked into its middle.
Zagreb, other than being the capital city and economic center of the country, is a cultural hub with fascinating museums and galleries that include one of the largest collections of prehistoric artifacts (in the Archaeological Museum) and the bizarre Museum of broken relationships, exhibiting former lovers’ objects accompanied by short descriptions. Its colorful Dolac market (an open-air fruit and vegetable market), located in Gornji Grad, is definitely worth a visit: here you will have the opportunity to explore the flavors of the local cuisine in an unusual and creative way, experiencing the unique atmosphere of a traditional market reflecting the locals’ daily life.
Central Croatia is also home to some of the most significant castles and forts from the former Kingdom of Croatia and Austro-Hungarian Empire. For example, Among the steep vineyards in the foothills of the mountains in the northern part of the region, you will find Trakoscan Castle. Considered to be one of the most romantic and most beautiful castle in Croatia, it was built in the thirteenth century as a part of Croatia’s northern fortification system. Throughout the centuries, it has been renovated several times and, in the 19th century, the castle acquired its present Neo-Gothic appearance.
The Kvarner region stretches down the coast from the isthmus of Istria by Opatija including the island of Pag, Cres, Krk, Rab, Lošinj, and the mountainous hinterland of Gorski Kotar.
The region’s interior offers one of Europe’s most exotic walking routes, Plitvice Lakes National Park. The park, added to the UNESCO World Heritage register in 1979, consists of about 115 square miles of protected area home of sixteen blue, green and emerald lakes all flowing into one another with cascades and pounding waterfalls creating an amazing natural spectacle.
Other places characterized by turquoise waters and ancient little fishing villages are the islands of Krk, Cres, Rab, Lošinj and Pag.
Krk, the biggest island of the Adriatic, is located near Rijeka and is easily reachable by car since it is connected to the mainland by the Krk bridge. Here it is possible to visit the picturesque old town, surrounded by the ancient city walls that used to protect the city, and, If you decide to head out of town, the charming cliff-side villages like Omisalj characterized by a rich Roman history and Vrbnik, home of the Žlahtina white wine.
The island of Pag, also nicknamed the New Ibiza, is worldly renowned for its summer beach parties and festivals. Major events include the Spring break on Zrće Beach and the Summer festival that is normally held in August. If you travel in Croatia during summer season and want to attend some of the most famous festival in the world, check our short guide about the Top 5 Summer Festival in Croatia.
Written by Filippo Rossi
Have you already traveled across Croatia’s 5 main regions? What was your favorite one? Share your experience with us!