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Rustic Beauty Of Croatia – Extreme Spring Holiday & Outdoor Tourism Adventure

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Croatia is an Eastern European country with long coastlines on the Adriatic Sea, encompassing more than a thousand islands, crossed by the Dinaric Alps and dotted with castles. Its inland capital, Zagreb, is distinguished by its medieval Gornji Grad (Upper Town) and diverse museums. The major coastal city Dubrovnik has massive 16th-century walls encircling an Old Town with Gothic and Renaissance buildings.
Capital: Zagreb
President: Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović
Prime minister: Tihomir Orešković
Currency: Croatian kuna
Official language: Croatian

Here are top 16 things you must try when visiting Croatia…

1. Try sea kayaking
Sea kayaking is one of Croatia’s fastest growing pursuits. In Istria, Adistra Kayak Tours offer day trips around Red Island off Rovinj, plus week-long tours of some of Istria’s most celebrated scenery, including Brijuni and the Limski kanal. In Dubrovnik, you should try Adriatic Kayak Tours. Unlike diving or other water sports, beginners only need turn up, go through a few paddling techniques in shallow protected waters, don a lifejacket and, in the case of Dubrovnik, glide to nearby Lokrum island for lunch.

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2. Catch a big one
Big game guides around Croatia have fast and well-equipped boats, know about fishing zones and have a fishing permit so you don’t have to buy one. They will teach you all about fish species and hunting techniques. The first rule: the fish you catch belongs to the captain – but usually you’ll be treated to a piece of the prey. Recommended firms include Split Adria (split-adria.com), Kaptain Antun Roca (www.game-fishing-adriatic.com) and Kaptain Šime Ukas (www.jezeratours.com).

3. Try truffles
Istria is all about truffles: sourced by highly trained truffle hounds in the Motovun Forest at night, bought at outrageous prices (up to €3,000 per kilo for white truffles) and served in cunning combinations with pasta, rice, scrambled eggs and steak. You’ll also find truffles in more unexpected places, like liqueurs, biscuits, honey and even ice-cream. Make sure to look out for restaurants with the ‘tartufo vero’ sign, which means they’ve met Istria’s high standards for handling and serving the delicacy. In Livade, weekends in October see the judging of the best truffle, cookery classes and truffle auctions.

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4. Buy the best olive oil
The Istrian Tourist Board (www.istra.hr) has set up the Olive Oil Routes of Istria map, to make it easier for visitors to sample the region’s superb oils for themselves. The map lists centres sited mainly around Buje and Oprtalj and there is a second, smaller cluster, further south, around Vodnjan, where the Romans based their production. You’ll need a car – the map will lead you to tiny villages and hamlets, many set in spectacular landscapes. If you just want to buy a bottle, feel free to turn up but if you’d like to sample a few first, it’s best to phone ahead.

5. Sample Croatian cheese
You’ll find superb cheese on sale in large open-air produce markets in every main town in Croatia. Creamy, home-made soft cheeses vary from region to region: in Zagreb’s landmark Dolac by the main square, each regular shopper has their favourite kumica, cream-cheese vendor, a good-natured lady of a certain age from, probably, Zagorje, who dispenses hand-made sir i vrhnje from plastic bags and bowls. When accompanied with local cornbread, kukuruzni kruh, locals consider this a delicacy beyond equal. Make sure not to miss out on some Pag cheese either, paški sir, made from sheeps’ milk and among the most renowned in Croatia.

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6. Discover Vis
It’s hard not to fall in love with Vis. This remote island, which has more sandy beaches than most islands in the country, was off-limits to foreigners for decades (it used to be an army base) before opening for business, meaning it has managed to sidestep tourism and retain its traditional charms. This is the place for simple, age-old pleasures, particularly gourmet ones. Try freshly caught grilled sardines with ice cold beers at Restoran Stončica, a pretty old house in a sandy bay; enjoy local wines the dry white Vugava and the full-flavoured red Plavac; and be entertained in the renowned Pojoda or Konoba Roki’s.

7. Visit Lastovo
Out in the Adriatic halfway to Italy, Lastovo (www.lastovo-tz.net) is served by a single daily ferry from Split. It’s a holdover outpost of the Mediterranean as it used to be: sparse, barren and decidedly untouristy. Its unforgiving isolation, which protected it from pirates, offers the same respite from the mad march of tourist development sweeping Croatia’s coast. Declared a nature park in 2006, it welcomes tourists with open arms and a glass of travarica spirit – think Robinson Crusoe only with fine wine, seafood risotto and maybe a rented moped.

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8. Join Rijeka Carnival
Known by locals as the fifth season after spring, summer, autumn and winter, Rijeka’s own version of Mardi Gras is bigger than ever. Each year in January and February the town’s streets are inundated with hundreds of locals in weird costumes – and 100,000 visitors from all over Croatia and Europe. The Queen’s Pageant takes place on the third Friday in January, followed by the Zvončari Parade the next day, which sees bell-ringers clang and move in steps according to their village of origin. Around two weeks before Shrove Tuesday, on the Saturday lunchtime, a Children’s Parade runs through the streets of town. The big event is the International Carnival Parade, which starts at noon the following Sunday. It takes the afternoon for floats to pass down the main streets before the celebrations that go on well into the night at stalls and tents set up around the canal.
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